Kathleen Stetson, MBA ’14
Kathleen Stetson, MBA ’14 and Co-founder of MIT Hacking Arts, joins Christopher Reichert, MOT ’04, to talk about her journey to MIT Sloan and the self-awareness program for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communications (E.C.C), that she launched at the MIT delta V accelerator last summer.
Learn more about her work with MIT delta v.
Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. What does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at MIT Sloan.
Hi, I'm your host, Christopher Reichert, and welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. I'm with Kathleen Stetson, a 2014 graduate of Sloan. Welcome.
Kathleen Stetson: Hello, thank you.
Christopher Reichert: Great to have you here.
Kathleen Stetson: Thanks.
Christopher Reichert: Is it snowing at home now in Missouri?
Kathleen Stetson: Oh gosh. I haven't actually been there for a couple of weeks because we've been away for Thanksgiving, so I don't actually know. But it's delightful to be here in the cold in Boston again. I haven't been back here for about a year, so it's nice to be back.
Christopher Reichert: I guess you spent a bit of time here before?
Kathleen Stetson: I did. In fact, I've spent the majority of my time in Boston in little fits and starts at various schools over the years.
Christopher Reichert: Right. Before we get to what you've done since Sloan, let's step back. I am fascinated and admittedly a little bit jealous of your background.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh, thanks.
Christopher Reichert: You have an undergraduate degree from that other small college up the road, also known as Harvard. Congratulations. Then you got your first master's degree from New England Conservatory of Music for vocal performance?
Kathleen Stetson: Vocal performance—opera.
Christopher Reichert: Opera, wonderful. Then another master's at Rensselaer in architectural sciences.
Kathleen Stetson: That's right.
Christopher Reichert: And finally, a third master's degree, the cherry on top, from Sloan. Any more in the works, you think?
Kathleen Stetson: Oh my gosh. No, thank you. Instead of three master's degrees, I think of it as a custom PhD.
Christopher Reichert: That's right.
Kathleen Stetson: I mean, I don't get the doctor thing with it, but in my head, it was like, “make your own major” through three master's degrees.
Christopher Reichert: Right. I am not one to talk. I took two.
Kathleen Stetson: There you go.
Christopher Reichert: I did Sloan and the [Harvard] Kennedy School.
Kathleen Stetson: Yes, okay.
Christopher Reichert: Yes. While at Sloan, you founded the MIT Hacking Arts festival, which I want to come back to in a minute. And then after Sloan, you founded Trill, which I love as a play on the musical term, for the vibrato, right?
Kathleen Stetson: Yes. That's exactly right, yes.
Christopher Reichert: That's great. I love that, coming back to your vocal arts. Before we get to what you're doing now, tell me about the journey weaving vocal arts, architecture, and technology. How did that all come together?
Kathleen Stetson: Well, it feels like it's easy to tell the story now, but it's all happened. I can weave it together and maybe make some sense of it. But as it was happening, it was really ... Well, really, it was about, people told me I need to find my passion, and so I was finding it! Now I realize that that's totally an illusion. Maybe for some people, there's one passion and they find it and they really enjoy doing it every day. But for me, what I found over the years is that I'm passionate about a lot of things and that's okay. So really, I grew up singing and that seemed like a logical thing to do. I wanted to feel like I had explored that gift, which is why I went to Harvard. I did a music major there, which is funny because there is a music department at Harvard, but it's very small.
Christopher Reichert: It's like MIT with its Course XVII Political Science. Like, really? Yes, it's actually one of the top in the country.
Kathleen Stetson: Yes. It was a great experience, I'm glad I did it. Then I got my opera degree at New England Conservatory, also wonderful. I wanted to get to the point where I could make the decision whether I wanted to be an opera singer or not, and I got to the point where I could make that decision and I decided not to.
Christopher Reichert: It is a very difficult profession.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh my goodness, yes. It takes a lot out of you physically, it requires a lot in terms of dedication and travel.
