BRENDAN FINCH: FOUNDER OF ROCKETLIT
By Thea Holtlund Jacobsen Meet entrepreneur Brendan Finch, founder of RocketLit. Finch was a teacher for seven years, teaching science in high schools and middle schools. In his job, he eventually started to notice how there were many smart students in his classrooms, but some of them were at different reading levels. He therefore started writing articles for his students, in order to adapt the content to their respective levels. Finch saw that this had a dramatic impact on their learning, and decided to make this available to more people. He got together with a friend from college who had experience with developing, and together they started RocketLit.
“We have had the company full-time for about six years now, and we just started our second product. We’re an education company that works primarily on literacy and science education,” Finch said.
While his partner lives in Portland, Finch works from Hub101. He has never regretted the decision, after finding out working from home was not for him. Finch found Hub101 online when looking for spaces to work, and had attended one of the startup events a couple of years before.
Brendan Finch has been working from Hub101 for about two years.
“Going from being the center of attention in the classroom as a teacher to sitting at home by yourself emailing teachers was painful,” Finch said. “Hub101 is the perfect medium where you have a space to focus and have meetings, and yet you can still talk to other people and be social.”
When it comes to new entrepreneurs trying to start a business, Finch believes the most important aspect of entrepreneurship is working on finding a solution to a problem. “If you look at the world in terms of what problems there are and what solutions there are to those problems, it doesn’t matter where you start. I started as a music major in college, then I changed my major to psychology and added philosophy, and ended up graduating with a double major in psychology and philosophy and a minor in music,” Finch said. “However, I went on to be a teacher after that…Just find something that is interesting to you, and you will see those problems in your job and experiences.”
More importantly, Finch said it is hard to recognize a problem and find a solution for it before you are deep enough in that given field. If you look at things superficially without having enough information about it, it is hard to find a good solution. “Because I was a teacher for three years before I had this idea and started working on it, I understood deeply what the problems were in the field I was in, and what solutions could be used,” Finch said.
When it comes to young entrepreneurs lacking the courage to bring their ideas to life by asking for funding or presenting their ideas to other people, Finch has one piece of advice to share.
“No one knows what they are doing,” Finch said, laughing. “When you’re there with somebody else who seems more confident, just know that they are not smarter than you are. It’s not like they have some superpowers, they just appear to be more confident than you.”
Finch said he loves working from Hub101, because it gives him the opportunity to meet with other entrepreneurs in the same position as himself.
Initially, RocketLit started off with funding from family and friends, before they won a grant from an organization that gives grants to both for-profit and non-profits in education, called New Schools Venture Fund. After building more on the concept, RocketLit went through a startup accelerator with advisors who are well known in the startup community.
“When you actually talk to these people, it becomes obvious that they’re very good at taking in information, organizing it, attempting solutions, failing and then iterating on those failures. If you can do that, then you can probably find a solution to any problem,” Finch said.
Finch also said it is important to let go of ideas if they are not working out, even if you think it is a good idea. The most important part of the startup process is listening to your customers, trying to give them what they want, and knowing that what they are asking for might not be exactly what they need. In his opinion, the ability to listen to customers is what differentiates a successful startup from other companies.
“It’s difficult to stop talking and start listening when you have an idea. If you can get past that, you have a better chance of being successful. Also remember that no one knows more than you, and if they do it’s only because they have worked in the field longer than you have, and you will eventually gain that experience,” Finch said.
What the future holds for RocketLit is still unclear. Finch said the company just started building products that are based on customer feedback to a larger extent than before, and they would like to keep that focus.
“The goal for the next couple of years is just to listen even more to the customers. What we have built now is a good base, and we can add on really awesome features and tools that will support teachers even more,” Finch said. “That’s what we want to do, we want to make a difference within education.”
When it come to advice for other entrepreneurs, Finch said it is important to have knowledge about the industry you are trying to change before aiming to solve the problem.
Finch said he loves how everyone at Hub101 are hard workers, focused on interesting problems. The sense of community is strengthened through the fact that most people at Hub101 are entrepreneurs, which makes it easier to have a conversation about shared experiences and a similar journey.
“What I do now allows me to get here as early as I want to, get work done and then go home and hang out with my kids in the afternoons and evenings. It’s super flexible, and I absolutely love what I do.”
As for other entrepreneurs doubting their ideas or losing motivation, Finch said it is important to keep and working and gaining knowledge.
“There’s no way to rush a breakthrough. That’s just not how anything works in life,” Finch said. “You need to develop some level of insight, background and understanding of the people and problems happening in that industry too.”