Danny Warshay, Brown University
Entrepreneurship is considered one of Brown University’s highest-rated programs. Like many others in the field, Danny Warshay embraced the empowerment of an entrepreneurial path. He believes that entrepreneurship is not a gift but rather a process that anyone can learn. In this episode, Danny sits with J.R. Lowry to talk about his journey through the entrepreneurial world. From his college days, to his own entrepreneurial ventures, to the advising he has done for many other entrepreneurs, to his life in teaching entrpreneurship at Brown, and now his new book See, Solve, Scale: How Anyone Can Turn An Unsolved Problem Into A Breakthrough Success, Danny takes us through his own path and his views on entrepreneurship more generally. Listen in and learn more as Danny shares about his business breakthroughs and his passion for leading start-ups to their success.
Listen to the podcast here
Danny Warshay, Executive Director Of The Nelson Center For Entrepreneurship At Brown University
Author Of See, Solve, Scale: How Anyone Can Turn An Unsolved Problem Into A Breakthrough Success
In this episode, I have the pleasure of welcoming my longtime friend, Danny Warshay, to the show. Danny is the Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown University. He is a Brown University grad himself, and he dove into the entrepreneurial world immediately following school back in the late 1980s.
He cofounded a software firm called Clearview that was ultimately sold to Apple Computer. He then joined another startup that was ultimately sold as well. Following a stint getting his MBA from Harvard Business School, Danny made a brief foray into the corporate world as a member of the Duncan Hines brand team at Procter & Gamble.
He then returned to the entrepreneurial world, advising and helping to lead startups spanning a wide array of industries from publishing to nutrition and alternative health care to specialized shock-absorbing materials, among many others. Along the way, he started teaching entrepreneurship at Brown, where he continues to teach today.
He has run workshops with groups all over the world, including in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He is the newly published author of See, Solve, Scale, a distillation of the entrepreneurial approach that he teaches his Brown students. Danny and his wife live in Providence and are the parents of three grown children.
Danny, welcome. Congratulations on getting your first book published. That is an exciting milestone. A long time coming, I know.
I like your ambition to say it’s the first book because that implies many others, perhaps. For now, I am super excited and you have contributed to it in meaningful ways. I hope it is a milestone for both of us.
I contributed to it only in the proofreading at a very detailed level, not certainly in any form of the substance. That was it, just to set the record straight. I was reading it maybe to give myself a sense of how you think about things and what you teach your students.
As I generally do, go back to the beginning. You grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Did you envision being an entrepreneur back then?
First of all, being from a suburb of Cleveland, Shaker Heights, I grew up probably 50 miles from where you grew up. I consider myself a Midwesterner at heart, so I always want to make sure I emphasize those roots. In fact, you may have seen in my bio, and it’s funny how many people notice this, that I describe myself as an avid and tortured Cleveland sports fan, which is true. Remember, I am now like you are, for a long time, in New England. If there was ever an incentive to shake that, it would have been over the last decade, but I am still a Clevelander at heart.
To answer your question, no. I did not even know the word entrepreneurship. The closest I got to it was a good friend of mine and I, the summer between high school and college, started a croissant baking business. We delivered flyers to people’s houses. At least at that time, it was a far better alternative to packing bags in a grocery store or some equivalent to that.
Maybe that was the first inkling I got that doing something like that where you start something to address a need and you build it up on a smaller scale. I never got to the third step of the book title, Scale, but that was my first little exposure. It probably planted a seed in my mind that doing something like that on whatever scale would have appealed to me.
Were you baking croissants from scratch?
Yes. We modified a recipe.
You don’t even eat croissants anymore, do you?
I do not. I am vegan and gluten-free, so there is nothing about a classic French croissant that I can even eat. At that time, we modified a recipe that my friend and partner, Matt Kirsch, had found in his parent’s gourmet magazine. We even took a course on how to do it, and it is not easy. It is a three-day process that involves all sorts of complicated folds and rising, but we did it. It was popular and it was fun to start something from scratch.
How did you end up deciding to go to Brown and majoring in History?
Brown was a good fit for me. In my high school days, I found Shaker Heights to be an amazing place to grow up and to go to school. I even mentioned in the book the motto that the Shaker schools have is, “A community is known by the schools it keeps.” Shaker Heights had a huge priority on top-quality education for a very diverse population, which was also a blessing to have experienced in my youth.
