Four Ohio leaders share what they’ve learned from past miscues
As an entrepreneur in the startup scene, mistakes come with the territory — especially for newcomers. Not only are new founders and leaders balancing their aspirations, goals and finances, but they’re learning to run a team, manage employees and market their product or service.
During those initial phases and beyond, it’s easy to slip up and make a mistake, maybe even one that ends a business venture. But fear not! Even a catastrophic error or failure doesn’t mean you won’t find success.
Fortunately, in the startup field, missteps are part of the learning process. Most founders and entrepreneurs have a variety of stories about important educational moments in their careers. And with Ohio’s strong support network for startups, entrepreneurs have the freedom to swing big and take risks.
We talked with four successful Ohio founders about how they overcame early career mistakes and what they learned from bouncing back.
Dan Fronczak, Healthy Roster
Dublin startup Healthy Roster is changing the way young athletes deal with injury for the better. Founded in 2015, Healthy Roster helps athletes track injuries, seek treatment and get in touch with doctors. Dan Fronczak, a former television sports anchor, co-founded Healthy Roster after his experience with his own kids’ athletic careers, and has watched it grow over the years. But it hasn’t always been an easy process. Fronczak and his team had to adjust on the fly, an important attribute of any startup.
“When we started the company, our whole concept was built around communication,” said Fronczak. “We started with the video component of the app, and we wanted to basically create a facetime where any parent or coach could talk with a healthcare professional right away. That feature is still in the app and it works, and people still use it. But the initial response was that people couldn’t believe they were on camera and didn’t want to be. People would actually turn the phone away so they could hear themselves because they weren’t expecting it.
“It’s evolved into live chat and video, but it’s all integrated now. The video still plays a major role; you still need that. But with how it evolved and what we started with, it’s become a much broader scope of communication by necessity. You live and learn.”
Now, the company offers a mobile app and treatment kiosks that allow athletes, parents and coaches to reach medical providers remotely. And thanks to resources like Rev1 Ventures, central Ohio startups have the support they need to bounce back like Healthy Roster.
Steve Flaherty, NecoPlastics
Steve Flaherty is a serial entrepreneur who has been involved in a variety of projects, from 1 Million Cups to his current venture, NecoPlastics. He knows a thing or two about missteps, and said he’s had to learn the hard way about which ideas will work. Believe it or not, a quick Google search might save a lot of time!
“If you’ve been on this journey, you know success is never a straight line,” said Flaherty. “It’s kind of naive how you think about projects. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s go out and do it.’ You’re so excited about execution that sometimes you forget the very simple things. Our rule has become Google it and see whether it’s already been done. There have been times when we spent a lot of effort grabbing a bunch of email addresses only to realize that it’s actually illegal to mass email people that haven’t signed up for a newsletter or the ad you’re trying to send. Then it’s like, ‘Oh crap. We spent a bunch of time and effort doing something that might come back to bite us.’ But if you Google it, that never happens.
“For me, it was important to figure out that execution is good, it’s good to keep moving, but you have to put the sale out there first and line up the customer before you go and waste effort. You have to make sure you’re building something that the market wants and desires, something that isn’t just nice to have. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs, including myself, put an idea out there without asking that critical question: are you willing to pay for it and is it enough to make a profit?”
Flaherty certainly has an idea worth running with now. NecoPlastics, which he founded, is taking off from the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University, working to turn recycled plastic into a material that can be used as an alternative to traditional concrete or asphalt.
Nick Potts, ScriptDrop
ScriptDrop is one of Ohio’s most rapidly growing companies. Founded in 2016, the Columbus startup works directly with pharmacies to ensure that patients properly use and have access to their prescriptions, helping to save millions each year on unnecessary medical costs. Co-founder Nick Potts is no stranger to successful startups, having worked at central Ohio unicorn CoverMyMeds before he created ScriptDrop. And in that time, he’s seen firsthand how important a failure or mistake can be to the growth of an entrepreneur.
“I think each time you attempt to launch an app, a product or a company and you ‘fail,’ it’s a learning opportunity,” said Potts. “Sometimes you aren’t aware of what you learned immediately because you’re down on yourself, but you will when you have the hindsight and you’re able to remove emotion. I didn’t realize what I learned from some of my failures until I was able to apply it to the next venture. For several years, I was attempting to launch different apps and things like that. None of them got true traction, but I did get better at the process. I understood how to get an app to market, take feedback from customers and sell that vision. Ultimately, that collection of progress over the years serves me really, really well at ScriptDrop.”
“A really great example is when I attempted to launch an app that gamified charitable giving and used cryptocurrency to incentivize those that were giving and volunteering their time. Think of things like the ALS ice bucket challenge, except there was a cryptocurrency component to it. It was just a little too early and complex for the market. There was just no way to quickly monetize it, and I was spending a lot of my nights and weekends improving the application without understanding how to raise capital from investors and sell this idea to them. That’s something that I’ve developed while building ScriptDrop.”
Myra LalDin, VECTRE
Like many founders, Myra LalDin has had to learn to manage a team and lead a startup on the fly. In 2018, she founded VECTRE, a VR and augmented reality development studio that creates immersive experiences. In the process of learning to manage both her time and the work of her team, she’s grown as an entrepreneur and founder.
“There are a lot of everyday habits and norms you create for your team, or don’t create, that can eventually lead to bigger problems,” said LalDin. “As an entrepreneur, life gets crazy, your schedule is maxed-out and sometimes you don’t make enough time for your team. I’ve seen problems in team dynamics, culture, and operations in development processes start to shift for the worse. Because I haven’t had the energy, I’ve sometimes let things slide. But eventually, it becomes a bigger mess and then I have to stop and deal with it.”
“I’ve learned that it’s super important for a leader to make the time to create a good culture for your team. What leaders do reinforce the culture and sets the norms. It can be super encouraging for your team for you to just sit with them and listen to the exciting breakthroughs they made that week. It’s encouraging for leaders to hear it too! Teams are the best part of an entrepreneur’s journey, but they can also be the most challenging. Prioritizing culture is important, and making time to regularly connect with your team and handle potential problems will save a lot of time and headache.”
Now, LalDin is using her own experiences to frame VECTRE’s mission, using the company’s tech to put people in others’ shoes, improving representation and diversity with her company’s VR tools.
If you’re an entrepreneur facing challenges, regretting a mistake or worrying about a decision, remember that there are resources to help you bounce back. Whether you need startup advisors or a pitch competition to get you back on your feet, Ohio has the resources needed to continue your entrepreneurial journey!