By Scott Meacham
Copyright ©2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
While all of the political shenanigans were going on at the state Capitol last month, we had 350 college students and entrepreneurs in attendance at our 2017 Entrepreneurial Summit learning what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in Oklahoma.
The title of Oklahoma native and serial entrepreneur Prerna Gupta’s keynote was “Secrets of Success (and Failure) from Silicon Valley.”
Gupta’s first secret on her list of 20? “Don’t follow your passion. Follow your curiosity.”
That stuck with me. We talk a lot in this business about the importance of an entrepreneur’s passion, not so much about curiosity.
After all, entrepreneurs building companies from scratch, can on many days feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill. In startups, that heavy of an effort isn’t a myth. Sometimes the fuel of passion is the only way to keep going.
Additionally, though, as Gupta pointed out, there is the subtler power of curiosity. Curiosity might lead to a new kind of hammer to break up that rock, or in Gupta’s case, to an innovative new way to entice teenagers and Millennials to read.
Gupta and her husband, after earning a successful exit from their second startup, were living the startup dream in the Bay Area, working lucrative jobs when they decided to shed their things, take to the road, and write a book.
After 40,000 words, the sci-fi fantasy trilogy for young adults, set in Silicon Valley a hundred years in the future, with a brown-skinned female protagonist just wasn’t working. What was working was Gupta’s curiosity.
She began imaging a social fiction application for an iPhone — and her curiosity carried her on to wondering if the Snapchat generation (and their older Millennial cousins), who reportedly aren’t reading as much as earlier generations, would read more if stories were in a different format, more suited to them.
Gupta isn’t a writer by training — but she is an app developer who knows from experience that market validation is the path to startup success. She tested stories told in comics and short-short story form. And she acted on her “secret” No. 2, which is “Talk about Your Idea.”
Gupta’s breakthrough idea for Hooked was getting more kids to read fiction by providing 1000-word stories told in text message format. With 30 million downloads in 24 countries and numerous times of reach No. 1 status in app stores, Hooked is getting teenagers and Millennials to read fiction.
As this idea born of curiosity takes off, Gupta, through Hooked, is creating a new creative form and perhaps a new industry.
That takes me to Gupta’s secret No. 20. “Believe in yourself.” That’s the spot where curiosity and passion connect.
Being an entrepreneur and starting a company is hard, hard work. Failure abounds. There are never more yes’s than no’s. Yet so many entrepreneurs never give up (secret No. 18).
That’s the great thing about this business we are in — whether entrepreneurs are building their startups in California, Atlanta or India, as Prerna Gupta did, or in Oklahoma as we and our clients are, entrepreneurs are curious, passionate, and they never give up.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.