I will admit that high school for me was very intense and competitive. I found the appeal of Brown to be almost impossible to believe in that it was a place where there was not very much competition. As you may know, grades have a different feel at Brown. It was a different grading system. It was a place where you could explore all things without anybody telling you what to do, with its emphasis on liberal arts.
I am not sure I even knew what liberal arts were. I have taught at other places like Yale and Tel Aviv University for most of the summer for many years, and in workshops, as you described and all of the places all over the world, I have discovered, and it is part of what I teach, that liberal arts are a phenomenal background for about anything.
I emphasize throughout my teaching that it is a good background for entrepreneurship. We could dig into that further if you want. That was the appeal of Brown and it lived up to its promise. It was an amazing place. It also enabled me to spend a year in Israel, which some of the other schools I was looking at were not too thrilled about.
As nice as Providence, Rhode Island is, it’s hard to compare to a year in Jerusalem. I like to say when I got back from that year, two very life-changing things happened. By far the most important is that I met the woman who became my wife, Deb Herman, whom you know very well as well, and I did not know that Brown would afford me that opportunity. The other is I fell into an opportunity to become part of the leadership team of that software startup you mentioned, Clearview, that eventually we sold to Apple.Our teachers and mentors know in us some talent that we don't even recognize ourselves. Click To Tweet
I have to clarify that there were computers back in the ‘80s but sometimes when I mention that anecdote to students in their twenties or even late teens, they picture them as these big, huge machines in the middle of a room. That was, I would say, other than croissants, the first experience I had in real entrepreneurship. It was tech entrepreneurship, but I knew nothing about business. I was a history concentrator who had spent a year in Israel. I knew nothing about computers or tech. You might wonder how in the world was I well-suited to be part of this leadership team? We can get into some of that detail if you like.
Let’s get into it. You mentioned that having a liberal arts education can be helpful to an entrepreneur. You did not have the benefit of taking a class like the one you now teach. As a History major, how did you earn your seat at the table in a startup software firm?
Part of it was the same person with whom I had started that croissant business who had been the founder or very early cofounder of this computer company that emerged from some work that some of the tech people were doing on the early iterations of the Macintosh on campus. They reached out to me because they said, “Here is Danny. He’s a smart person and well organized. We need somebody to help work on the business side of this.” I picked it up as I went along. I knew nothing about accounting, benefits, payroll, or any of that, but it is true, I was well-organized and was able to figure it out, but I am sure that I would have done it more effectively had I been privy to the course that I teach.
I talk about it in the book, See, Solve, Scale. In terms of the raw liberal arts training, if you think about it, it is not necessarily only true for me. I think it is true for lots of my liberal arts students. You learn in liberal arts how to think, identify a consequential problem, identify how to do research in firsthand and secondhand ways to solve that problem, and develop a mechanism of communicating that solution. All of those raw skills are skills that I know I have benefited from through that first startup and all the way through the rest of my career that we are going to talk about in a way.
For all the PathWise contributors and enthusiasts, I hope that is a message that is useful, which is you do not have to be trained explicitly as a practitioner in a specific field in order to succeed in it. If anything, I think people underplay and under-appreciate the raw skills that they have, whether it is from their formal academic training or, probably in most cases, from the rest of their experience in their career. In many cases, a pivot requires seeing creatively how you might reapply some of those skills, even in areas where you do not have a credential to indicate you are qualified.
You made that point in the book. I do not remember how you said it, but it is like, “Everybody is an entrepreneur. Everybody can be an entrepreneur and everybody is always doing or exhibiting some form of entrepreneurial behavior, even if they are doing something different.” There is always a bit of doing your own thing that everybody has.
First, I want to be clear about what I even mean by entrepreneurship. When I was asked to teach at Brown, there was a beloved professor, Barrett Hazeltine, who tapped me on the shoulder back in 2005 and said, “We would like it if you would come to Brown and teach.” I thought, “You have got the wrong guy. I have never taught Sunday school.” He said, “No, you would be a great teacher.” I think it’s true. Sometimes, professors, teachers, and mentors see in us some talent that we do not even recognize ourselves. That is probably useful to PathWise people, too, and you can’t say no to Barrett Hazeltine.
Before I knew it, I had said yes. I had to think, what does that mean to teach entrepreneurship in a liberal arts environment? I defined entrepreneurship as a structured process for solving problems. In that respect, it appealed to a wide range of students on campus and it still does. At that time, I was thinking, “How do I teach that?” We can get into it more, but you are right. If you think about it in those broad terms, then there is a very wide range of types of potential entrepreneurs in all contexts where people are looking to solve problems.
