Jake Tatlebaum is CEO of resilience gives a patient dignity social enterprise that has started a small rebellion from sole to soul.
What inspired you to launch resilience gives?
Each time you’re admitted to the hospital as an in-patient, you’re given a gown and a pair of poorly made non-slip socks. Initially, I wore those lifeless beige socks and accepted my role as a patient, but the more time I spent in the hospital, the more I started wearing my own socks. Fun socks. Socks with fish. Socks with dinosaurs. Socks with wolves. And it helped. It may seem ridiculous, but that little change reminded me that whatever the circumstances—no matter how little I wanted to be cooped up in the hospital, my perception of that hospital experience was under my control. Treatment became my opportunity to create purpose.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far and how have you met them?
Burnout: As a young entrepreneur, I was fired up to transition to resilience gives full-time. However, when full-time became sixteen hour days and you string together a few months of this seemingly non-stop work, even the best things can wear on you. After letting go of our one employee, I knew I was setting myself up for more long days, but I also knew that this was an impermanent situation. I recognized that I was feeling burnt out and made it a priority to hire and achieve better balance in my life. It didn’t happen overnight, but I was able to weather the fatigue knowing that I was in a sprint, and eventually, I would be able to slow the pace.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you and resilience gives?
Since working with one patient on one design in September of 2016, we now have twenty patients and twenty-four designs, but what’s most exciting is seeing the number of new design requests we’re receiving. From day one, we had people that believed in our mission even if they didn’t understand exactly what we did. Now, people not only understand what we do, but they want to do it themselves. In effect, the ball is in our court to effectively scale our service to reach more patients.
How do you define success?
My definition of success is creating a sustainable business that has a lasting positive impact on all stakeholders—from supply chain to our internal team to patients and customers. In effect, we are a positive force on the lives we touch and the planet we inhabit.
What three lessons have you learned about being a social impact entrepreneur?
Growth is great. Growth is dangerous. Growth needs to be carefully managed. Since our founding, we have been donating half of the profits per pair sold back to the patient to help with medical expenses. With our first few patients, I could verify their responsible use of those funds because I had close relationships with them. As we’ve increased our patient network, this has been harder to do, and we’ve had to rethink how we distribute funds to make sure we are doing it responsibly.
There will always be those who criticize the “purity” of your motives. Be transparent. Resilience gives is technically two different entities: we have a for-profit s corporation and a 501(c)3 non-profit. We’ve established ourselves this way because I am motivating by transforming the patient experience, providing financial and emotional support to patients who need it, and also by a desire to be financially comfortable. I’ve faced criticism that striving for profit in what we do is immoral. I disagree, and because there is no right answer, I’ve found that the best way to manage this criticism is to be transparent about who we are.
Social entrepreneurs make tradeoffs just like other business people. We invested in expensive packaging that features the individual patient designer because I felt it was critical to show the human behind the design. However, the packaging as a whole is excessive and wasteful. I know that we can eventually find a solution that is both effective and environmentally friendly, but right now, I don’t have the bandwidth to find that solution. I defined our success as creating a sustainable business that has a lasting positive impact on both the lives we touch and the planet we inhabit. Nonetheless, I know that our packaging is negatively impacting our environment. As social entrepreneurs, we pride ourselves on social responsibility, and yet, there are tradeoffs to every decision we make.
What three qualities do you think an entrepreneur must have to succeed?
Active listener: Successful entrepreneurs build foundational relationships and building strong relationships starts with active listening.
Resilience: As entrepreneurs, we face failure and it’s paramount that we have coping mechanisms to bounce back.
Tenacity: Whatever our goal is, we need to fervently pursue it day after day to give ourselves a fighting chance.
What words of advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
When the road becomes littered with obstacles, look inward and ask yourself a series of whys. For example, after I let go of our one employee and it became clear that my long days were going to get longer, I traveled down this rabbit hole of whys, and that motivated me to persevere.
Why am I spending virtually all of my waking hours on this business? Because I’m passionate about it
Why? I’m passionate about it because my own experience with lymphoma has dramatically changed my life for the better. Why? My experience taught me that while we can’t change our circumstances, we can shape how we experience them.
What’s one tool – article, book, app, etc. – that’s been helpful to you recently?
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth – it’s inspiring to know that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to achieve audacious goals. In fact, research indicates that enduring perseverance is more important than talent or intellect in your ability to do so.
from the series
Startup Warriors: Entrepreneurs’ Stories of Ingenuity, Grit & Resilience