If entrepreneurs are born that way, then I must be the weird one out. 

Last weekend I was back in Wisconsin for a wedding, and my aunt asked me, "what's the hardest thing about starting your own company?" There were many ways I could have answered that question, but the most honest answer is: "Emotionally it's hard. Believing in yourself is hard… that's the toughest part." 

The Right Ideas

I've always been the gal with ideas. Some good ones – but mostly not so good ones. I tinkered here and there in my free time but never totally committed to a new venture. Why? There was a lot of negative self-talk in my head. I never believed I had what it took to start my own thing. When people talk about a founder, there's often commentary around her magnetic confidence, her natural ability to convince everyone in the room that what she's doing is part of the universe's design. I've certainly never been that person.  

I still remember the summer when I was 12 - I just graduated 6th grade and was about to enter middle school. My neighbor told me that middle school was going to be much harder than grade school. (Time out— let's pause. That's a hilarious comment). Instead of having the confidence to say, "I'll be fine in middle school; I'm a great student," I started worrying that I was going to fail out of middle school. Every stage of life has been like that for me: not being sure I'll be able to rise up to the new challenge. 

So even though I've had some interesting startup ideas, I never felt like I had the oomph to get me from idea to reality. That was about to change.

Building Confidence

I came to HBS wanting to start my own thing – with the rough concept of AirBnB for event venue spaces (e.g., host a birthday party in an art gallery, a wedding in someone's barn). Fortunately, there are a lot of resources for aspiring entrepreneurs at HBS. For me, the most helpful resources were those that built confidence in myself through community and through doing. 

The iLab Community

Harvard's Innovation Lab (iLab) is a physical space where entrepreneurs across Harvard gather, work, socialize, and create together. My startup, Venuefly, has been lucky enough to be a part of the iLab's incubation program which provides resources, mentorship, and community to Harvard students working on startups. It's a great working space for my co-founder Josh Hoffman-Senn (HBS '19) and I work to on Venuefly there. The iLab fosters community amongst entrepreneurs who get to interact with other founders working on interesting startups and facing similar challenges – from both emotional and business perspectives. Being a part of this community has helped me realize that many founders face self-doubt. It's normal.  

Just do it: Startup Bootcamp & Rock Summer Fellows 

HBS also has programming and funding that gets students to stop simply thinking and start doing. Startup Bootcamp is a winter program that accelerates the early stages of a business. Within a week of attending the program, we acquired beta customers, built a website, ran ads, and saw some real traction. That gave me confidence to say, "hey, there's something here with this business idea; it is worth pursuing."  

Rock Summer Fellows is another program that provides a living stipend for students who want to work on startups during the summer between their first and second year. Instead of doing a traditional summer internship, I decided to pursue Venuefly full time. Yet again, I was inspired by the ability to dive in completely and I felt more and more confidence in myself over time. By the time summer was over, we refined our business model and started earning revenue. 

The Final Semester at HBS and Beyond

We are continuing to work on Venuefly during our second year.  Josh and I meet in the iLab every morning before class. At times, it’s hard to juggle school, work, and everything else in life, but the iLab is our startup sanctuary that keeps us motivated and accountable. The space allows us to shift focus mentally from being students to being founders. We’re also in the HBS Rock Accelerator program which provides us some funding and support. We are continuing to run events and are hoping to automate key pieces of our product by the end of the school year. Our hope is to raise some financing that will allow us to pursue Venuefly full time after graduation.  

Maybe I’m not a natural-born entrepreneur, but I've been fortunate enough to be in an environment that has primed me for the challenge.