The Internet can be a very narcissistic place, so my goal with Spill — a crowdsourced platform for peer support — is to bring more empathy online. I started Spill when I found myself wishing for a way to get support for personal problems in college (e.g. breakups, career decisions, homesickness, etc.) without having to go to a counselor.
Within a year, Spill expanded to 10 campuses, and I began to realize just how many people were yearning for this type of resource. After completing TechStars and winning the Global Social Venture Competition, we’ve helped prevent 21 suicides and put half a million dollars in the bank from investors. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of bringing empathy to the masses so far, and I could never imagine being able to accomplish something that rewarding in corporate America.
Here are the 3 pieces of advice that helped make it all possible:
1. You can’t delegate a dream.
Just as Spill was starting to take off during my senior year of college, I was presented with a high-paying job opportunity. Naturally, I considered taking it and passing Spill off to someone who could work on it it full-time. That’s when Laurie Benson, a former CEO and trusted mentor, gave me a reality check. “Heidi, you can’t delegate a dream,” she said. She helped me realize that in the early stages of starting up, you are the company, and your passion can rarely be substituted. If I wanted Spill to happen, I had to do it myself. It’s true that at some point, another entrepreneur might have the big same idea and attempt to bring it to life…but did I really want to say to myself, “That could have been me,” from my cubicle in five years?
2. Leap, and the net will appear.
I was scared to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. I had no formal business experience and no team beside me for support in the journey. While straddling the fence on whether or not I should take this risk, I stumbled upon this quote from John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear.” Though I never knew John while he was alive, this encouragement led me to trust the fact that good things will inevitably happen to good people. Being an entrepreneur has its highs and lows, but at the end of the day, a net always seems to appear in some shape or form. You just need to trust, leap, and do the best that you can.
3. Just keep going toward the crazy.
In building a company, you’re presented with a lot of opportunities — some are safe and some are just downright crazy. Lee Jacobs, the young but wise founder of Colingo, completely transformed my understanding of risk and reward. In our first meeting over coffee, Lee casually shared a piece of wisdom that now guides my day-to-day actions more than anything else: “Everything you’re doing right now is crazy as it is,” said Jacobs, with regards to starting a company. “Just keep going toward the crazy and you’re bound to succeed.” With each passing decision, I couldn’t agree more. Without crazy risks, there can be no crazy rewards!
Heidi Allstop is the founder of Spill, an empathy engine for social support. She started Spill while in still at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and after completing TechStars and winning the Global Social Venture Competition, she moved the company to San Francisco.