In this ongoing series, we share tips, advice, and insights from real entrepreneurs who fight the business battle daily. (Answers have been edited and shortened for clarity.)
Who are you and what is your job?
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 curate group activities and support member-led activities such as pickleball, coffee meetups, art workshops, ping pong, skydiving and just about everything in between. Our goal is to build Hank as the ideal technology solution for this generation to create and maintain the social connections we know make us live longer and healthier lives.
What inspired you to create this business?
The genesis of Hank came from sort of mixing two different parts of my life: the professional and the personal.
By the time I started thinking about Hank, I had spent more than a decade working in the tech industry, where the general rule is to “design for yourself”—meaning anyone under the age of forty. There’s this very ingrained misconception in technology that older generations don’t understand or want new technology, so we very rarely design solutions with older people in mind.
The personal part of my aha moment came around the time my parents became empty nesters. While my brother and I were out of the house, I watched my parents struggle to find new social circles and activities. This perspective began to blend with my experience in the tech industry, and together the two began to shape Hank. My mother and father eventually found social contacts through church and alumni organizations, but for them it was a long and disjointed process. Seeing my parents have a tough time as they moved into this new stage of life just hit home for me and my co-founder Andrew (we’ve been best friends since 6th grade!) how imperative social connections were and the new activities for our parents’ happiness, which was the nugget that Hank started.
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What was your biggest business challenge and how did you go about overcoming 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 provide assisted living services like transportation and high-quality food delivery to individual seniors’ homes. We discovered pretty quickly that building this particular business would require a real departure from our original vision of building community and social connections.
The challenge was that our early version of Hank would probably be a viable, albeit shorter ceiling, business – we were seeing early wins! But we just knew it wasn’t really going to achieve what we set out to do for ourselves or the over-55 demographic. So we basically went back to business as usual: we paused everything for about two months while we talked to our users, whiteboarded new models, and rebuilt the brand and product with our team.
These months were both really exciting and very difficult – it was hard for us and our team to shake off the early signs of growth and short-term viability and start all over again. But we’d do it again in a second — it’s led us to build a business we’re extremely proud of and better positioned to provide value to our Hank community.
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What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking for funding?
There are three things that I always think of when it comes to getting a raise of any size: being organized, managing it as a process, and telling a story.
The first two are really just for performance. Some first-time entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that funding will magically appear if your idea is good enough, when in reality there is a structure and timeline for deals and investor relationships and you need to be aware of these details to make the promotion go smoothly.
The third – telling a story and guiding investors to buy into your vision – is the most important thing. You want investors who really understand where you’re trying to get to, what that means you you need to understand and be able to articulate where you are trying to get to. Take the time to clarify your vision and use it as the anchor for your story. Funding is only a small part of what you should be looking for: you also want investors to be partners who are aligned with your vision, so they can advise you on how to get there and help you think through what it will take , to achieve the next growth milestone.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Persistence and consistency above all.
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 the business is booming or you’re still struggling with product-market fit, and they bring courage and tenacity to learn and improve and find their way through problems.
It’s also worth noting that these same qualities are extremely important to your team as a whole; it will not be sufficient for the founder or founders to operate in this manner. I’ve found this to be especially true in the early stages when there’s a lot of spinning and figuring out what needs to happen across the company.
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What is something that many aspiring business owners think they need, but 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 get everything right.
But one of the principles that Andrew and I live by as founders is the idea of small steps, not none at all. We relaunched Hank’s new MVP site after only a few weeks spent conceptualizing the proposal and redesigning the site. Since then, we’ve been building it 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 instead of trying to develop it in a silo until it’s perfect. There is it’s not perfect, and the sooner founders get comfortable with that, the faster you’ll move, your team will feel stronger, and you’ll end up with a better product.