I started working on my company full-time the summer between my two years at the Babson College MBA program. JumpSmart, Inc. builds products that combine physical activity with STEAM education to expose children ages 6-12 to coding in a fun, engaging, and memorable way. After several months in a summer accelerator taking the seedling idea into a prototype and finding customers for the future product, it became clear to me with the traction we had that it was worth pursuing.
Starting a company is a pretty crazy thing to do. As soon as you get through the honeymoon phase, it becomes a steep upward battle to tackle the problem you set out to solve. On most days it feels like it would be a lot easier to stop and just go along with how things are in the world instead of pushing for how you want them to be. And yet, over 500,000 people became entrepreneurs each month in 2014 alone and startup activity in the US has only been increasing since then (Kauffman Index, 2015). Starting JumpSmart has been the most challenging and rewarding endeavor I have pursued so far in my life.
When starting a company, everyone is always faced with the same depressing statistics. 99% of startups fail! 90% fail! 75% fail! The statistics may differ, but they are always more than half. When I chose to build JumpSmart while in school, I knew I needed to give it my full attention. While there are many moving parts to starting a company, I felt that the more I could control on my side, the more I could ensure the startup would succeed. My commitment as a founder is what I can control, and it is crucial to the success of any startup.
Commitment of Time
I always like to imagine that starting a company is like having a puppy that needs constant attention. One day in the future I’ll be able to open the door and let the puppy outside and it will survive on its own, but in the beginning it needs as much help every day as possible. During school this meant squeezing in phone calls between classes and even once skipping my finance class to go successfully raise our first VC investment. It means committing a lot of time and prioritizing time to focus on the specific goals for the company each step of the way. It means late nights and early mornings and a lot of times it means saying no to other things you sometimes would rather be doing.
Commitment to Work Hard
This means actually trying. Not winging it, but practicing your pitch over and over until it fits in the three-minute time limit for the competition. Commitment to working hard means not settling for something that was not done right and continuing to hold yourself and your team to a high standard, even when you’re all tired. It means waking up early to set up for the Boston Maker Faire to showcase a new prototype to thousands of kids and parents all day in 90-degree heat. This part of starting a company feels like the marathon. It requires keeping your energy up during each additional mile and enjoying the feeling of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Commitment to be Resilient
There are a lot of highs and lows that come with starting a business. Early on I realized the importance of resilience in the process of iterating the company. This means accepting feedback willingly, and treating small failures as opportunities to learn and grow. It means looking for opportunities to pivot the business model or a key feature of the product when you look in the mirror and realize the way you have it now is not working. It is important not to let bad news or even good news slow you down, but to get right back to work and keep moving forward no matter what.
This sounds like a lot to commit to, but the good news is, it comes naturally when you are working towards solving a problem you care about. I recently attended a talk at Babson with Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and the author of “The Monk and the Riddle.” Near the end of his talk, he said, “Success does not make you happy if it is in conflict with what is important to you as a person. If you lose what you care about as a person it is hard to get that back.” This hit me, and I realized it is exactly what has allowed me to commit to JumpSmart from the beginning. Every step I take for the company is directly in line with what I care about and the problems I want to solve. I am determined to fix the fact that kids today get over six hours of screen time per day but less than one hour of physical activity. We are just at the beginning of rapid innovation and the future will belong to children who can be the creators, not just consumers of technology. I want to make a way for children to learn to code by programming objects that allow them to get exercise and interact with each other.