By Jeff Zhou, WG’15, Co-founder of Fig Loans
Penn graduates are the best and brightest minds, capable of solving the world’s most challenging problems. That’s what they told us at our graduation, and then we got whooped by the other founders in our Techstars class – and some don’t even have college degrees.
Before Techstars, I was convinced that the archetype for an ideal founding team was prestigious education and brand name job pedigree. Coming from this background, I saw many successful founders that reinforced the message. Education, experience and networks create strong foundational skills and gives you access to world class experts that significantly boost the profile of your company. How many companies can tell investors that they’re working with the world’s leading expert in behavioral data driven customer lifetime value? It’s an incredible advantage; but the founders I met at Techstars showed me it’s still not enough.
I’ve since come to realize that successful founders share a deeper characteristic, an insatiable desire to prove doubters wrong. This is the most important trait because starting a company is a slog. At Fig Loans, we’re always under resourced, never have the exact expertise needed, and every week we run into a new game-ending obstacle that seems impossible to get around. Our classes at Wharton and previous career experience gave us the tools to approach these problems, but it doesn’t change the amount of work! Those that carry the chip on their shoulder will work longer, fight harder, and overcome obstacles through sheer force of will. In entrepreneurship, the willingness to fight through beating after beating will determine the winners.
Now what you’ve been waiting for, examples of who gave us this whooping of a lifetime and how they did it.
Whooping #1 is by Chris.
If you need 1000 facebook likes, Chris will beg, buy, steal and hack his way to those likes in any way he can. Are you willing to debase yourself in front of your entire network for 1000 likes that have a 0.0001% chance of helping your startup in a meaningful way? If the first try fails, are you willing to retool and do it again? A third time? As many times as necessary? Chris was equal parts fearless and relentless in his pursuit of end goals. I didn’t realize how self-limiting my measured approach was until I watched Chris run circles around us.
Whooping #2 is in work ethic and it’s by Alex.
During Techstars John and I prided ourselves on working finance hours, 7 days a week. We had the experience from our previous lives and it was an advantage we wanted to use. Alex consistently stayed later than us. Have you ever worked on a project until 4am and said, “I’m close enough, I’ll finish this tomorrow morning.”
Alex powers through. Even more impressive, he’s shipping production code that is instantly being used. If Alex is your competition, are you willing to commit all the necessary hours to keep up?
Like it was for me, it will be harder for you to find this voracious hunger, because all our lives we’ve been told we’re brilliant and we’re going to shape the world in tremendous ways. But if you have that itch to create something new to world, my advice is to dig deep and find the chip for your shoulder. I’ll be honest with you; it’s pretty uncomfortable. For me it was in my deepest regrets and insecurities, things I’d worked all my life to cover up. But in the painful memories I also found the drive to help us endure when Fig was nearly dead and those lucrative careers in consulting, finance, and tech never looked better.
As an entrepreneur, you have an amazing advantage in Penn. The network is everywhere and people will make time for you like they did for us, but don’t get caught thinking that alone is enough—or you might just get whooped!
Bio: Jeff is a co-founder and CEO of Fig Loans. He previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group, specializing in strategy for consumer facing products. Jeff is received his MBA from Wharton in 2015 with a major in Applied Data Analytics and holds a bachelors degree from MIT in Chemical Engineering.