My Talk at Draper Competition, on Taking Risks, Failure & Growth

Can’t believe it has been a year. Last year, I was the first and only Wellesley student who participated in the Draper Competition. I barely knew what a business plan was and how to do an elevator pitch. A year later, I am here again, having been through the ups and downs as an entrepreneur and having become much more mature, decisive and confident. Thank you Smith College, Tim Draper and Melissa Draper for this life changing opportunity. Winning for me was incredibly rewarding, but that good feeling was transient, because once I reach a hilltop, I see an even bigger one. Despite today’s outcome, either a prize or an empty hand, remember it’s just the beginning. Entrepreneurship is a life long journey.

So you must be curious what happened after winning the competition. I went to Draper University last summer. I was thrown into this crazy place with 70 brilliant, driven, and passionate people from over 33 countries. My mind was blown away by these brand new concepts called “startup”, “MVP” and “exponential technology”. I was deeply enriched realizing my passion and my power to create. I left Draper University feeling ready to leave a dent in the world.

I booked my ticket to Mexico to reunite with my co-founder, thinking that I will test the water for a month before school starts again. A month passed really quickly, and it was time to make a decision if I wanted to stay. I was scared, not just because it was a foreign country that I knew almost nothing about, but also because it completely changed the plan I laid out for myself. I was scared of change, but most importantly, scared of failure. Realizing the worst outcome for staying is that I will learn a lot; I decided to take a leave from school.

For the next four months, I experienced the typical ups and downs as an entrepreneur. Sometimes feeling like the top of the world after closing a deal, sometimes feeling like a total failure believing nothing will ever work out. We launched our platform, acquired many users, and pivoted three times. It is a tough business, but we keep going.

Through my journey, I realized something that is less talked about within entrepreneurship. We often glorify being an entrepreneur, that you can pursue your passion; you can change the world and be your own boss. We often see the overnight successes of the hottest tech startups, but chances are that overnight success only comes from years of hard work. The reality is entrepreneurship could be a hard and lonely journey. To proceed on the journey requires not just intellectual strength, but rather emotional strength. It’s the perseverance, the ability to lift yourself up when you are already on the ground, the composure you must maintain when everyone on your team is lost, that makes you a good entrepreneur. We need to be aware of it and start to build it up.

So my college friends, the fact that you are here means you must have had a lot of successes, so start to take risks and give yourselves the chance to fail. Chances are you won’t succeed the first time you try, but for every trial, you will get a little extra bit right. Don’t settle for security and plan your whole life out when you are 20 years old. College is perhaps the only time when you are socially accepted to say you don’t know what you are doing, and the whole world is here to help you. So take advantage of it. Learn as much as possible; take as many risks as you can, before the consequences get very expensive. And if you are ready, take time off from school to run your startup. No matter if you succeed or not, I guarantee that you will gain perspectives, and come back with a fresh mind to truly start shaping your life.

So congratulations and best of luck on your journey!

Mojia Shen

Mojia Shen

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