Tracy DiNunzio, Founder and CEO of Tradesy, recently shared her insights as part of UC Santa Barbara’s Distinguished Lecture Series. Her story is especially inspiring, as she was told as a child that she would never walk, due to a birth defect. (Note: I am an investor in Tradesy via Rincon Venture Partners.)
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You can watch a 3-minute excerpt from Tracy’s talk below.
Getting Smacked In The Face… And Smiling
Tracy’s talk was frank and unvarnished. For instance, in describing her startup skills, she told the student audience that, “The two things that have made me able to survive in this crazy environment of entrepreneurship are adaptability and flexibility. There is no way to prevent rejection, failure, market conditions smacking you in the face when you have a business. Competitors killing your market, all kinds of things that you cannot predict. They’re going to happen to everybody. It’s all about how quickly you adapt and you bounce back.
There’s no such thing as the guy who’s like, ‘I started my business in and it just took off it was awesome.’ When you hear people saying that, they are lying. Everyone of them, I promise you, is lying. Those are PR stories and I know (because) I do a lot of PR.”
Tracy continued her story by describing how she attained artistic career in New York hit a plateau and decided to make a major life change. Much to the surprise of her friends and family, she gave up the life of a celebrated, young artist to pursue an entirely different path. “It’s grueling and difficult for every single entrepreneur, no matter what their circumstances. The ones who win are the ones who’re adaptable. (For me) that adaptability was flipping the switch and moving my whole life to Mexico.”
You Are The Ultimate Limiting Factor
Tracy confided to the class that she has suffered from a lifetime of pain, due to a birth ailment which affected her back, legs and feet. Despite the doctors’ dire prognosis, Tracy eventually learned to walk unaided; without a cane, crutches or even a limp.
In fact, not only did she conquer walking, she eventually became a championship dancer. As with many such instances in which willpower overcomes perceived physical limitations, Tracy’s story involves a love interest. In Tracy’s words, “(In Mexico), I met a boy, and he was a Salsa instructor… (and) he wanted (me) to dance. I was like, ‘Hey listen, I can’t.’ Well, I didn’t say this because I didn’t speak Spanish yet, but I tried to say, ‘I can’t dance. I can’t even feel my feet.’ I assumed that not being able to feel your feet would kind of eliminate you from being able to dance. As it turned out, not so much.
He finally convinced me to try and learn. Because he was a really good partner, he was able to compensate for the things that I couldn’t do. (He) even used the fact that like my feet were fused and I couldn’t feel anything to do some crazy tricks that would’ve probably hurt someone else’s feet. We toured different parts of Mexico doing dancing exhibitions, which was crazy, because I thought I wasn’t even going to walk, let alone dance.”
At healthy startups, unbiased, verifiable, empirical data trumps assumptions, preconceptions and opinions every time. It was the opinion of medical experts that Tracy would never walk. Correspondingly, Tracy assumed she could never dance. It wasn’t until she summoned the courage to test her assumption that she realized it was wrong. According to Tracy, “From that (experience) I learned to challenge assumptions. Everybody has limitations. It doesn’t matter what yours is. It could be a learning disability. It could be two left feet. It could be anything. But you’re probably making assumptions based on that limitation about what you can and can’t do. They might be true, I don’t know. But they might not be true, so you have to test them.
This is something that we do relentlessly in technology start ups, we test our assumptions. Data wins. So whatever you’re thinking is going stop you or the circumstance that’s dictating the decision that you’re making, just make sure you test it first because you might be able to dance, you don’t know.”
What assumptions are holding you back? What third party opinions are keeping you from maximizing your potential? Write them down and challenge each of them, with objective facts. When you assume something in the absence of adequate information, you risk proving the old adage about assumptions true.
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