Through the years, I have had lots of students come back to me and say, “I loved your class, but I was not sure how I was going to apply that See, Solve Scale approach and the structured methodology to my work in public health, the law, medicine, government, arts, the military, or wherever.” Brown students, like lots of students, go off to do all sorts of things, but they come back to me in big numbers to say, “I am using it as you intended as a structured process for solving problems.”
That gives me a ton of joy because the world is full of problems that need to be solved. That is what I teach entrepreneurs to do, to empower problem solvers. First of all, to go identify a problem, then solve it on a small scale and figure out a way to do it on a much bigger scale over the long-term so they can have a significant fundamental impact on solving that problem.
The See part of it you described in the book is that you have to think like an anthropologist. You go and exhibit people in their natural environment. I have heard you talk many times about the athletes who went into the grocery store looking for [an idea for your class]. You can tell that story if you would like. Observing people as they were doing their grocery shopping. The thing about the See part of See, Solve, Scale is one of the pitfalls people run into is, as the adage goes, a solution looking for a problem. The focus on seeing explicitly gets you out of that mode. It forces you to find the problem before you start worrying about how to solve it. To me, it is a simple concept, but it is a powerful one.
In all the workshops I do all over the world, that is typically the part of the process that I focus on. I did a workshop at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, PwC, online for 2,400 people. It was the biggest workshop I have done in a long time, at least. We had 300 breakout rooms and it was all on that first part of the process.
There is an Einstein quote that talks about, if I had a problem to solve and my life depended on it and I only had an hour to solve it, I would spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem because once I have defined the problem, I would have plenty of opportunities to solve it in the next five minutes. That is the same way I think about entrepreneurship. If you invest disproportionately upfront in understanding the unmet need, the problem you are looking to solve, then the rest of the process unfolds pretty naturally.
As you say, you do not want to be a solution in search of a problem. If you do not define the problem first, that is what you are likely to be. It would be sheer luck if you happened to align your proposed solution to a problem that you only hope is out there. By the way, your reference to my way of describing that first process as anthropological is another good tie to a fundamental skillset. It is a liberal art.
You may learn Anthropology in school and figure, “I don’t know what the heck I am ever going to use Anthropology for.” I suspect most of us are in a problem-solving solution at one time or another. Anthropology is the most important skill in any problem-solving situation. It is the ability to observe and listen to people behaving naturally in their own habitat and environment without trying to change or modify their behavior.
There might be time to do that later on, but the first step is to perform what I call bottom-up research. They would call it ethnographic research. That is a good example maybe for PathWise folks to understand that a skill you may not have known would be useful down the line can be the most important skill that you have. I appreciate you mentioning that.
There is the expression, “Meeting people where they are,” which carries some different meanings as well. In a way, there is some of that same element there of not forcing them into your construct but rather observing them and trying to help them in their own construct.
The other word I use other than anthropological when I am teaching that part of it is empathy. At least in Western cultures, the shorthand way we describe empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It does not mean judging their shoes like, “Your shoes are so 2016.” Certainly, it does not mean pitching them on a new pair of shoes, at least at the point where you are trying to explore their issues.You don't want to be a solution in search of a problem. If you don't define the problem first, that's what you're likely to be. Click To Tweet
By the way, one of the pleasures I have had in teaching all over the world and all different contexts is I have learned different metaphors. When I taught a group of Japanese faculty, they used the phrase synchronizing your hearts to describe empathy. I love that one too. It conveys what you said, which is at least in the first part of the process, all you are trying to do is understand what other people are experiencing. I would say too often in interpersonal relationships or in any endeavor, if people would stop and do that, they would be much more successful no matter what they are trying to do. I hope that is a useful lesson for anybody [listening to] this show.
It is something that translates across a broad range of situations.
I won’t tell the story unless you want me to, but you mentioned the folks from my course who started this prenatal vitamin company called Premama. There is no way they would have understood the problems that pregnant women and women looking to become pregnant are experiencing unless they had empathy or unless they were anthropological, listened and observed closely. Out of that experience came a whole line of new formulated prenatal vitamins that address the underlying problems that they discovered through that first See part of the process that they learned in the course.
I know the book has many stories that you tell along the way in terms of people going through a similar process. I want to go back briefly to Clearview, because you were an entrepreneur back before the venture capital industry took off. Certainly, there was a venture capital industry back in the ’80s, but Silicon Valley was not anything like what it is now. The maturity of the industry was not anything like what it is now. You managed a few years out of college to sell your software company to arguably the big up-and-coming computer firm at that time in Apple. How did you make that happen?
