From Entrepreneur to Startup: A Johnson Alumna's Journey
Four Tenets for Success
Jenna Parsons ’04, MBA ’12, has learned that in order to survive at a startup, there are four tenets to abide by: break from the herd, advocate for yourself, incorporate critical thinking, and bring positive energy to the workplace. During Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2014, Parsons shared details about her unique experience on the panel, “Those other startups,” moderated by Rhett Weiss executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute and senior lecturer of management at Johnson.
As an undergraduate at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) , Parsons decided to break away from “the herd mentality” when she turned down a competitive internship with Bear Stearns her junior year and chose to work at a popular restaurant in Georgetown and take a summer exploring the restaurant industry in Washington, D.C. Once back at Cornell, her interest in the food industry grew and she tried her hand at her own startup making chocolate-covered pretzels to order for friends and family and shipped her products for the holidays. On weekends, she hosted elaborate, themed dinner parties in her college apartment, which allowed her to refine her skills in the area of food and entertaining.
“We threw an Oscar themed party where each dish was based on a movie and that’s when I started to realize how my interest in the restaurant industry would probably play a major role in my career,” Parsons says.
After receiving a BS from Cornell’s ILR, she pursued an MBA at Johnson and saw her opportunities begin to multiply. Following her first year while weighing internship possbilities, she received an offer to join a small, pre-opening team and eventually become the general manager for a new venture at the Hamilton restaurant and music hall in the heart of Washington, D.C. When she accepted the position, scheduled to start after graduation, it brought a new level of excitement and focus to her coursework and interactions with faculty.
“My experience at Johnson really helped me develop my critical thinking skills and the faculty definitely challenged me to expand my skill set and develop my confidence,” says Parsons. “Getting an MBA prepared me well.”
Parsons started work at the Hamilton the summer of 2012 and to this day manages a team of 20 managers and over 200 employees. She describes the decision to take the job as a calculated risk since the company owners, Clyde’s Restaurant Group, are established and have a strong reputation in the restaurant market. At the same time, she says she felt pressure from investors and her position required tapping into different skills. In addition to managing the restaurant, she oversees daily musical acts for a large venue at the restaurant, which accommodates 650 guests. While she juggles tasks such as creating profit and loss statements, preparing budgets, and developing marketing plans, she finds one of her favorite aspects to her position is working with people.
“Learning how to read people, empathize and nurture employees is what I enjoy on a day-to-day basis and I try to instill my four tenets in those around me.”
Here are Parsons’ four tenets for survival in the startup world:
1) Break from the Herd: Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Think for yourself and be true to who you are. Taking some level of risk is required if you want to work at a startup.
2) Advocate for Yourself: You are the only person who can tell an authentic story about who you are and what you stand for. Be bold, speak up and share your successes.
3) Incorporate critical thinking skills: Remember to analyze, think, and review all perspectives before making decisions. In a new venture it’s easy to get wrapped up in one person’s idea, but you still need to take the time to use good judgment and be patient and deliberate.
4) Show your Enthusiasm: Focus on bringing positive energy to the workplace and maintaining a certain level of calm when the going gets rough. Being unflappable and enthusiastic are important qualities.