In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Brian Park and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Hank, a digital platform connecting adults 55+ with people and activities in their community. We both curate group activities and support member-led activities like pickleball, coffee meet-ups, art workshops, ping pong, skydiving, and most everything in between. Our goal is to build Hank to be the perfect tech solution for this generation to create and maintain the social connections that we know keep us all living longer, healthier lives.
What inspired you to create this business?
The genesis of Hank came from a sort of conflation between two different parts of my life: the professional, and the personal.
At the time I started thinking about Hank, I had spent over a decade working in the tech industry, where a common rule of thumb is to “design for yourself” — meaning someone under the age of forty. There’s this very ingrained misconception in tech that older generations don’t understand or want new technology, so very rarely do we design solutions with older people in mind.
The personal part of my aha moment came around the time that my parents became empty nesters. With my brother and I out of the house, I watched as my parents struggled to find new social circles and activities. That view began to intermingle with my experience in the tech industry, and together the two began to give shape to Hank. My mom and dad eventually found social outlets through church and alumni organizations, but it was a long and disjointed process for them. Seeing my folks have a tough time as they moved into this new stage of life just drove home for me and my co-founder Andrew (we’ve been best friends since 6th grade!) how imperative social connections and new activities were to our parents ‘happiness, which was the nugget that started Hank.
What was your biggest business challenge and how did you pivot to overcome it?
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges we face as entrepreneurs is staying focused on — and true to — your vision.
Our first iteration of Hank was actually a very different business: we were essentially trying to bring assisted living services like transportation and high quality meal delivery to older adults’ individual homes. We discovered pretty quickly that building that particular business was going to require a real shift away from our original vision around community building and social connection.
The challenge was that our early version of Hank would likely have been a viable, if shorter ceiling, business—we were seeing early wins! But we just knew that it wasn’t going to actually deliver on what we set out to do for ourselves or the 55+ demographic. So, we essentially went back to brass tacks: we paused everything for about two months while we talked to our consumers, whiteboarded new models, and rebuilt the brand and product with our team.
Those months were both really thrilling and also very difficult — it was tough on us, and our team, to turn away from early signs of growth and short-term viability and start all over. But, we’d do it again in a second — it led us to build a business we’re extremely proud of that’s better positioned to provide value to our Hank community.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
There are three things I always think about heading into a raise of any size: being organized, running it like a process, and telling a story.
The first two are really just about execution. Some first time entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that funding will sort of magically appear if your idea is good enough, when in reality there’s a structure and a timeline to investor deals and relationships, and you’ve got to be on top of those details to make a raise go smoothly.
The third — telling a story and getting investors to buy into your vision — is the single most important thing. You want investors who really understand where you’re trying to go, which means that you have to understand and be able to articulate where you’re trying to go. Spend time getting clarity on your vision and use that as the anchor for your story. The funding is only a small piece of what you should be after: you also want investors to be partners who are aligned with your vision, so they can advise you on how to get there and can help you think about what it will take to achieve the next milestone of growth.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Persistence and consistency above all else.
For every moment of glory as an entrepreneur — a great launch, a beautiful product, a category-defining idea — there are a million others that are stressful, difficult, and unpredictable. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who come back every day, whether business is booming or you’re still struggling with product-market fit, and brings grit and tenacity to learn and improve and figure a way through problems.
It’s also worth noting that those same qualities are critical to have in your team at large; it won’t be enough for the founder or founders to operate that way. I’ve found that’s especially true at early stages where there’s a lot of pivoting and figuring out what needs to happen across the company.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don’t?
I think it’s common for first-time founders to feel like they need all the answers before they get started, so they’ll delay product work or fundraising conversations or other critical activities until they’ve got it all “right.”
But one of the tenets that Andrew and I live by as founders is the idea of small steps rather than none. We relaunched the new Hank site at the MVP stage after only a handful of weeks spent conceptualizing the offering and redesigning the site. Since then we’ve built it up piece by piece, week by week, based on feedback from our customers. It’s so important to get out there and talk to customers and start iterating on your product rather than trying to develop it in a silo until it’s perfect. There is no perfect, and the sooner the founders get comfortable with that, you’ll move quicker, your team will feel more empowered, and you’ll ultimately end up with a better product.