What I often tell my students is they are in a much better position than I am now, knowing all I know, because they do not know any better. In fact, one of the principles of the book is that entrepreneurs benefit from the benefits of scarce resources. Established firms and knowledgeable people are burdened by their abundant resources. This benefit of scarce resources, which helps entrepreneurs often, is beneficial for very young people who are, frankly, too naive to know any better. To some extent, we did not know any better.
We did not have a playbook. We would have been more efficient. We may have been even more successful if we had had the See, Solve, Scale methodology, but you are right. There were no other startups like us, certainly, at Brown or even in Rhode Island, it felt. When I tell the story, I describe us as mutants. Whereas now, anywhere you look, there are lots of startups in Providence and around the world.
We did benefit from two things. One is my tech partners. When I was part of the company, I was the only one not to be a tech person, but the tech people had the best training they could have gotten in the software development that we were doing. Brown was excellent at that time at helping train software engineers. My colleagues were super excited about the new Macintosh and took it upon themselves to translate some of what they learned at Brown into new development opportunities. For me, as I say, I drew on my liberal arts training and learned along the way what all the rudiments of operating a business were like.
I remember when we picked up the phone one day because our intention was to sell our own products, and it was Apple calling. They did not tell us who it was at first, but they were interested in our products. They had spun off a subsidiary called Claris. They expressed a lot of interest in our product, which led to originally a license deal and eventually to our selling the company. Even in the discussions, it felt pretty heady to us. When a couple of colleagues of mine and I went out to California to negotiate that deal, we did not have a playbook. We did not know what we were doing.
Maybe we would have done an even better job if we had had a course or a book to tell us, but it gave me the confidence to realize it is not like being a doctor. You better go to med school if you want to operate on somebody, or if you want to represent somebody in a courtroom, you better get a law degree. These days, I am asked by a lot of people, “Should I go to business school?” I often say, “No.” I do not know what you think because we met in business school. I am certainly very happy that I went to business school. Probably the most important thing is that I met wonderful people like you and several of our other friends who we’re very close to and spend time with.
I remember when I got into Harvard Business School. Lots of people said, “You are going to go there for the network.” I was too naive and too young even to appreciate what that would mean. I thought, “No, I have never taken a business class in my life. I have been part of two successful startups, but I have a lot to learn.” The most long-lasting benefit of business school has certainly been the relationship with you and others, but in order to do entrepreneurship, I do not think you need a degree. I think your skillset can be amplified by some guidance like what I teach, what our center does, or what I have in the book. You do not need to be credentialed in order to be a successful entrepreneur.
To your point, for me, coming out of the military, I described business school sometimes as a halfway house to the real world. The military is a different environment than the private sector. You talk about being naive about the networking aspects of going to a leading business school. I was probably naive about business in general. I worked in summers and things like that but had not had that experience. For me, I look back and say, “It was a good investment of time and money.” Given how much school costs these days and the options that are available to people to make their path in different ways, though, it’s a different proposition than it was when you and I both decided to go.
You’re right. My military experience was at P&G. That was my equivalent, I think, where, for me, it was a different world. It gave me exposure to lots of things at a much bigger scale than I had ever been exposed to in either of those two software companies that I had been part of. I remember being attracted to P&G when I was at Harvard. I don’t know if you got this advice, but I got the advice, “At least for the summer, try something different from what you have previously done.” I thought, “I have been part of two startups. I should go someplace big. Those startups were tech, so I’ll do something maybe consumer-facing in consumer products.” P&G was the opportunity I chose.
I went there for the summer. I got an offer to go back, and as it turned out, I was not that happy going back. It was not the best, most fun experience for me, but I will say it was very worthwhile and it taught me a ton about growing a business that I do not think I would have figured out as quickly if I had gone back to doing something from the startup world.
I don’t regret going to P&G at all. I met good people and P&G is a fabulous company but it was not a long-term fit for me. In fact, a lot of the bottom-up research training that I now do draws on some of the equivalent training that I learned at P&G. Nobody in the world does it as well as P&G.
There is a little bit of P&G lore. I am not sure if all the details are accurate, but I share that in my training, I hope with a fair nod to the good work that P&G does and those anecdotes as you recall in the book. Another good example is you don’t know where your career is going to take you, whether it’s business school or P&G. I knew I was not going to spend my whole career at business school. I also knew that I was not going to spend it at P&G, but I tried very hard to extract some learning that eventually paid dividends in ways that I could not have predicted back then.