Christopher Reichert: You're always going to places to perform and you're kind of a stranger forever, hotels and...
Kathleen Stetson: That's what I imagined, and I think that's true for some people, and I think there's probably a way to do it that doesn't feel quite like that. But I was in my mid-20s at that point and thinking, "But I have to be successful now!" And I wasn't willing to put in the time, frankly. I think that's okay, because I wasn't willing to put in the time because I wasn't so singularly dedicated to it. Then I made a big list of all the things I'd ever wanted to be, including lithologist at the top, which is what I wanted to be in fifth grade.
Christopher Reichert: In fifth grade?
Kathleen Stetson: In fifth grade, yes. I put it all on there.
Christopher Reichert: Wow. I'm going to ask my fifth-grade daughter if she knows what a-
Kathleen Stetson: A lithologist is? This says a lot about me because I was like, "I want to be a lithologist, not a geologist, because I only want to study rocks." Yeah, nerdy kid, in other words. Then really, it was about exploring, "Wait, shoot, singing was the thing, and now what?" So, acoustics was a wonderful experience. I went to RPI, got an engineering job in acoustics at a big firm called Arup.
Christopher Reichert: Arup, right. Huge.
Kathleen Stetson: It was.
Christopher Reichert: Aren't they one of the founders of that whole science?
Kathleen Stetson: Well, they've contributed a lot to it. It's a pretty young science. It's only about 120 years old. So really, it was a very exciting field to be in and I loved it in many ways. But then when I realized that the day-to -day is what you do every day, and you don't have to love every second of it, but you have to be passionate about it. A lot of it is calculations. So sitting at a desk, doing calcs, understanding details ... What I loved was the creative part. Working with architects, that was just fascinating and wonderful. But that wasn't the all the time work.
Christopher Reichert: Well, interesting you say that, because my father's an architect.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh?
Christopher Reichert: I almost became an architect myself, or I wanted to be. I also used to sing, by the way.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh my gosh.
Christopher Reichert: But nothing like opera level. But I did sing with Barbra Streisand in two Olympic opening ceremonies.
Kathleen Stetson: What? That's amazing!
Christopher Reichert: Yes. I used to sing in Australia at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in their house choir.
Kathleen Stetson: Well, that's incredible.
Christopher Reichert: Some classical things, so took advantage of that. But, my father is an architect, and I considered doing that. I had a friend who was an architect, and she gave it up after a while, partly because I think there are very few people who get to that starchitect level, where your clear vision can be brought to life. She found herself placing light switches and power outlets just for days and weeks and months on end.
Kathleen Stetson: Yes. It can be like that. I think there's a lot of opportunities now, if you want to make your career interesting in the way you want it. I have a friend who is concentrating on net-zero energy buildings. I think there are some interesting opportunities now. But yes, it's a wonderful field. I miss it sometimes. But when I left, honestly, I was looking for more immediate gratification. Because in architecture and in acoustics, you design the thing and then it gets built seven years later maybe. And so again, it was this younger version of me thinking, "Oh, I need it now."
Christopher Reichert: "I can paint that wall and it looks great now."
Kathleen Stetson: Well, and also with acoustics, too, it's a science but it's an art, and so you're making these recommendations to architects. You don't know really how it's going to work out. You think you've done your very best, you've done all the calculations, but really it takes a while to actually find out did it work or not.
Christopher Reichert: Yes. But I can tell you, my previous role was at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute here in Boston and they slavishly reproduced the Senate chamber.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh wow.
Christopher Reichert: Everything about it. But then they added a couple of different elements, which was glass barriers on the second floor and a couple of other things. That put no sound attenuation in, so it was just an echo-y, blobby mass whenever we had speaking programs.
Kathleen Stetson: Isn't that incredible? Right. It's like, "oh, well it's the same." But actually, no. Those details really make a big difference.
