Julia Pietruszka '20 | Start Up Major | Environmental Engineering Hometown | Seymour, CT
Am I an entrepreneur? Yes. Had I been asked this question just over a week ago, my answer would have been very different. LSV has profoundly changed my understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur. I now understand that being an entrepreneur is not limited to the narrow definition of having your own business. It is more about the entrepreneurial mindset- something that, although I see it in myself already, is a mental muscle that I plan to strengthen for the rest of my life. Being an entrepreneur, I’ve realized, is so much more than having a great idea. It is having a deep curiosity and commitment to learning; it is having a true passion and vision for what you are doing; it is testing your ideas iteratively with the customer in mind until you get the product right. It is recognizing that, even if you do get it right, the world moves fast- and you need to move with it to maintain a successful business.
But the most profound lesson on entrepreneurship that I learned was that it all comes down to the people. The people on your team will make the difference in the success (or lack thereof) of your company. Consider Option 1, a scenario with an awful product but great people behind it. Conversely, consider Option 2, a stellar product, but mediocre people to go with it. When presented with the two options to hypothetically invest in, Asif Alam, SVP and Global Business Director for the Technology Sector at Thomson Reuters, opted for investing in an awful product with great people on the team. Asif spent time with the startup track discussing how to define our competition and our go to market strategy. In doing so, he shared the concept of working backwards, or what is known at Amazon as the “reverse innovation” approach. You create an end goal and start with envisioning where you want to be down the line- at the end of year 3, for example. You then backtrack to see what you need to do to get to the end of year 2, year 1, month 1, etc. This can make it harder for people to tell you “no” when you are looking to set your idea into motion. I see this as an opportunity to put your passion and vision at the forefront, allowing people to connect to it before going into the granular aspects of implementation. This way, they have a clear goal in mind related to why you need the resources you do to make it happen.
I was pleasantly surprised by the culture of openness in Silicon Valley; people here truly want to help each other and share their insights. I see a strong commonality between Silicon Valley and the Lehigh network in this sense. Sandy Stelling ‘91, Managing Director of Process Engineering at Alaska Airlines, epitomizes this willingness to share knowledge. Sandy gave us a candid look at her journey, from graduating with her degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh, through her numerous roles within the aeronautical industry, to where she is now at Alaska Airlines. I saw a lot of myself in Sandy; like me, she played soccer and was a sweeper, which enabled her to see the field- something she views as a part of how she thinks in her work with systems. She, too, is an engineer, and cares deeply about creativity and autonomy. What was most important for me to hear from her was to “bring your whole self to work.” Often times, there is an unspoken pressure to completely separate our personality, our emotions, and our other identities from our work life. However, much like Sandy, I’ve realized that I perform best when I can be authentic. The human experience is here to stay, so I plan to embrace it and allow my true self to be a part of my contributions to an organization.
LSV has truly transformed the way I view myself and the world around me. I will continue to develop my entrepreneurial mindset, and amplify it in everything I do. I am honored to have spent the last 8 days learning not only from some of the most insightful speakers I’ve ever had the opportunity to engage with, but also from my curious peers. I found myself learning from them and their thoughtful questions just as much as I learned from our incredible guests themselves. I know this group will go on to pursue great challenges, and I look forward to seeing where it takes us. In the words of Ann Lewnes ‘83, CMO of Adobe, “Find someone that’s on a path to greatness, and stick with them.” I’ve already found 54 such people, and for that, I am grateful.