You were there for roughly a year, and then you moved back to Providence from Cincinnati. At that point, did you have a clear view of what you wanted to do?
I never have a clear view of what I want to do. I state that overtly. What I mean by that is I am not willy-nilly, but I am very open to the idea that life zigs and zags. There are periodic inflection points that you can’t predict ahead of time. Life or a career is not linear. I would recommend this to others in general. For me, at least, life and careers are interesting. When you see those inflection points and recognize them as opportunities that you may not have planned for and you may not have predicted or expected.
When Barrett Hazeltine tapped me on the shoulder about teaching at Brown, I had never even fantasized about the idea of teaching back at Brown. Many years ago, the Provost of Brown approached me about being the founding director of this new center for entrepreneurship, the Nelson Center. I hadn’t conceived of that as something I might do. I didn’t even know what a Provost was. The thing, though, is that I think I have done well. My wife is a psychologist, as you well know. Maybe she could figure out why but I have recognized those opportunities when they hit me in the face.If people would stop and work to understand what other people are experiencing, they would be more successful no matter what they're trying to do. Click To Tweet
Rather than saying, “That’s not me. I’m not a teacher or I’m not an executive director of a center. I ran a venture capital firm for a while and I’m not a venture capitalist.” I generally don’t say that. I size it up intuitively and pretty quickly make a decision of, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” I move forward. In most of those cases, I have said yes. I am grateful to the people who have asked me because things have generally worked out pretty well.
Anybody who thinks that they can perfectly plan out the whole of their career either plans to do one thing for their whole life or is deluding themselves. As you say, life happens and opportunities come at you that you would not have expected. You always have to at least give them consideration.
Here is another one. It is in the flesh here [holds up book]. I never believed that I could write a book. You are a writer and you wrote for the Harbus at HBS. You have that reputation and skillset. I would never have even thought about it. Why I did think about it is a lot of my students came to me and they said, “You’re not doing the third step. You are not scaling the solution to teaching entrepreneurship that you have done on a small scale.”
Soon, I am going to be a published author. I would never have imagined that. In the face of my students saying, “You should write a book,” I hadn’t said, “That is not part of my plan. I had not thought of that. No, thank you.” I figure again it is like the entrepreneurial process. There is a need. Let’s start solving it on a small scale. I started writing a Google Doc but that did not involve a ton of investment.
If I got to the point where I had to abandon that, no big deal, but it is to the point where now I have a published book and it is going to be done. If you ask me what is my strongest advice to people who are reading here who I know are bought into the idea of needing to learn how to transition or think later in their careers about what to do, I would say, “Don’t overthink the linearity of life because what makes life interesting is all these opportunities that are not linear that you did not necessarily predict.” In fact, I was invited with a number of other Harvard alumni to go to HBS and sit in on a session of a class that is designed to help students chart their career paths. It’s a great thing that a business school would teach that.
I wish all schools did that. What was notable to me is a word that kept coming up in my discussions because we were at tables with some alumni and students. The word that kept coming up from students was “regret” because they kept asking, “What is the career move you regret most? What is the financial investment you regret most?” I thought, “Why do you keep asking about regret?”
I said, “I don’t live my life like that. I don’t mean that I don’t have regrets. I must – otherwise I have done everything perfectly, and I have not. I have made many mistakes, but it is not how I compute things. I don’t think about regret as much as they seemed to.” It made me worry they are so risk-averse because they are so worried about making a mistake that will make them regret something. I hope that is useful to people who are reading.
I think aversity to risk as over-emphasizing the downside and underemphasizing the good side. Some people do that and some people do the exact opposite. They tend to be overly ambitious or optimistic. It tells a lot about your personality. Whether you are one or the other, it is helpful to know that about yourself so that you can do a little bit of self-correction.
As you know, I talk a lot about failure in the book. There is a whole big section because it is inherent in entrepreneurship. If you haven’t failed, it means you haven’t tried. I have failed. It does not always feel good in the moment, but it often will help move you to another stage that you would not have gotten to without that so-called failure. When you are in other cultures, though, you can’t even say that word. There are some cultures in which they are so allergic to the concept, but it is part of it. Anybody who claims that they haven’t failed is lying. It’s so much better to talk openly and transparently.
In fact, one of the studies I cite in the book talks about these two groups of entrepreneurs that are pitching their venture, one of whom talks glowingly about all their successes and the other one of whom talks a little bit about their successes but is also honest about the failures they have had along the way, the challenges.