Christopher Reichert: Absolutely. Depends where you sat, if it was good or bad. But anyway, we won't get into that because it was a source of frustration.
Kathleen Stetson: Oh, I can talk about this for a while.
Christopher Reichert: Actually, we did get a quote from Arup to come in. It was like, "Okay, I think we'll just turn the volume up."
Kathleen Stetson: Oh no! Then I decided to go to Sloan for some immediate gratification. I had been reading a lot about entrepreneurship and starting companies and I thought, "You know, I think I could do something at the intersection of my interests." I had worked in the arts, I was now combining arts and science, and it sort of made sense to me, "Well, all right, art, science, and business. There's got to be an interesting company that I can start that combines those things." I came to Sloan specifically for the entrepreneurship program and with a thought that probably I would focus in the arts, and that is pretty much what I did with Hacking Arts, and then with my startup, Trill.
Christopher Reichert: Hacking Arts, when I read it, I guess it's like TED, right? Which has the three, but then you added the hacking part of it, so THED, if you add on a ... No, I'm kidding.
Kathleen Stetson: That's amazing.
Christopher Reichert: No, but what I found really interesting about it, and what has always drawn me to TED and those sorts of conferences—maybe you can say South by Southwest is that same sort of thing? What also repels me at the same time, is that there's a dilettante-ish nature to it. Which is you come in, you're supposed to get some worldly wisdom in 18 minutes or less, right?
Kathleen Stetson: Right.
Christopher Reichert: Then you kind of shuttle off, have some espresso, and you move on to the next one and you're mingling and whatever else. When you did the Hacking Arts Festival, tell me what brought that all together and what was the goal there?
Kathleen Stetson: Well, what we-
Christopher Reichert: Boots on the ground, it sounds like as well, right?
Kathleen Stetson: That's right. The tagline that we've used for seven years now, because it's in its seventh year, it's happening this weekend at the Media Lab, is “We don't just talk about the future of the arts, we create it.” And that's really what we wanted to do. When I came to Sloan, I realized there are a lot of people interested in arts and technology, not just at Sloan but across MIT, across Boston. There are so many fabulous schools in arts and beyond here. I was meeting all these people, but many of them weren't meeting each other, actually.
My co-founder of Hacking Arts, Catherine Halaby and I, we saw this opportunity to just put people in a room together and kind of see what happens. But we wanted it to feel ... It's the arts after all. We wanted it to feel like an experience, like the weekend is an evolution where you're meeting some people, you're confronted with some new ideas perhaps, and then you don't just leave and never see those people again. In fact, then you work with those people and you create something. Even if it's only 24 hours, you create a little spark of something that then could become something more. In fact, there are a couple of companies that started with their little teams at Hacking Arts. Somebody met their now spouse at Hacking Arts. We can boast a couple of very meaningful connections that have happened there!
Christopher Reichert: Was an element of the unconference in it? How structured was it?
Kathleen Stetson: Yes, we've never done specifically an unconference portion. It's always been the conference and then the hackathon, and they’re different years depending on the co-directors, because it still is all student run. Catherine and I are still quite involved, but just from an advisory component. We want them to make of it what they want to make of it. This year, the hackathon and the conference, they're kind of interwoven in some ways with workshops. The conference is happening on Sunday instead of on Saturday and there's experiments that happen every year. It happens in three parts. We say the first part is inspire, so that's the, "Hey, let's all get on the same page about what are the problems in arts and technology right now. What are the possibilities? What are people already doing? Let's not reinvent the wheel." Then ideate, "Let's all come up with new ideas based on what we've just heard." And then the create portion. Some people come and do that whole progression. Some people just come to the inspire portion and listen to the panel.
Christopher Reichert: And they just absorb something?
Kathleen Stetson: Exactly. Some people just want to come hack, and that's great. It's exciting.
Christopher Reichert: Do you change the theme every year?
