Communications, Community, and Confidence
CEO Tania Coke, a 2016 graduate, shares her experience as a Threshold Venture Fellow and co-founding Tellus, which creates non-wearable health monitoring devices.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I was always interested in science. When I was a kid, one of my favorite presents was a microscope. But at the same time, I wanted to make an impact on lives at scale. Later in life, I became really interested in technology. One summer I did cognitive brain research at MIT, and then I took classes in computer science.
I became the main techie in my family. When my grandmother was in failing health, I tried to figure out which technologies we could use for safely aging in place — and I was disappointed with so many of the options.
At Stanford, my friend Kevin Hsu — who became my co-founder at Tellus — and I were always talking about business ideas. One day we were having coffee in the dining hall and talking about elder care and our personal experiences helping our families. Right there, we came up with the idea for Tellus. I told Heidi [Roizen, TVF co-lead] about the idea, and she asked me the question, “Does it keep you up at night?” The answer was that I wasn’t sleeping well because of the excitement and I knew I was onto something. This confirmed my intuition to explore this more seriously.
Can you draw a line between what you do today, and what you learned as a Threshold Venture Fellow?
Absolutely. There were three takeaways for me: communications, community, and confidence. First, communication, which helps set you aside from your peers if done right. In the first half of the fellowship, Heidi taught a class where we spent time with CEOs in small groups and were graded on our interactions with the speakers. This is one of the ways the fellowship helped me with my communication skills. Communication is key in leadership and especially important in the new world of Zoom meetings and managing teams virtually and, in my case, in different time zones.
Then, community. There were about 12 of us in our class, and to this day we all stay in touch. The program is focused on the quality of our connections, not the quantity, and we were encouraged to build a positive culture. When I spent three months in Japan, which is one of our markets, I realized how quickly I can build a strong community, which the fellowship helped me learn how to do.
And finally, confidence. Heidi and Tina [Seelig, Stanford management science and engineering professor] inspired me to be the best CEO. They’re so deliberate, thoughtful, and strong. Being around such incredible women gave me the confidence that I could be an entrepreneur.
What should every entrepreneur know before starting out?
There’s a lot of stress associated with being an entrepreneur, like raising money. But as Heidi and Tina told us, raising money is a milestone, it’s not a measure of your success. You should be so impassioned about what you’re working on that you aren’t even thinking about the dynamics of the VC ecosystem. Focus on the problem you are solving, the team you are building, and then executing.
What advice would you have for someone thinking about applying to the Threshold Venture Fellows program?
Don’t even think about it — just apply! You’ll meet a diverse group of people that you might not otherwise be interacting with. Those relationships will stay with you until the end of time. And then there’s the community-building, the communications skills, and building your confidence. Trust me, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.