Nina Dudnik | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nina Dudnik

Background:  

Boston-based Seeding Labs is a nonprofit founded in 2003 that provides surplus laboratory equipment to researchers in developing countries. In 2015, Seeding Labs procured $1.4 million in equipment from corporate donors.

The Mistake:

I came directly out of working in academic science as a molecular biologist. I started Seeding Labs on nights and weekends. Running a company -- and entrepreneurship in general -- is not science. The luxury you have in scientific research of painstaking collection of data to point the way forward is not possible in running a business. All the data in the world cannot help you in real human situations on the ground, as well prepared as you try to be in advance.

Hiring is something I didn't have a lot of experience with coming from the lab, where it was all about being prepared and researching. I need to trust my instincts and that feels very unscientific. Where I come from, you base a decision on pros and cons and careful evaluation.

In a couple of instances, I ignored my own instincts in hiring. It happened more than once going through interviews: There was one specific thing nagging at me, even though all of these other things pointed to the hire being a good decision. But it wasn't. I had a couple of instances when I didn't take time to do the pros and cons, I just knew it was the right person and it turned out great.

 

Sometimes you just have to make a decision and act when it seems like all the forces are going in your direction.

 

The Lesson:

Paying attention to instincts wasn't something that was part of my training, but it's a lesson I learned the hard way.

Sometimes you just have to make a decision and act when it seems like all the forces are going in your direction. It's counter to everything I'd ever been taught about writing a business plan. You have to notice when pieces are falling into place.

For example, we were seeing a whole number of serendipitous factors fall into place in early 2009 around working in Kenya. I was thinking -- as was the board of directors at the time -- that we have to very carefully research whether this was the best strategy. We could have sat and discussed endlessly whether it was the next best place, but we would have missed the opportunity.

The quote attributed to Louis Pasteur sticks with me: Chance favors the prepared mind. You have to be aware of those moments, and when they do or don't trump the carefully considered plan.

Conversely, when you're doing humanitarian work, the human instinct is to want to be able to help absolutely everybody, and you can't always do that.

We're currently facing a number of huge hurdles in working in one particular country. It's a very hard thing to think we're going to have to cancel all our projects there and not work there in the foreseeable future, but the costs and risks are too high.

It's incredibly difficult to figure out when to say "no" because the circumstances are too difficult. When we have to balance the mission and the business side, we have to make decisions that are more calculated.

 

Follow Seeding Labs on Twitter at @SeedingLabs .

Pictured: Nina Dudnik. | Photo courtesy of Nina Dudnik. 

 

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