One CEO’s Foundations for Success: Core Values, Flexibility and Conviction
Some entrepreneurs can point to a single moment that defined their trajectory, but that is not the case for me. In fact, my career path has been defined by understanding when a new path was necessary and seizing the opportunity to take it.
I started my career as a carpenter, then went to university to become a quantum physicist. Not a typical occupational decision, to be sure. But I found inspiration again during my schooling (or perhaps it found me). After a personal incident, which I’ll explain later, a light bulb moment occurred: What if we reimagine the medical records retrieval process? Let’s simplify access for patients and make it easier for them to share their information with whoever needs it. That idea led me to where I am today.
Over time, three lessons have stuck with me and have guided me through some of the most challenging career decisions I’ve had to make: Define and stay true to your mission, embrace the concept of conviction and be willing to bet big. While the journey to where I am today hasn’t been the easiest, I’ve found that dedicating myself to these three principles has served me well.
Define and Stay True to Your Mission
So many times, you know what you want to do, but do you know why you want to do it? Every entrepreneur should spend time answering this question honestly. There are many motivating factors for starting a business, but there must be a reason for doing it that resonates deeply within you.
That is your mission, and it must be grounded in your core values and beliefs. Your mission will serve as your company’s North Star, guiding your next moves. But just identifying your mission isn’t enough—you have to execute it consistently, even if that means passing on an opportunity that isn’t in line with the mission statement.
Because you’ll also be surrounding yourself with those who believe in the mission, staying true to it is key to maintaining the culture you’re trying to nurture. Your staff must also feel empowered to share ideas that will enforce the mission and speak up when they think specific plans don’t live up to it.
If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, no one else will either. So if you’re all-in on your mission, you must exude that conviction. For example, a VC firm or potential customer is not only investing in your idea, but also in your ability to execute on that idea. That same sense of confidence goes for keeping a staff who can move the company forward. Your people won’t embrace the mission if they don’t see that passion from leadership.
To be fair, this suggestion might seem to contradict previous advice about being willing to pivot. While it is undoubtedly a fine line, I believe the two are equally crucial to suggestions. Someone wise once told me you should have “strong opinions, weakly held.” Yes, you should believe 100 percent in your idea, but you should challenge yourself to see if evidence suggests that you could be on the wrong path and move decisively.
Be Willing to Bet Big
While conviction is critical, there are times when evidence indicates that another idea simply makes more sense. I learned this lesson more than once.
Nine years ago, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and fought a long battle across multiple hospital systems, providers and caregivers. Amid unimaginable stress, my mother-in-law was also responsible for retrieving many of his medical records from different sources to help direct the next steps of his care. It was during this time that inspiration hit.
I decided to start a company to simplify the medical records retrieval process for patients and their families. When I was pursuing quantum physics, I could never have imagined what might catapult me from my lab. When I faced the challenge to help my in-laws, the force was great and served as new inspiration to step out of my comfort zone.
Then, another difficult decision occurred a few years later after cofounding the company. Once we got the business up and running, we came to a cold realization: The market wasn’t set for this kind of company when patients are the customers. It was a hard pill to swallow since we were dedicated to staying true to our original mission of helping patients gain greater control of their medical records.
At this point, it was clear that we had to be open to the possibility that our original idea, our first big bet, would not lead us to success. We shifted to a more viable business model that still helped patients gain greater control of their data while targeting specific companies that use that data to make patient lives better. Instead of rolling a snowball uphill, we realized that we could relent to the market forces while staying true to our mission. Fortunately, we bet on another model, which has put us on a very successful track and which will take us through future stages in our plan.
While my resume is unconventional, it has created a textured tapestry of experiences. More than anything, my career has reaffirmed my belief that a commitment to core values, flexibility and conviction are the foundation for long-term success.