Kathleen Stetson: Sometimes we have a theme and sometimes we don't. Actually, this year, there are just three panels and hacking and a bunch of workshops that are interesting. Sometimes it's more arty and sometimes it's more business-focused. We're very intent upon keeping that intersection between arts and entertainment technology and entrepreneurship. Because we want people to potentially start something out of this and not just have a conference and chat.
Christopher Reichert: That's great. I want to turn to what you're doing now. Before we get into that, you talked about that you suffered from depression during and after this startup. Is it true?
Kathleen Stetson: Yes.
Christopher Reichert: Then also, constant low-level migraine headaches since 2010. Is that still the case?
Kathleen Stetson: It is. I have a migraine right now.
Christopher Reichert: Oh, wow. Which then led to your research into wellness, meditation, and mindfulness. I don't know if you read recently here at McGovern Institute for Brain Research, in whose building we are sitting, they just did some research recently where they were able to control people's alpha brain waves after 10 minutes. They gave them live neurofeedback, and they had to look at a grading pattern in the center of a monitor and were told to use mental efforts to increase the pattern's contrast, making it more visible. At the end of it, they were amazed. They said they knew that they were doing this. They actually were able to do this, just mentally able to do this, but they had no idea how they did it. They were talking about it's the basis of conditional learning and sometimes if you get a reward and feedback, you continue doing it. Maybe there's some element to that.
I was thinking about how that might fit in with mindfulness in the work that you're doing. Particularly as entrepreneurs you talked about, even with the hacking festival, that people were doing their thing but not getting together. The same thing might be true for entrepreneurs, where they're in their own separate space. Which leads to the mental health issues, right? Depression and other aspects, anxiety and whatnot?
Kathleen Stetson: Yes. Loneliness, too.
Christopher Reichert: Right, right. And not being able to tell your story. What really caught me about the description of what you're doing was the confidential unbiased environment for your feedback. Tell me about how that came together, and how that leads into what you're doing right now. I don't know if that's really what you're doing now…
Kathleen Stetson: It is. In a way, it feels like a stretch to go from the arts to the wellness environment. But really, the through line is I was focusing here on entrepreneurship and I started this company. I did what I said I was going to do. I started a company when I was at Sloan. It was incredibly exciting. I got a lot of support from the [Martin] Trust Center, from professors, from students. I worked on it in every single class that would allow me to use it as my main project. It was fabulous. Then, I got out of this wonderful environment and we raised money, we stayed in Cambridge, and then it was like, "Oh my God, wow. This is a slog." We talked about in entrepreneurship, you have to “fail fast” and you’ve got to move quickly. You have in your head, "Well, it's a sprint. I’ve got to move really quickly. I have to be on top of it all the time. I need to be so incredibly dedicated that I leave aside everything else."
Christopher Reichert: Right, have all the answers.
Kathleen Stetson: Have all the answers, exactly. I went for, gosh, it was probably two years where I barely had dinner with a friend I was working so hard.
Christopher Reichert: Right. And it's hard to explain that to people who aren't doing it, because you hope to have measurable results. But if you're not, you still think maybe you're not failing but you're not succeeding in how the external environment would view the measure of success.
Kathleen Stetson: Right. It's hard to know ... that “fail fast” thing is always in the back of your head, but you're like, "Well, but also, people are telling me to persevere so wait. Which one do I do?"
Christopher Reichert: Yes. It's easy to fail fast, right? "I give up."
Kathleen Stetson: Exactly. And really, yes, it's a balancing act between those two all the time, and really at the center of that is decision-making. The work that I'm doing now is, and I've skipped over a bit and I'll come back to it, but it's really about helping entrepreneurs make decisions better. See the information that they have at hand more clearly. That information can be internal, their gut. It can be the information they get from feedback from customers, from investors, from advisors, from the market. It's really helping people, frankly, not be sort of delusional about the information.