The group that is so much more appealing to investors is the second group because they can tell they are so much more honest and sincere about who they are. It always enhances the level of trust you achieve with another person if you are honest. No one can pretend not to have had those challenges. I wouldn’t worry as much about regret. Move forward, and see what happens.
When you were writing your book, at what point did you go looking for a publisher? How did you navigate that process?
I did everything backward. I didn’t know the process. I was too naive even to know what I was supposed to do to go do it. All I knew was that my students in some pretty big numbers were telling me how much the course meant to them and I needed to scale the approach and write a book.
I had been teaching in Israel. I think this was 2018 in the summer. I got back and I said, “What do I have to lose?” I started writing a manuscript in a Google Doc. I remember writing ten pages and feeling like, “That’s a lot,” then I hit 50 pages and I thought, “That’s as much writing I have done ever, bigger than any history project in college.”
Eventually, I wrote a 350-page manuscript. I had written the entire thing, then I figured, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do now, but the opportunity before me came to figure out what to do next.” A pretty big literary agency came to me and they said, “We have heard you are writing this book. It sounds like something that would appeal to us.” They had heard through the grapevine. Anyway, we hit it off. I hired them as an agent. They helped me reverse engineer the proposal I probably was supposed to have written in the first place.
They shopped it around to a bunch of big publishers. There was a lot of demand and interest to the point where they had to do an auction. St. Martin’s Press, a division of McMillan, won the auction. There’ve been separate auctions for the international rights in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the UK, and a number of other places are in the works. If you thought I could have envisioned that or had planned that out when I was on my back patio starting a Google Doc, I had no clue about that.
The way you do it is the opposite. You’re supposed to write a proposal and get an agent to shop it to publishers. They piqued the interest of publishers. They agreed to publish it and there is the whole process of doing that. To me, it is another good example of, don’t sweat it if you don’t know the process per se, but you know enough about the process to undertake it. It worked in my favor.
I have heard people tell the story both ways. They take a book proposal and shop for publishers then. Maybe they write a chapter or two to give them a sense of their writing. Then there are the people who work on something and they get it perfected. Some of them are able to convince a publisher to publish it. Now, the great thing is you don’t have to do that. You can self-publish. There is a whole industry built up around that. I know a lot of people who have self-published books. Some of them are quite good. You can’t necessarily judge, but the process of creating something, in your case 350 pages, is a huge effort.Life is not linear, and it becomes interesting when you recognize inflection points as opportunities that you may not have planned for and you may not have predicted or expected. Click To Tweet
One thing I will point out is that they are not the same 350 pages that I wrote originally. I benefited tremendously from you and several others who read it very closely, as well as my wife, Matt Kirsch, who I mentioned, Bill Stone, and Howie Jacobson, but these are all people who know me well. A professional editor in an editing team at St. Martin’s Press helped me re-engineer the whole book.
If I had self-published even an advanced manuscript that I had written on my own, it would not have been nearly as good as it became. A lot of people like it already. This highlights a point in the book, which is that entrepreneurship is generally not a solo sport. It’s a team sport. A diverse team around you is the secret to helping propel you onto entrepreneurial success. I have benefited greatly from the diverse team around me.
Everybody who has written a book will describe the editorial process as being brutal and humbling.
Very much so because my editor was smart. He kept telling me before I was working with him, “Your book is in great shape but it needs a little tweaking.” I was so proud, like, “My book is in great shape. Who knew?” He was completely reworking it, pulling it apart, critical all over the place. I even said, “Tim, you said my book was in good shape. What happened?” He said, “If I told you what shape it was in, it would have freaked you out. You would never have wanted to work with me,” but he was right. It is such a better book than it ever could have been with me only.
I read a similar story. I can’t remember but it may have been Liz Wiseman when she was working on her first book. I recently read her book Impact Players. I want to say it was a similar story of, “You are a great writer,” and she gets in the room with her friend, who is a writer-editor, and he ripped her draft to shreds.
This friend of mine, Howie Jacobson, who is a prolific writer, once said to me, “Your book sucks. Not like it will never be good. It is a great piece of writing, but it is not edited well. A whole editorial team is great at editing, and that is what this needs.” Out the other end comes a book that was written well but not edited well, but then it becomes edited well. That is a different opportunity.
I will look forward to seeing how the book does in the market. Are you doing a book tour or anything like that?
