Startup Lessons Learned: Overrated Talent, Deliberate Persistence and Belief

3324842922_e9f8683a8a_z.jpg

By Neng Bing Doh (Founder & CEO, HealthCrowd) All birds chirp or make sounds, but not all birds sing. Songbirds are a special group of birds and scientists believe that songbirds are born not knowing how to sing -- they learn their songs over time. Similar to the human language, bird songs are learned, not inherited, thus birds that sing better are essentially, superior learners.

I have come to believe that talent is overrated, and that like the songbird, each one of us can excel at anything we want.

Like many in Silicon Valley, I began my career as a software developer. After graduate school, I moved into online advertising and worked my way up from product manager to general manager.

Oftentimes, I think that women don’t pursue entrepreneurship because they think that they’re not “that type”, as if entrepreneurs were born with some innate ability.

While someone whose parent led a company towards an IPO might have an advantage, it’s not talent that gives them that advantage. It is the exposure to the process and the possibilities that gives them the confidence they have. As such, I argue that you, me and anyone, can achieve measurable success as an entrepreneur, with the right conditioning.

When I started HealthCrowd, I had no product, no team, and little money. All I had was a vision. My Dad, before he retired, was an academic and an idealist. I moved to America at 19 and started my first job right around the time of the dot-com bust. Nobody in my family runs a startup -– many don’t even know what it is. By all accounts, I was starting from zero.

Today, I'm thrilled that HealthCrowd’s got a strong team, customers, good momentum and a tremendous opportunity ahead. Talent had very little to do with it.

I learned there are two things that really make a difference in startups


1.) Deliberate Persistence

My real estate agent shared with me what has become one of my favorite quotes. It’s abbreviates into SWSWSW and it goes like this, “Some will, some won’t, someone’s waiting.” Don’t be discouraged by a “no”, because you’ve got to go through enough of them to get to a “yes”. A “no” is great, because it gives you the feedback you need to iterate and improve before you charge out again. While it may seem like it’s most relevant to sales, it is actually relevant to many areas of your startup –- product market fit, recruiting, fundraising.

For example, HealthCrowd has gone through two pivots. If I hadn’t persisted with the customer development process, we would not exist today. Another example -– it took me one year to find my co-founders, not because there was a lack of willing parties, but because fit was paramount to me.

The patience and persistence paid off. One of my co-founders was originally an advisor to the company. I met my other co-founder online -- we decided to meet after hours and hours of phone conversations to assess for chemistry and shared values. Note that I say “deliberate” persistence. Quitting is easy, and unfortunately, so is dumb persistence. Deliberate persistence means that you are adapting, evaluating, and improving at every turn.

2.) Belief

A good friend, entrepreneur and keen student of the entrepreneurial process told me this: “The minute you stop needing external endorsement that what you are doing is worthwhile, you will most surely succeed. This is because the strength of your conviction can make the universe bend to make your dreams happen.”

As a startup founder, you are your own biggest cheerleader. There is no boss to tell you that you did a good job. Gratification is seldom instant, and can sometimes materialize only after a very long time. What will keep you and your team going is a unified vision, a unified belief, one that penetrates deep into your subconscious mind and the very core of your existence. When you have that, you create a force so strong and so impenetrable –- nothing can stop you now. My very best wishes to you.

-- The opening paragraph is courtesy of my friend and fellow entrepreneur, Christine Song, who’s the founder of Songbird Asset Management, a boutique investment firm that manages a high conviction portfolio of 20 to 30 stocks for long term capital appreciation.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Jon Swanson.

About the guest blogger: Neng Bing Doh is the Founder & CEO of HealthCrowd. Bing was previously VP & General Manager at Exponential Interactive (parent company of Tribal Fusion). Prior to that, she held roles ranging from software development to product management to business development. Bing holds a BS in Computer Science from UW-Madison, and an MBA from Cornell University, where she was an SC Johnson merit scholar. Follow her on Twitter at @nbdoh.