I can remember numerous times when I made decisions based on fear. Fear that, "Oh my God, our investors put in all this money and I want to do right by them, so let's build this new feature because that's going to be the answer for us." And it turns out no, that's never the answer. That feature is probably never the answer. Going down that path might be something that leads you somewhere interesting and may lead to some measure of success, but the idea that entrepreneurs are constantly like, "Well, if I just have this thing," or, "If I just go to this person or this place," then success is right around the corner.
Christopher Reichert: The silver bullet, right.
Kathleen Stetson: Right. Because really, it's a marathon, it's not a sprint. That realization, all of that, I slogged through that mud and I did experience a lot of depression because Trill was not going well. I mean, it was going well until it wasn't. Then we really just fundamentally didn't have a good business model and ultimately that's the thing that was our downfall because that's important, making money. Imagine that!
Christopher Reichert: Right. Pets.com. Remember that?
Kathleen Stetson: Right. That whole experience, and sure enough, this entire time, I don't mean to make a big thing of the migraine, but I'd had this chronic pain in my head since even before I went to Sloan. It’s something that I've been managing for years and been to a bagillion doctors to try to figure out exactly what it is. Only in the past two or three years have I realized that in fact it's just been a low-grade migraine the whole time. At Sloan, I actually thought it was related to Lyme disease. I've been in the background working on that this whole time …
Christopher Reichert: And probably didn't want to appear weak, right?
Kathleen Stetson: That's exactly right, yeah. Entrepreneurship, I felt like here at MIT, they do an incredible job of teaching you all the mechanics of how to start a company. They teach you that you need to persevere, they teach you that you can do it. That's the main thing that I got here. It was just electric to feel like everybody was telling me, "You can do this." And that's important. It's really important to have that confidence. But on the other side of it was this massive, "Well wait, everyone's telling me I can do it, so if I don't do it well then I've failed and what am I? What's the point of me anymore?"
So fast forward. Trill did fail. We closed up shop in 2017.It took me about a year to really get back on my feet and-
Christopher Reichert: Dig out of that?
Kathleen Stetson: Yes, because I felt like my identity was my startup, and if my startup failed then I had failed as a person.
Christopher Reichert: Right. You put so much intellectual and emotional effort into this vision and then you have to lick your wounds, regroup, and say, "What is my new vision?"
Kathleen Stetson: Exactly.
Christopher Reichert: "Because I've focused on one thing." I don't know if you're familiar with Len Oliver. He used to say that in soccer, there was really just three states of play. You have the ball, you're trying to get the ball, and the dominant state is that you’re in some sort of transition. He was saying that most of soccer, most of work and life, is about being in that zone of transition, and that's a zone of uncertainty. I think that's something that's hard to ... It's not a comfortable state. But we spend most of our time in that. Now that you have a new child, you're probably having some sort of uncertainty as to what tomorrow’s going to bring, right?
Kathleen Stetson: That's exactly right.
Christopher Reichert: This mindfulness component that you're working on, how does that help address that?
Kathleen Stetson: Well, that's a big part of what ultimately got me out of that depressive state. I went to a monastery, actually for five weeks, a Buddhist monastery in California, and that played a big role. Originally, I went there, and just like my attitude towards entrepreneurship I was like, "Well, if I go to this monastery, then I can solve my migraine because I'll be meditating all the time." But instead what I learned there is you can keep grasping, as the Buddhists say. You can keep grasping, trying to find the solution, but life continues. Each day continues. So even if you find the solution for that day, the next day there's going to be some other problem, some other challenge to face. I've realized now it's really about just living each day, living each moment, enjoying what's happening. It doesn't mean you don't plan, it doesn't mean you don't work your ass off. You still do those things, but you're not living in the vestiges of the past, and you're not constantly looking to the future thinking, "Well, it's going to be better in the future." Make it better now. Let's enjoy what's happening right now. I started a coaching business and started working with renaissance women, mainly, and then branching out to all kinds of entrepreneurs and freelancers.