Yes, although what is interesting is that this is the format for the book tour, doing things remotely or narrowly. My wife, Deb, who you are friends with too, was bemoaning the fact that we would not be traveling around the world as we often have done because otherwise, in normal circumstances, we would be going to all different cities. The publicity and marketing people are lining me up for lots of podcasts and lots of media appearances. That is the way the book spread in terms of its own popularity. In fact, I am told at podcasts more than any other, so I am grateful to you for having me on this one.
You are one of the early episodes, so I am grateful for you spending the time. I think we both win out of this one. You mentioned the traveling you have done. One thing I have always thought was interesting about your background is some of the situations that you have come into in terms of your teaching in different parts of the world. Maybe spend a minute or two talking about some of the more unique groups that you have applied the entrepreneurial process to.
First of all, as I mentioned before, one of the great pleasures of being able to teach, and again, I had no idea that this would evolve this way when Barrett Hazeltine asked me to do this, is that I have had the opportunity to teach in so many different cultures and contexts around the world. I always say, in some places that I have to find on a map.
I have been to Slovenia five times to teach workshops. I did not have any idea where Slovenia was the first time I went there. I think I can find it in the map now. The US Embassy asked me to teach workshops in Bahrain. I knew where Bahrain was because I had spent a lot of time in the Middle East but had to find it, doing things in unexpected places like that, where I worked.
In Bahrain, I did three workshops. One was teaching the faculty at the Polytechnic Institute how to teach entrepreneurship because they had no idea. It was a “train the trainer” opportunity. I also did something for an economic development group because, as it turns out, I learned Bahrain is dependent on oil and their oil supply is drying up. They have no alternative and needed to think entrepreneurially. They wanted the process that I teach. By the way, that happened through a former student of mine from Brown, who was working for for State Department and connected me with the Embassy in Bahrain. I did something for the banking industry there.
Especially when I go to disadvantaged places, people that feel they are disadvantaged, don’t have a lot of resources, and in certain places in China. I teach in different places in Palestine. Often, when I am teaching for the summer in Israel, I go to Palestine to teach in places that feel disadvantaged and, therefore, feel like they are not eligible to be included in the opportunity to be entrepreneurial.
When they hear about my duality between the benefits of scarce resources and even the burden of abundant resources, I can see their body language shift. By the way, in Bahrain, they have the burden of abundant resources, too much oil wealth to be motivated to think differently or try new things. They needed the approach that I was teaching them to help them understand that. If I am going to places that feel disadvantaged, they need the opposite boost to feel like, “Your scarce resources are an advantage for See, Solve, Scale.” I especially like going to places where I did not expect at first that I could have a big impact because they feel like they have been excluded from the entrepreneurial discourse.
To share the breadth of the impact the teaching has had, I work a lot with this group I mentioned, Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace’s mission is not commercial. It is literally either Middle East or world peace. That is a pretty heady ambition as a problem to solve. That is one of the reasons in the third step of the process, Scale, I don’t call it a business model. I call it a sustainability model, which is defined as having a long-term impact at scale because sometimes the outcomes or the purpose are not about starting a business.
That is why the subtitle of the book, as you see, is How Anyone Can Turn an Unsolved Problem into a Breakthrough Success. The word anyone is key. It is people in all walks of life. Breakthrough success is defined in many ways, depending on what problem you have identified. I hope that is an answer to the question. Those are the places and opportunities that I find rewarding to help move the needle in ways that I think were unexpected.
As you say, it is a diverse population, State Departments, Seeds of Peace, places in China, and Pricewaterhouse, PwC. It is a very broad range. As we have been talking, I have been thinking about this point you have raised a couple of times. Your student told you that you were not scaling. I don’t think that is completely true, and I will tell you why. I would love to get your thoughts. If you weren’t scaling at all, you would be Danny Warshay, entrepreneur, solo practitioner, running your own little business. You grew some businesses. You brought other people in. That is a form of scaling.
On ownership focus, when you came back to Providence, even before you got involved at Brown, you spent roughly a decade basically coaching and advising and being involved in some operational way with a bunch of different startups. You scaled your knowledge and gained more knowledge by working in that more advisory capacity, and then you start teaching. You’ve got a group of thousands of people who have taken your class at Brown over the years who have gone off into the world and applied your lessons. Some of them started very successful companies. I would argue that Danny Warshay movement has been scaling for several years.Failure is inherent in entrepreneurship. If you haven't failed, it means you haven’t tried. Click To Tweet
I appreciate you saying that. I should have had you alongside me when I was getting accused by all these students of not following my own process. You’re right. One way to think about it is that scale is relative to the context in which you are envisioning yourself. At first, who was I to teach a course at Brown?
