Dan Gonzalez is a Co-Founder of District C, an organization that prepares the next generation of diverse talent. Dan studied engineering at Dartmouth College before becoming a high school physics teacher. After teaching for 2 years, Dan joined Manhattan Prep, a global leader in test preparation. He became president of the company in 2011 shortly after it was acquired by Kaplan. Over the next 4+ years, Dan led the company through its post-acquisition period, working with the broader team to find a successful balance between financial success, program quality, and company culture. After Manhattan Prep, Dan joined Kaplan Test Prep’s leadership team where he oversaw an operations division that worked to deliver education services at scale.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
1. The ability to work with others, and leverage the strengths and skills of others. Hard problems are hard to solve alone, but if you can find the right people to help you, and if you can leverage their strengths and skills, you will arrive at more creative and practical solutions.
2. Authenticity. People won't want to help you, work with you, or buy from you if they don't trust you motives or intentions. On the flip side, authenticity is inspiring. If you let people see your passion for what you do, and if you approach your work with genuineness, honesty, and good intentions, you will inspire people to join your cause.
3. The ability to stay focused and positive, and keep driving forward, when things get messy. See below for more on this one...
What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?
Entrepreneurship is messy. Planning more than a few months into the future -- especially at the beginning -- is hard. Having a long-term vision, or north star, is important, but if I think too far into the future, I tend to get bogged down by all of the unknowns and complications that lie between today and that ultimate north star. To counter this, I try to focus on the things right in front of me. What are the 3 or 4 things I can do now -- today or this week -- that will move us forward? And then I try to do those things to the best of my ability. Sometimes those things are the wrong things to be doing, but I think you have to trust that, on average, your instincts will push you in the right direction. Then one day you look back at the zig-zagged path behind you and realize how far you've come. Maybe not in a straight line, but through a series of small micro-steps that add up to meaningful progress.
What piece of advice would you give to high school students who want to become entrepreneurs?
You don't have to think of yourself as a "business person" to be a great entrepreneur. Think of entrepreneurs as problem solvers. The technical definition of entrepreneurship is starting a business, but a business won't succeed unless it solves a real, meaningful problem for real people. As you imagine your future as an entrepreneur, you might be asking yourself "what kind of business should I start?" Instead, try beginning with "what problem is worth solving?" If you can figure that out, and if you can successfully solve that problem for real people, you will have something that you can turn into a business.