“Never Quit”: Diane Hessan on Entrepreneurial Resilience
Diane Hessan’s journey building Communispace, the first company to leverage online communities in order to generate market research, is a remarkable one, full of ups, downs, and plot twists. She took it from a startup all the way to the highly successful company she sold to Omnicom in 2011. Diane shared some of her stories with us at a recent Summer Venture Program Lunch and Learn.
Diane opened by expressing her appreciation for both the highs and the lows of entrepreneurship: “A lot of the fun of being an entrepreneur is the victory is so much sweeter when you’ve just really struggled.” She started Communispace with the idea that companies would want to build communities to connect employees who were geographically spread out, so they could share knowledge and best practices. Chase Manhattan Bank, one of her very first clients, expressed enthusiasm for the platform when she presented it to a conference of 200 Chase HR managers. But only 7 of these people signed up as users in the first week.
Diane’s team tried all different things to get people onto the platform, but it took a pivot to make it work. Hallmark, then a potential client, was about to launch an community for its store managers when it suggested using the platform instead to connect with customers for market research – in Hallmark’s case, moms. The idea clicked and, when the platform went live, 62 people signed up in just 3 hours. From there on out, growth came quickly.
That’s not to say that Diane’s path to success was a straight line. She described how her team came together and helped navigate the company through the crisis of the dot com bubble burst, and how she coped when she discovered that an employee had forged client contracts and ten major Communispace clients were not actually clients at all. Based on all of these experiences, Diane shared five pieces of advice with us.
1. “Ask yourself if you were going to pivot… what might we become if we pivot?” Diane encouraged our entrepreneurs to remain open to pivots and to where they could potentially take their businesses.
2. “Some day.” Whenever Diane was dealing with a tough time or a sleepless night, she would tell herself “some day” to keep herself motivated by the thought of future success.
3. “You got to have people in your life who support you.” Diane reinforced the importance of having friends and family who support you, as well as coaches.
4. “Look for the serendipity.” Be open to conversations anywhere and ask people what they do and what they think. Diane first met her Chief Technology Officer, who ultimately transformed her business, in the bagel line at Panera.
5. “Never quit.” Above all, Diane said the most critical factor that led to her success was never quitting.
Thank you Diane for sharing your stories and advice with the Summer Venture Program cohort!