Behind every great business is an individual who had an idea that was just crazy enough it could work. At least that was the case with Ron Robertson, co-founder and CEO of Picmonic, a visual learning platform that enables users to create, share and learn from audio/visual content. Ron was a third-year medical student bogged down with exams and, like so many of his counterparts, frustrated by all the important information he was forgetting along the way. Studying under a neuroscientist, he learned that by making information more sensory, it dramatically improved the ability to learn and retain that information. It was then the idea for Picmonic was born. Within a year of launching, half the medical schools in the country had signed up and used the product. Six years later, Picmonic is revolutionizing the way students are learning and retaining information.
In this episode, Ron discusses his decision to step away from medical school to pursue his own business, building a team, raising capital, and taking Picmonic to market, along with a few other key entrepreneurial lessons he’s learned along the way.
Coming from a medical background, how did you step into the CEO role and take on growing a business?
I came from a background of biochemistry and neuroscience. Going into medical school, I knew very little about business. I was naive but I surrounded myself with people who are much smarter than I am and who’d built successful businesses before. Ultimately it was the advisors, mentors and coaches that helped guide the way. Despite the things I was not familiar with – whether that was building a team or creating software or taking a product to market or raising capital –– none of these were unique. Others have done these things before, so it was more about how could I connect with these people and try to learn from them.
What’s one thing you have really had to learn as CEO?
All of it. One of the areas I was the least prepared for was leadership and management. It’s challenging having people work for you in a startup organization where you’re underfunded and people aren’t making as much money as they would working for a huge corporation. I’ve had to work hard to get better at it. Business wise, it’s a constant process of iteration and improvement. We go through a retrospective process regularly, looking at our objectives, whether we hit them, and if not, why and what could we do differently? When you look at individual roles and responsibilities across the board, there’s always room for improvement in every aspect of what we do.
What’s one of the best things you’ve done for your business?
It comes down to the inception of the organization when I had the idea and shared it with people early on, everybody thought I was crazy. One of things people would say was, “You want to teach people with cartoons?” or “You want to use cartoons to train the next generation of doctors and nurses?”. And the answer was yes. It took an incredible amount of tenacity to fight that battle and believe in myself and the vision enough to build something when everyone thought it was insane.
I dropped out of medical school to build this organization. I quit one year shy of graduating. I believed in it enough to get it going, and consistently share it, tell people about it and get enough people to believe in order to get the capital to recruit the talent to build the product and take it to market. It was 1 to 2 years after we started that finally people started to see the validation. For the first couple years it took a lot of time and energy and commitment.
- Coffee drinker, yes or no? Absolutely.
- What’s one business tool you’re geeking out over right now? Kiteform, Intercom, Slack and Zeplin.
- Favorite piece of technology: Google. It’s heavily used and loved in our organization.
- What’s one book you would pass along to a fellow entrepreneur: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz
- Who is one person you would like to have dinner with? Elon Musk
- How many hours of sleep do you get a night? On average 4 to 5, but I would love to get 6 to 7.