I’ve kept a list of new product and business ideas on my phone for over 10 years now. While they range from dog toys to B2B SaaS businesses, they all have one thing in common: they only exist on my phone. I’ve never seriously pursued any of them. The excuses for this usually sound something like “I don’t think people would buy that” or “I don’t know if that’s even possible.” 

My mindset started to change last fall when I attended SPARK, the 2016 HBS Entrepreneurship Conference. Hearing founders at the conference share their stories in refreshingly personal ways started to make the idea of entrepreneurship a bit less intimidating for a first-timer like me. So with a renewed interest in startups, I registered for the 10-day HBS Startup Bootcamp scheduled for the January term.

The aim of the program was to provide both practical tools and hands-on guidance to help us bring an idea from inception to MVP (minimum viable product) in a short period of time. We covered things like running experiments to test a new business idea, finding early customers, calculating unit economics, and how to think about different types of funding. We were given tactical advice on how to objectively focus on data while exploring market fit. 

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Faculty presented central themes of renowned HBS courses like Founders’ Journey and Entrepreneurial Finance. Industry experts offered their insights on how to effectively manage public relations, what it takes to create powerful marketing content, and how to get high-quality face time with VCs. We even had the opportunity to pitch our ventures to Boston VCs on the final day. It was an amazing experience all around. 

But there was one aspect of the program that particularly stuck with me. And that was each evening when alumni founders shared their personal stories of what it was really like to build their businesses. 

The stories were open, honest, and even entertaining. Running to the bank during graduation in a cap and gown to cash a check so employees got paid. Spending nearly a year trying to convince a CTO to quit his high-paying job and join a new startup. Getting turned down in every one of the first 20 meetings with VCs. Listening to these stories helped me realize that the people that started these companies, even the enormously successful ones, were not that different from me. Nor from any of us! 

They weren’t geniuses who had it all figured out, but rather they continuously experimented and improvised to keep pushing forward. And sure enough, they had the same doubts and fears that stopped me from pursuing my own ideas. As I listened, the wall of intimidation that stood between me and starting a company started to fade away.

I also realized that these were the types of stories that inspired people to go build great things, not the “overnight success” versions so often portrayed in the media that skip the hard parts. I soon found myself wondering how I could share this inspiration with others.

As a long-time podcast listener, I thought, “Why not start a podcast that interviewsfounders1.png
the founders of early-stage startups?” Being immersed in the Startup Bootcamp environment of MVPs and early testing, I decided to create a simple landing page and buy $15 of Facebook ads to see if anyone would be interested in listening. I called it Founders Unfiltered.

Two days later, I spent $80 on the equipment I needed, reached out to founders founders2.png
through cold emails and mutual friends, and started scheduling interviews. I had zero experience conducting, recording, or editing interviews, but that no longer bothered me.

I quickly understood that this podcast was also an opportunity to open up and share my story. So I decided to commit the final section of each episode to just that, revealing the slip-ups I had made, what kept me up at night, and how I planned to improve. Of course, releasing imperfect episodes to the public while being open and transparent about my mistakes certainly made me nervous, but it was also the entire point of the show.

Founders Unfiltered has been going for several months now, and I feel lucky to have interacted with some remarkable founders. I’ve also confirmed over and over again that entrepreneurship is all about testing ideas, adapting them, and trying again – not about having a perfect plan.

For me, the catalyst I needed to start something was the Startup Bootcamp. My hope is that Founders Unfiltered can be that catalyst for others. Even if only a handful of people are inspired to go create something they’re passionate about, I’ll consider the project a success. If you’re interested in listening to the show, or just curious to hear what a first-time podcaster sounds like, you can find all the content at www.foundersunfiltered.com.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you have an idea of your own – just start!