We often talk about how difficult it is to be a tech nonprofit founder, and for-profit startup founders face many of the same challenges. The entrepreneurial path is never easy. For the past two years our partner BlackRock has graciously brought in Bo Lu, Founder and CEO of FutureAdvisor, which they acquired in 2015, to speak with our teams about his journey as an entrepreneur.
Last week Bo spoke to Fast Forward’s 2017 cohort during our BlackRock acceleration session, focusing on the impossible and how to overcome it.
Imagine the Ideal Impossible, Then Take Steps Back to Reach the Ideal Achievable
Bo shared the story of a friend whose startup mission was to match nurses and medical assistants with job openings in hospitals and clinics. When she spoke to her customers, they said they wanted something like Monster or Indeed. But they didn’t just want another Monster, they also wanted better filter features, which would allow them to filter potential jobs by criteria relevant to their needs as medical professionals. So she asked herself, “What is the impossible ideal for my users?” She knew the ideal for nurses would be to wake up the next morning with a job they would love secured, great pay, and the right patient-practitioner ratio. This was impossible, though. The nurses would have to get offers, at the very least, first. So what was the next best thing? What if nurses could wake up with 10 offers from hospitals that fit their desired criteria?
She pushed to see if that was possible. It wasn’t, but hospitals seemed willing to extend contingent offers to those with experience in similar hospitals or in the same hospital network. So again she took a step back, and wondered, “What if nurses could wake up with 2-3 interviews already scheduled, without having to do anything besides sign up for this service and post their resume and work experience?” It turned out this was indeed possible. This founder built the product and relationships with hospital administrators to allow nurses to search through more filter fields and select the desired criteria for a work environment, get matched to the jobs where they already meet eligibility requirements, and secure an interview without even having to fill out a formal application.
Bo took a similar approach when he was first building FutureAdvisor. He would start at the impossible, and with every step back push on that level to see what aspects could be realized. Through these tests, Bo discovered that many of the things he initially thought were impossible, were actually possible to some degree. Think about many of the products we use today. If someone told you 7 years ago that a stranger in an unauthorized vehicle would be picking you up from the airport, you’d say no way. But then Lyft and Uber launched.
So what’s the main takeaway from this story? Define the impossible ideal. Then push on every aspect of what makes that scenario impossible. If you do this, you’ll realize many of these aspects are possible. Don’t compromise your mission or beliefs by starting from the most practical solution.
Bo also shared some fantastic tips for startups going through an accelerator. A few of our favorites include:
Realize It’s Not Just You
While your specific struggles are unique to your product and team, know that it’s not just you. Everyone else in your cohort is struggling with similar challenges.
Raise Expectations & Expect More
Don’t let loss aversion bias force you not to unveil a product that works. If you release a product you’re not a little embarrassed about, you’re releasing it too late, because most of the learning occurs once you have released your initial product and can learn from your users. Also realize what you’re capable of. When Bo went through an accelerator with FutureAdvisor, his team had planned to launch their MVP in 6 months. When a mentor challenged them to get it done in 5 weeks, they completed it in 6 weeks, not 6 months.
Authenticity with the members of your cohort will help you in the long run. Anyone who constantly tells their batch mates they are killing it probably won’t make it in the long run. Those who are honest learn to build emotional resilience in their organization and with each other.
You Win or You Quit
One of the hardest things to balance as a founder is the possible outcomes. There are two: you win, or you quit. That’s it. Many people think there is a 3rd outcome – running out of money. But if you are pushing hard enough to win, you will. Winning is defined by yourself. The most successful teams determine they are going to win via new ideas, paths or workarounds. They keep the end goal in sight, but don’t do the same thing repeatedly if they haven’t learned from the 1st experience.
Thank you so much to Bo Lu for sharing your wisdom with the 2017 cohort, and a special thank you to our longtime partner BlackRock for hosting our 3rd accelerator session, mentoring our teams and deeply believing in our mission. Check out some of our favorite shots from the session below!