Christopher Reichert: When you said “renaissance women,” women with a lot of interests and skills and …?
Kathleen Stetson: Like myself.
Christopher Reichert: Right. I totally relate to that, whether it's singing, architecture, technology.
Kathleen Stetson: It’s been just fabulous. The immediate gratification that I was looking for all along, I have found in coaching because you're working with people directly. Most of what I do is remote over video conference or over the phone, but I can see their brains turning as we have these conversations. Then in a matter of weeks, they've gotten to the other side of a conundrum they were facing, and it's just delightful. Then what I did is, last year I had this idea for how to do this in a larger way for entrepreneurs because I feel like nobody needs to go through what I went through and what many, many, many, many, many entrepreneurs have gone through with facing these challenges alone or seemingly alone, when in fact none of us are alone. We're all going through the same stuff.
What we did is we piloted this program, Entrepreneurial Confidence in Communication, that I created at the [MIT] delta v accelerator this past summer here at MIT. It was awesome and very, very rewarding for all involved. The best thing was that we got some really great data out of it, so we now can show that it really did make a difference in the well-being of those entrepreneurs and that this is something that can be extended to the entrepreneurship community in general. Hopefully we can sort of change the paradigm from, "You have to work all the time. That's the only way you're going to be successful," to, "Let's work smart," as they say. "Let's work hard, but let's work smart."
Christopher Reichert: This was a 12-week accelerated program. How did you recruit the first cohort?
Kathleen Stetson: Well, I was the luckiest person in the world, because I just got to come in and work with a cohort that they had accepted for delta v. It was 84 entrepreneurs in teams that were housed at the Trust Center in Cambridge and then also at the Startup Studio in New York City. We made the ECC, as we call it, Entrepreneurial Confidence in Communication, we made ECC a mandatory part of delta v, which was important because it allowed everyone to speak with a common language, and it completely eliminated the stigma of sharing in this kind of environment.
What we did is, we had a basic curriculum, a self-awareness curriculum, that was disseminated via emails each Monday and readings, and then we had small group sessions every other week. No two members of the same team were in those small groups, and everyone agreed to confidentiality in those small groups. It meant that you had five or six people and a coach, like myself or my two colleagues who helped out, who you could say anything to, which is just so unusual in entrepreneurship because most of the people that you know have some kind of stake in what you're doing. Even friends and family, it's hard to be totally honest because you want to seem like you're killing it.
We found that people were able to let down their guard and really talk about what was worrying them, the challenges they were facing, and then they were able to find out that the other people in their group were also facing those similar challenges. It just makes everybody feel better when they know that they're not alone.
Christopher Reichert: I know Sloan is introducing, well, they have the “three paths.” I don't know if you've heard about those. There's the “superhighway,” traditional superhighway. You go to business school and then you join Goldman Sachs or McKinsey or one of these set organizations. Then there's the “jungle,” which is you are partly between them. Then there's the “dirt road,” which is setting off on your own path. Hacking your way through the jungle with no direction. You're setting the direction in your own way. I don't know if they're going to keep doing this. Is this something that's going to come through the Trust Center in the future? Is it something that's going to happen again next summer?
Kathleen Stetson: Actually, we're figuring that out right now, which is really exciting. Bill Aulet and Trish Cotter, the people that I'm working with mainly at the Trust Center, and they're excited about the possibilities with this so we're deciding how this is going to manifest in delta v next year and beyond. But it's very exciting, the data that we've just released. A little bit of the highlights of the data that we found is we basically gave a survey at the beginning, we gave a survey at the end, pretty simple.
