Startup Resolution 2017: Embrace Believers, Bounce Skeptics & Keep Moving


The holiday period is a great time for reflection and then behavior modification – often referred to as resolutions. While a bit artificial to the logical engineer, this opportunity can be helpful. This year, my favorite insight came from a former student and employee, Elliot Cohen, co-founder of PillPack.

While thinking about the major aspirational goals for the upcoming year that motivate me to get out of bed every morning with high energy and purpose – such as getting my second book out in March, significantly raising the endowment of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, developing the concept of “Inclusive Entrepreneurship” to battle the deep societal alienation we have seen in 2016, and, of course, just becoming a better entrepreneurship educator to my students – there is one underlying enabling resolution that can help me achieve all of them more efficiently and effectively.

This past year I had Elliot in our classroom to talk about his experience in starting and growing PillPack. Elliot is not just one of the first employees I recruited to the Trust Center when I started 7 years ago, but also a student and a dear friend. An intelligent teacher always listens carefully to their students.

PillPack is now a company with explosive growth. It has over 500 employees and is growing at a rate faster than Amazon did at the same stage. On the topic of what it was that the PillPack team did to become a real, successful company, Elliot has some simple, but profound advice: “We really made progress when we stopped wasting time and energy trying to convert skeptics and instead spent our time, effort and resources on working with the believers to make the dream happen.”

While we should listen to criticism that helps us improve, I think back and realize how much time I have wasted in the past. After understanding the factual feedback to improve our plans, I then spent time and effort trying to emotionally convert the skeptics. Nothing will convince skeptics like success and momentum. I learned this in fundraising, but I have not applied it sufficiently to my daily operations management. As Bruce Springsteen said in his new autobiography: “Don’t tell the people, show the people”. To show those people, you have to find the believers and work with them to make it happen.

So my number one resolution for 2017, and I suggest it to all entrepreneurs, is to spend less time preaching to skeptics and more time finding believers and making it happen. I have already started this and I find it is not only effective, but it also creates positive energy every day. I am looking forward to this new approach helping me to achieve my daunting and exhilarating list of goals for 2017. Sometimes the best education a teacher can gain is from their students. Thanks, Elliot.

Bill Aulet is the Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT, as well as a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. Follow @BillAulet

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