Never Give Up: What an Entrepreneur Learned from Failure

Ethan Senturia thought he had it all. He graduated with honors, landed a job at Lehman Brothers, then struck out on his own when that Wall Street powerhouse shut down during the Great Recession. But Senturia quickly learned that becoming a successful entrepreneur takes much more than a great resume. Dealstruck, the online lending platform he founded, ceased operation in 2016. That experience led Senturia to rethink his long-held ideas about success. He has shared his personal journey in a new book titled, Unwound: Real-Time Reflections from a Stumbling Entrepreneur. Senturia talked about his experiences during a recent segment on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio, SiriusXM channel 111.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Knowledge@Wharton: Tell us about how you started your company

Ethan Senturia: I grew up the son of an entrepreneur and somehow made my way to Wharton thinking that the startup world and the broader world of business and finance were sort of the same thing. I learned that those were quite different. Ultimately, I went on to Wall Street and my first job was at Lehman Brothers in 2008. I was at this big institution, and they went through bankruptcy. I found that there’s not really this ideal stability out there that maybe I thought there was. I ended up going down the entrepreneurial path, following some of the things my father did. My first journey into entrepreneurship was prior to Dealstruck with a few Wharton alums. I decided to take the financial knowledge and training that I had received at school and in my first foray into the professional world and try my hand at something in the startup world….

Knowledge@Wharton: You had a lot of expectations that it was going to be a successful venture, but things turned out a little bit differently. What happened?

Senturia: Some people have their vision of success and it goes perfectly. But more often than not, even if your outcome ends up being a success, along the way you have a lot of ups and downs. Even if you know intellectually that this journey is going to be hard — there are going to be highs and lows — when you actually run up against them you realize that maybe it’s not a matter of intellect to get you through some of the hardest parts. It’s more a matter of emotional quotient and self-awareness and those sorts of things. But I think even the greatest successes have plenty of war stories. Unfortunately for me, we got down to our last dollar and then we didn’t make it.

Knowledge@Wharton: What have you learned about being an entrepreneur?

Senturia: Patience. When you’re starting your own company, you have this big vision…. You want to raise the money. You want to build the product. You want to get to market. You want to scale. Everything in the startup world is about scaling. You feel this inordinate pressure, sometimes from your investors, but sometimes just from yourself, to be the next Facebook or the next Google or to try to hit that home run. And you fail to realize that maybe these things take a long time. Solid, good companies don’t get built overnight. For every single story of a company that became a $1 billion success in two or three years, the vast majority of the success stories out there took 10-plus years. You have to slow yourself down and focus on one step at a time. If you make all the small decisions right, then those add up to the big picture. Being more patient for that success to come was a big lesson for me.

“For every … company that became a $1 billion success in two or three years, the vast majority of the success stories out there took 10-plus years.”

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