The beginning survey, 21% of our cohort, our 84 people, were practicing some kind of meditation or mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness as defined by themselves, so we didn't define what those practices were. It was breathing exercises, the sort of traditional definition of mindfulness, which is noticing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations non-judgmentally on purpose. Some people were doing that. Some people were doing yoga and they defined that as mindfulness. But that was just 21%. By the end of the 12 weeks, 88% said that they were practicing at least weekly their own meditation or mindfulness practice, which is really exciting because we didn't require them to make a practice. All we required was show up for these small groups. It's every other week for an hour. But people, we told them the benefits of this, we cited lots of scientific studies that show the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, and they found not only that it was a useful practice, but a useful practice for themselves, which was really exciting. Then we found some other really interesting things. Like a recent stat I was looking at is more than 20% of companies, not startups, but corporations in the U.S., have some kind of meditation or mindfulness training available to their employees, and it's just crazy to me that we haven't done this in entrepreneurship at all. The mindfulness market now is over a billion dollars in the U.S., so there's an opportunity here. What is exciting is now we can show there are measurable benefits. It's not just crunchy “woo woo” stuff, which is what people thought in the past. I thought that. I mean, I was totally ignorant and now I realize this is very science based and it works.
Christopher Reichert: I guess it should be hopefully added to another metric of a company's success beyond share price, revenue, profitability.
Kathleen Stetson: That sounds good.
Christopher Reichert: Well hopefully we'll get there. Do you have a favorite professor or a memory from your time at Sloan?
Kathleen Stetson: Oh my gosh. Oh, there are many. I really, really loved being at Sloan. Favorite professor ... I feel like I shouldn't say that out loud. I feel like-
Christopher Reichert: It's okay, it's okay. No one's listening.
Kathleen Stetson: Honestly, I took so many entrepreneurship classes and really ... I feel like I'm going to make his head really big when I say this, but I loved working with Bill Aulet.
Christopher Reichert: Sure. He's a great guy.
Kathleen Stetson: What I learned from him in those classes was invaluable. One of the things that I really appreciate with what he did is he really brought in, and Ed Roberts also did this in the Intro to Entrepreneurship class— they just brought in so many people to talk to us, so it really was learning by osmosis, where at the time, you were kind of like, "One more person talking to us about their experience." But oh my goodness, when I got out of Sloan, having that menu of experiences that I'd heard, I was able to call on them and say, "Oh yeah, wait. I remember that so-and-so from that startup experienced the same thing. I'm not a crazy person. This is part of the normal journey."
Christopher Reichert: The firsthand is really rich, hearing it.
Kathleen Stetson: It was so helpful. And really, that's played into the ECC program also, this idea that sharing is a good thing. The more we talk about our experiences, the more we can benefit from others' experiences.
Christopher Reichert: How about a do over? Anything you would want to do over?
Kathleen Stetson: At Sloan?
Christopher Reichert: If you could go back, what would you do? Is there a course or a...
Kathleen Stetson: Some people in my family find it obnoxious that I say this, but I really don't have any regrets. No, I wouldn't do anything over. If you make me pick something …
Christopher Reichert: I will.
Kathleen Stetson: There was a meditation group called Sloan Sit when I was at Sloan, and I thought to myself at the time, "That seems like a good idea, I should probably go and experience that. I should go sit with these people and do meditation." Because at the time, I had never meditated before. But I thought, "That seems smart." But then there was this other part of me that thought, "If I go do that, I'm admitting that I need help, that I need something else, that I'm not fully capable."
Christopher Reichert: Or maybe you don't want to look in there.
Kathleen Stetson: Exactly, right. Because in fact, yes, mediation and mindfulness, when you really get into it, you realize it's not some magic pill that you suddenly feel better. In fact, it really, really helps you look at yourself the way you are, the good and the bad. It can be quite uncomfortable, particularly in the beginning. People think like, "Oh, well I'm not good at meditating because I feel frustrated when I'm doing it or afterwards," and it's like, "Oh yeah, no, just keep doing it. Yes, you've got it."
Christopher Reichert: That is it.
Kathleen Stetson: "You're doing it, that's it." Exactly. Because in fact, if you allow yourself to feel that frustration and you sit with it and you feel that uncomfortable feeling, you'll get through it and then you won't feel frustrated. But if you stop in that frustration, you'll just keep hitting that frustrated wall. Anyway, sure, I wish I had gone to Sloan Sit. That would have been a good thing to do.
