This article by Prianka Subrahmanyam originally appeared on Medium.
A small introduction to myself — in the summer of 2016, I attended a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called MIT Launch.
Launch is unique in that, rather than creating a business plan, students focus on execution and real venture development. There is barely any hypothetical teaching. Everything is put into practice. My team, Wasteless, created a concept that would essentially Uber-ize food donations. Since 40% of all food in the US is wasted, it was our little dream to make a tiny dent in this statistic. Our efforts weren’t reaped until this year, when we were invited to audition for Shark Tank and ended up ultimately rejected. Here’s a story of the most successful failure of my life.
I really enjoy the city of Cambridge. There was a great waffle place called Zinneken’s, and the Zesiger pool made my daily swim practices almost tolerable. But the best feature of this city—the one that differentiates it from Silicon Valley or the Washington tech jungle—is diversity.
Cambridge is a prime example of diversity of thought—not ancestry, income, or any of those other socioeconomic delineating factors we love to throw out there. I attribute my successful MIT Launch journey not to my own intrinsic skill set (because let’s face it, a back-end engineering code monkey can only do so much), but the business landscape that lives there.
I first dipped my toes into the melting pot of Cambridge during a networking event at the local HackSpace (you can already tell this city is one for entrepreneurs). In the same night, I met a Harvard medical researcher and a president of a street musicians’ collective. The reason why MIT churns out more successful ventures than any other institution is because it’s not a place filled with people who think and act the exact same way. The Birkenstock-wearing archetypes of the Bay Area or the Microsoft-groupie North Pacific types (no offense to either of them!) make the mistakes of herd mentality, herd ideation, and herd learning. Like a cohort of sheep, these groups of people only learn to hop on the bandwagon of what’s popular — like Uber-ization of everything and cold-brew coffee.
Everyone is an idiot. To succeed, you have to possess special levels of idiocy.
My father told me this when I complained about not being smart enough to develop the Uber-like algorithms necessary to make Wasteless a reality. He was right. Ditching the whole concept of an app, and Uber-ization model made things a lot easier. In this digital age, the way to think out-of-the-box is to throw the box away.
MIT Launch was an experience where I felt imposter syndrome. Everyone else had developed their own apps, while I was still trying to clear out my Mac storage to download XCode. They conversed about foreign policy, while I gushed over Grey’s Anatomy. Having all smart people in a room is great, but sometimes they get too ambitious.
Diversity of thought is not so fun, however, when someone fancier and more important than you disagrees with your idea.
I’ll tell you one thing–ABC producers have no mercy. I was cut off and sent home. Nice! I flew to Seattle, just to be rejected. Best feeling ever, right? At least they subsidized my expenses.
Failure is fun if you make it that way. Whether it’s getting last place in the 200 fly or dropping a phone in the toilet, I “take Ls” on a daily basis. The journey is what counts, because sometimes that’s all you’ve got.