Andrea Johnson, Founder of ThisLife, on the Power of a Personal Brain Trust
We all have stories to tell. Our stories remind us of the road we’ve traveled and help us make sense of the road ahead.
If we’re lucky, our stories can even provide insight to others who are interested in following a similar path.
I am an entrepreneur with a passion for beautiful consumer products that make our lives easier. If you’re thinking about starting a new business, then I hope my story will be useful to you.
I was running the eCommerce department for Pottery Barn when I decided to take time off work after after having my first baby.
Five years and three kids later, I was getting ready to re-enter the workforce but first I wanted to address a few items on my running to-do list.
At the top of this list loomed the daunting task ‘organize photos and videos’.
Like many other people, I had invested in an iPhone and a "real camera" to help capture the big and the small adventures in our lives. I snapped a ton of pics and shot lots of videos snippets.
I have many flaws, but I would give myself high marks for organizational skills. Yet somehow I couldn’t find a successful way to get all my photos and videos organized.
So, I did what many of us do: I reached out to my inner circle -- my Brain Trust, as I like to call them -- and asked for the answer.
Here are some of the response I received:
“Ugh, my son dropped (or maybe threw) my iPhone in a pool and I lost all Katie’s baby pics.”
“My photos and videos are a mess.”
“My stuff is scattered on hard drives, stuck on the cameras that captured them, or sprinkled on a selection of photo/social websites.”
One friend even wrote, “Good luck with this one”, and I could smell the kind-hearted sarcasm wafting from her email.
The Brain Trust is made up of very close friends from college and graduate school, as well as a few more recent friends I’ve been fortunate to adopt or be adopted by.
They are very different people but they have some things in common. They are all bright, competent and funny. Plus, they all give great advice.
Until that point in my life, they always had the answers to all my burning questions. Or, at the very least, they knew of someone who would have the answer to the question at hand.
Several members of the Brain Trust sent follow up emails saying things like, “P.S. When you find the solution to this one, be sure to let me know.”
The fact that the Brain Trust did not have an answer was discouraging, but it led me to extensive research and an even deeper commitment to solve our collective problem.
It took two years, serious dedication, enough late nights to almost convert me to a coffee drinker, and a (scary) chunk of our savings, but my husband and I (along with a terrific team of developers) successfully built and launched a gorgeous product called ThisLife.
ThisLife protects and organizes all of your photos and videos in the cloud.
And it displays everything back to you in chronological order so your photos and videos tell a story. Your story.
ThisLife has a ton of great features and the Brain Trust is proud. They also had a lot of input along the way.
They gave feedback on relatively straightforward things like logo and on complex issues like product pricing.
Beyond that, though, their ongoing interest fueled my motivation and deepened our friendships.
I offer all this as background because we all look for solutions to daily challenges. When you find one that doesn’t have a solution, take a moment and think about it. It might represent a meaningful opportunity for you.
If you already have an idea you are working on, don’t give up on it. It might take a year (or several) to develop your idea.
You’re likely to encounter plenty of people along the way who discourage or distract you, but if it’s something you care about, stick with it.
And, by all means, leverage your personal Brain Trust. Find the people around you whose opinions you value and discuss your ideas with them.
Try to keep them updated as your project evolves and as you hit crossroads where major decisions are needed.
The entrepreneurial path is exciting but it can also be lonely. Surrounding yourself with the right group of friends can make all the difference.
I would like to invite members of the MariaShriver.com community to try ThisLife today. For access to our private beta, go to: www.thislife.com/VIP
Andrea Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of ThisLife.com. ThisLife protects and organizes photos and videos in the cloud. Andrea has been featured and quoted in number of publications including Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Business 2.0, USA Today, PC World, TechCrunch and All Things D. She blogs at ThisLife. Andrea and her husband live in Palo Alto, California with their three kids and two dogs. Andrea has a BA Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University.