Christopher Reichert: How did you pick Sloan at the time when you were looking for a business degree?
Kathleen Stetson: As I was mentioning, I knew I wanted to focus on entrepreneurship, I knew I wanted to start a business. I was also on the older end of people applying to business schools. I think I was 31. Or maybe I was 30 when I started. Anyway, I was in my 30s. I was looking at programs that I felt had the sort of program that I wanted. The entrepreneurship program here is over 50 years old, it's got an incredible reputation. It's kind of the seat, really, of entrepreneurship education, so that was one thing. Then also I really wanted a group of people that I identified with, and I loved the principled leadership ethos here, I loved the breadth of the students. I only applied at three business schools, and this is the one that I chose to go to.
Christopher Reichert: Wow, great. What's your definition of success now?
Kathleen Stetson: Oh my goodness. This is funny because I've been refining a framework for Self Aware Entrepreneurship, which is what the goal is now for me, is to spread the movement of self-awareness in entrepreneurship. At the top of this framework is success, because that's what everybody wants, particularly when you start a company. You just want to be successful. You'll do anything for it. But in fact, the layer beneath that is, in order to get success, you have some things you can control and some things you can't. Many things you can't, right? And in order to negotiate the things you can control and the things you can't, you need to make decisions. That all sounds quite obvious, but I think a lot of the time, we feel like there's so much that's out of our control that we're not really owning our decisions.
To answer your question, the definition of success for me is to be eyes wide open with the decisions I'm making, and not feel like any one is going to make or break it. It's just going to take me to the next step, which is probably going to be fascinating.
Christopher Reichert: Interesting. Do you still sing for yourself?
Kathleen Stetson: Not enough. Hopefully soon. I've been moving around the country a lot in the past couple years, so it's hard to develop a community. You really have to find a community of people to make art with. I hope to do that soon. I don't know that we'll be in Missouri forever. Maybe we'll be here. We'll see what happens.
Christopher Reichert: Do you have any parting advice for perspective Sloanies or students who are thinking about going to Sloan?
Kathleen Stetson: I think when I went to business school, I felt like, "I’ve got to take advantage of everything," and I think most people feel that way because it's so exciting to be in the environment and there are so many options. I was proud of myself, actually. What I did is I gave myself a deadline. That first semester, which is so crazy because it's core anyway, I said, "All right, I'm going to explore the arts and I'm going to explore energy and I'm going to explore healthcare," because I thought to myself, "As long as I'm going to business school and I'm moving away from opera singing and I'm moving away from acoustics, why don't I at least give myself the opportunity to check out these other industries?" And I said, "I'll do it for two months and then I'll center in on one."
I did that. I helped organize the BioInnovations Conference that first year, which was a great experience. Really glad I did that. But sure enough, after two months, I was ready to make a decision and say, "Yes, let's do the arts." I feel like that was a good way of doing it, and I think there are a lot of different ways that people organize their time, but I would highly recommend that to any incoming Sloanies.
Christopher Reichert: Well, thanks to Kathleen Stetson for joining us today on Sloanies Talking with Sloanies.
Kathleen Stetson: Thank you.
Christopher Reichert: Her website is kathleenstetson.com, and on there you'll see ... I guess your mantra is, "Making better choices for yourself and your startup. Kill it without killing yourself."
Kathleen Stetson: Indeed.
Christopher Reichert: We'll leave it with that. Thanks very much for joining us today.
Kathleen Stetson: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the Office of External Relations at MIT Sloan School of Management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website, mitsloan.mit.edu/alumni, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides essential, flexible funding to ensure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting, giving.mit.edu/sloan. To support this show or if you have an idea for a topic or a guest you think we should feature, drop us a note at, firstname.lastname@example.org.