Vivek Narayan is the founder and CEO of GorMonjee, a food recommendation engine that provides individuals with the tools they need to manage nutritional requirements for themselves (B2C) or for those under their care (B2B). Follow him @GorMonjee.
What is the first thing you did to turn your current business from an idea into a reality?
The idea came to us while we were responding to a Knight News Challenge. To further pursue and validate the idea, we enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at the University of Akron run in conjunction with my employer at the time, The Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. Thom Ruhe, who was with the Kauffman Foundation at that time, facilitated the program and we were using the Kauffman Foundations Tech Venture syllabus. A combination of all these factors attracted me to the program.
What is the scariest part of being a young entrepreneur and how can others overcome this fear?
I think this depends on an individual’s background, upbringing and professional experience prior to starting up. For me personally, the scariest part of being an entrepreneur was (and still is to some degree) putting a proposal or product that I know has flaws in it in front of people. Of course, you always want to aim for perfection. But you have to realize that perfection, if it exists, takes time. I also am fundamentally self-reliant. I hold myself to a very high standard and don’t like to depend on anyone. Allowing your team members to take their own path towards a common vision was challenging for me. The only way to overcome these fears is to actively seek out situations that force you to re-examine your comfort zone and then to metaphorically take the plunge.
Were you ever told not to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams? Who told you that, what did they say and why did you ignore them?
There will always be detractors, but no one really overtly told me not to pursue my entrepreneurial endeavors. I have to give my parents and family credit for supporting me to pursue a nontraditional career, both as a physician and as a professional.
I was always encouraged to contribute towards and make an impact on healthcare. The challenges entrepreneurs face are more subtle. You receive rejection from the ecosystem often. I am rather stubborn and it is easy to ignore these people mainly because they really don’t have an understanding of your space and why you do what you do. On the other hand, I always listen to people who understand my space. So my advice for dealing with rejection or negative feedback is to truly understand who the person is and if they really know what they are talking about. Don’t settle for cookie-cutter responses. There is much of that going around.
What is the No. 1 thing you wish you’d known starting out and how did you learn it?
When we first started out, we were truly in a very backward place when it came to certain aspects of healthcare in the U.S. The system was being overhauled and no one really knew how many of the intentions behind healthcare reform were going to be implemented. The focus on prevention, while recognized, was still struggling to become operationalized. The rhetoric around wellness was, and is to a large degree, still rampant. In such a chaotic environment there is really no true understanding of future requirements. One’s tolerance for risk decreases. A lot of ideas rely on hype and guerrilla marketing. This mentality often leads to either conservative or unoriginal ideas getting traction because of the who is backing them.
Coming to the U.S. from Australia and India, were prevention and management of chronic disease was de rigueur, I was frustrated that most of the local U.S. ecosystem couldn’t really see beyond the immediate impact of the ACA. It took us a while to understand that fact and that, while the consumers may have wanted the solution, the B2B side and the risk-capital side didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. I think that has changed now. A lot of the hype has failed and the industry around wellness is getting quantified. Interventions are being correlated to measurable and tangible outcomes; trends that work in our favor. The only way to learn this lesson was to experience it firsthand by constantly questioning and understanding what was happening around us.
What do you recommend all new founders do for their business — or their personal lives — that will help them the most?
My advice would be to establish a routine centered around your health. When it comes to your business, let your team do their job. Give them the resources and support they need to succeed with their responsibilities.
How do you end each day and why?
I have a distributed support circle. My friends and family are largely overseas and digital forms of communication allow us to stay in touch. The last thing I do before I go to sleep is reach out to them and make sure that I’m in touch with what is going on in their lives. These are the people who always support me.
What is your best PR/marketing tip for business just starting up?
Understand your position in the marketplace and leverage important tools. Competing on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can be expensive and difficult. Working with startups creating innovative marketing solutions is a good way to establish cutting-edge relationships. Established channels will become easier to maintain once you have some traction. Yes, content marketing is good. But it’s also very 2012.
What is your ultimate goal? What will you do if/when you get there?
My ultimate goal is to solve the crisis in food and ill health associated with food. Once that’s solved I have my sights on the human habitation problem. I think being a serial entrepreneur is perhaps one of the best ways to solve big problems at scale. Along the way, I intend to have a lot of fun, establish lifelong relationships with those that I care about, and try and be a good person.
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