I taught one course and I thought, “Great.” It began to scale incrementally because it was so well-received. They said, “Could you teach each semester?” I got involved more at Brown and I was teaching at Yale, and then Tel Aviv came calling. It became more of a scaling process. The message from students, maybe this is said better, was, “There was much more potential in scaling even more than I had even recognized.”
That is probably a fair way to say it, but it is true that I had not seen that or recognized it. It took my own students to turn me on to that different perspective and that is part of it too. Sometimes what I do is help somebody think bigger because they have been thinking at a small scale. I challenged them to say, “What if you dominated this opportunity? Dominated it in a way that would fundamentally solve the problem.” If we always think back to, “This is a method to solve a problem,” that’s important.
I like the fact that you in your class have the expectation that they have a business idea that has the potential to be a $100 million business. Am I remembering that right?
That’s right. Your son, Zach, took the class and he had to do that himself. It’s arbitrary, but it’s designed to get people out of their own mental fixedness of thinking. The first semester, I had student teams develop a business plan or sustainability plan, as I now call it. I got a number of cafes on the main drive at Brown, Thayer Street. That was big to them. That was their context. I said, “No, we’re talking about a completely different level of scale.” Arbitrarily, I said, “Demonstrate that there is potential for $100 million in revenue by year five.” That does get people out of their own mental limitations.
It struck me when I read the book and thinking about how that process must’ve unfolded. I think it is a good way to get people, as you say, out of their mental fixedness.
If you don’t mind, I want to make sure that we mention one thing. It may not have even been on our topics list, but it seems germane. That is this concept you may recognize from the book called ikigai, which is this Japanese word. Many people may be already familiar with it, but if they are not, it is a Japanese word that means living a meaningful life. It has four components. The four components are, first, you do something that you’re good at. The second is, you do something that you love. Third is something that is going to have a meaningful impact on the world around you. Four is you’re going to benefit financially from it.
I usually find, whether it is for myself or helping somebody else figure out what they should do or even diagnose why they are not happy doing what they are doing, at least one of those pillars is not in place. They may be doing something they’re good at, but they do not love it or they are loving it, but it is not having an impact on the world around them. They are not making enough money or one of those is off. To me, it is such an important template as a framework for thinking through what you might think about doing next or, again, helping to diagnose why you are not fully satisfied doing what you are doing now. It seems so simple. I think simplicity is elegant and powerful.
I didn’t want to end our episode now without even mentioning it because I wrote a lot about that in the book. It is so central to what makes a successful entrepreneur. It is about living with purpose. Purpose is more important than passion. Passion is more important than drive, but at the top of the heap, it is purpose. Purpose is the central theme in this concept of ikigai.
I read about it for the first time when I read your book. I thought, “What an amazing way of thinking about it.” Since then, I have certainly seen it. To your point about maybe everybody knows that, I think a lot of people have not heard of it, even some of the career coaches that I have talked with in the course of doing this work. A lot of them had not heard of it. It is a simple and powerful thing.
We are past time at this point. I want to be mindful that you have got lots of other things going on. Danny, thank you for being a guest. I appreciate it. It has been great getting a little bit more of your personal history, on the book, and the lessons in the book. I hope it does great in the market. We’ll see in the days and months ahead, but I wish you the best.
Thank you so much, JR. Good luck with PathWise. It is a pleasure to be working with you.
- Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship
- See, Solve, Scale
- Impact Players
- Seeds of Peace
- Pathwise podcasts
About Danny Warshay
Danny Warshay is the Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown University. He is a Brown University grad himself, and he dove into the entrepreneurial world immediately following school back in the late 1980s, co-founding a software firm called Clearview that was ultimately sold to Apple. He then joined another start-up that was ultimately sold as well.
Following a stint getting his MBA from Harvard Business School, Danny made a brief foray into the corporate world, as a member of the Duncan Hines brand team at Procter & Gamble. He then returned to the entrepreneurial world, advising and helping to lead start-ups spanning a wide array of industries from publishing, to nutrition and alternative healthcare, to specialized shock-absorbing materials, among many others.
Along the way, he started teaching entrepreneurship at Brown, where he continues to teach today. He has lectured and worked with groups all over the world, including in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. And he is the newly published author of See, Solve, Scale, a distillation of the entrepreneurial approach he teaches his Brown students. Danny and his wife live in Providence and are the parents of three grown children.