By Ridley Fann '21
I believe that you should find something that you are passionate about and never stop working towards it until you achieve your goals, and don’t be afraid to fail along the way. For me, I found my passion pretty early, entrepreneurship. From creating an online thrift store when I was in 9th grade, to a job and errand service for teens to a board game for families, I have always been working on a business. One of the first lessons I learned in an entrepreneurship camp was to “fail fast.” Failing fast means not being afraid to fail and not continuing to work on something that is not achieving the intended goal. I experienced this pretty quickly when my online thrift store that I had worked on for 6 months quickly took a turn for the worse. I could barely break even after 2 months of the business being up. It took the criticism of my dad saying, “Ridley, you have a solution to a problem that is not big enough”, to realize that I needed to end the business and move on. I am so proud of myself for failing because unlike most people with ideas, I had at least started something.
Everyone has great ideas that they think can change the world or change an industry, but it is only the ones who choose to work and act on these ideas who succeed. Success is not defined by earning money, but by learning valuable lessons that make you smarter in the end. Success is also not defined by intelligence. Anyone can have a great idea, but it is the driven, hard-working people who make it into a reality. So you have to choose. Do you want to go through life with dreams and aspirations that you hope to fulfill if the opportunity comes your way? Or do you want to act on those dreams and make your own opportunities?
Even though the business did not end up succeeding, I still learned so much throughout the process. I learned that the more time you spend working on something, the more rewarding the outcome will be. The success of the board game business I am working on today with a team of entrepreneurs came from the mistakes I made in my first venture. I now know that in order to create a solution, a demonstrable problem must be present. Finding a problem requires interviews, surveys, meetings, and conversations with a target market.
I learned the lesson that I need an evident problem before I start working on a business when a friend and I started a service business that enabled teens to make money running errands. We started this venture with a solution that we thought would be really successful, but had not proven that there was a real issue. We learned this when we had almost a 90% rate of tryers who said that they would use the service, but a very low rate of buyers who actually ended up being customers. As much as we kept trying to convince each other that the business would succeed, we had to face failure. Because I had failed before, failing again was a lot less painful and almost very rewarding, because I could look back and say, “At least I tried.” The obstacles I overcame in each venture only made me smarter and more determined to create a successful business. In the fast-fashion venture I worked on this summer, which provided a shopping platform that only consisted of sustainable fashion brands, we had 1 day to create a prototype of a website, form a presentation and have answers for 50 different questions that judges could ask. Our biggest obstacle was time. My team and I would be on Zoom calls during dinner, while running errands and working together late into the night to finish everything. The success of earning a Social Impact award the next day because of our hard work was so rewarding because of the effort we put in. I have learned that it is so much easier to work with driven, like-minded people in any situation because everything will get done faster and in more efficient ways.
"It is not the destination, but the journey that is a success."
All of this is to say that everyone has unique passions but we can all go about solving them in the same way. It is also impossible or extremely boring to work for something that you are not passionate about. For example, in the venture aimed to bring awareness to unethical practices in fashion brands, I had a lot of trouble motivating myself to work. Though I care about fast fashion and strongly discourage and disapprove of it, it was very hard for me to work on a business centered around something that I was not excited or motivated to work on, like the board game I am working on today. I am much more interested in helping bring families closer which is why working on the board game motivates me more.
I have to credit Aarshiya and Josh, two of my mentors at Quarter Zero who have taught me about starting a business and working with people. Being able to see from different perspectives of customers has allowed me to empathize with all different types of people. For example, while working on the business to help advocate for fast fashion, my team and I learned through surveys that only 50% of people actually care about if the brands that they are shopping from are ethical. Before we started our interview, we assumed that everyone cared about only shopping from ethical brands but had to change our business model once we received that customer feedback.
Through Quarter Zero, I have met so many people from around the world who are different from me with unique beliefs, all of whom have helped shape my thinking. They have taught me that it is not the destination but the journey that is the success. My journey of my passion for entrepreneurship has included fabulous mentors, amazing friends, life-changing experiences and a belief that I can do anything I set my mind to.
"Failure should not be something that you are afraid of, but something you look at with hope that it will only help you learn more."
One of the most important lessons I have learned while exploring entrepreneurship was that you have to have empathy. You have to always be talking and learning from people to help solve their problems. I learned to find out how other people would solve their own problems and find a solution specific to them. Learning these valuable lessons came from failing. Failure should not be something that you are afraid of, but something you look at with hope that it will only help you learn more.
I am no different from any of you. The reason I have found a passion and learned so much from failing is because I created opportunities for myself. I competed against highschoolers all over the world to earn spots in programs in which I sat and eagerly absorbed information. Even though some of the lessons I learned were boring and repetitive like creating multiple problem statements and a value proposition for 2 hours, I was motivated to listen and take notes because I knew the information would be beneficial to my interests and my future.
If you have a passion for something, the work will be so much easier and the goals you achieve will be so rewarding. Even creating a business that failed was the most rewarding experience I have ever had because I got to meet and learn from amazing advisors and learn more about myself.
I encourage all of you to take in as much knowledge as you can in any field of interest. Even if, like most people our age, you have absolutely no idea what you want to do in life, you can still explore and learn from all different spheres of influence. Go listen to business calls and webinars, watch presentations, intern somewhere, or volunteer. Explore and take advantage of all opportunities while you can or you will regret it. Just because there is a limitation of physical opportunities right now, does not mean that you can't learn and explore your interests. I have seen and witnessed fabulous online programs for many different fields of interests such as computer science, medicine and religion. There is nothing limiting you from achieving your goals and exploring possibilities for yourself but you. The opportunities are out there, but it is your job to go out, find them and take advantage of them. Spend your time experiencing and learning. If you continue to try new things, be curious, and step out of your comfort zone, you will likely find something of interest and may well turn out to be your passion just like me and life will be so much more fun. Don’t wait for success to come to you because that will not happen. Choose success by actively pursuing interests and learning from obstacles and the results will be so rewarding.