Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Passion for the Process, Not the Product
“I am a failure,” says Tal Raviv. “And I am really proud of it.”
Raviv, founder of the entrepreneurial venture Dropcard and 2009 graduate of Penn Engineering, speaks of failure without fear and embraces the possibilities it brings. “I really believe in failure,” says the 22-year-old chemical engineering graduate. “I think it is the key to innovation. The freedom to fail is what makes America the most entrepreneurial country in the world.”
Dropcard, now in its third iteration, is a cell phone-based virtual business card service that allows users to send their contact and networking information to anyone with an email address. To get to this point, the company has been through failure, change and growth.
Starting as the result of Raviv’s annoyance at a lack of methods to quickly exchange contact information with fellow students while studying abroad in China, the then Penn Engineering junior initially chose to target young adult users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Later, when the product was still in an early stage of development, his original team (including Ariel Allon, a senior at Penn Engineering and Anton Bernstein, W’08) learned of another company with a product using the same idea and was faced with a choice: join forces, change or compete.
Luckily, the team was working with the support of DreamIt Ventures, a Philadelphia-based company that gives entrepreneurs with great ideas the means to grow and develop those ideas within a framework of experienced investors and innovators. As “innovators in training” the team was fortunate to realize that with a small change in market focus, their idea could prosper. Raviv describes his time at DreamIt as a “kick in the seat of the pants” to get him to act on his idea and to develop some of his now counter-intuitive ways of thinking that account for his success.
To tweak their focus, Dropcard chose to target professional sales forces whose members rely on networking efficiently to sell big-ticket items like real estate, cars, and financial services. While at DreamIt, the Dropcard team learned that, instead of stubbornly clinging to one idea and one business model, to instead have a passion for the process of innovation and the experimentation that accompanies it.
Raviv smiles when asked how his time here at Penn Engineering spent studying chemical engineering allowed him to be a successful entrepreneur. But he is serious when he describes how chemical engineering “trained us to tackle complex ideas and work until we get to the very bottom,” he notes. “After six courses in thermodynamics, I now have a very high standard of what it means to truly understand something. Entrepreneurship is more science than art, and I have subjected the venture to the same thinking I used in the lab.” While he was not enrolled in the Engineering Entrepreneurship program, Raviv still views Tom Cassel, the program’s director, as a great mentor. “It didn’t matter that I wasn’t in his course,” says Raviv, “his door was always open.”
Dropcard is currently undergoing testing and development with four companies to get feedback that they will use to further improve their product. Raviv notes that the “status quo” is often the competitor of any product, and that by relying on his team and listening to customers, the venture will become what it needs to be to serve its market.
In addition to seeing his company through to success, Raviv dreams of someday being a CFO – a Chief Failure Officer – for a company that applauds the trip-ups and mistakes in the innovation process just as much, if not more, than success.
And his favorite Penn Engineering memory? “If you’ve ever found rubber suction darts in the halls,” he laughs, “they’ve probably come from my teammates playing Capture the Flag with Dart Guns. I will never look at Skirkanich Hall the same.”