On March 1, 2023, Dorvie turned 1 year old. During the past year, the team has learned a lot about the senior living space, built out our technology platform, established a robust network of trusted service providers, tested and iterated a variety of offerings, and honed in on partnerships with senior living communities as the best pathway to connect with and serve older adults who want to continue living independently. Like so many start-ups, the first year has been a blur. We decided to capture some of our learnings in the hopes that they may provide useful insights to our senior living community partners and fellow health tech entrepreneurs.
Co-founders Anthony, Dan, and Hersh sat down with our content lead Erin Guidry to talk about how each of us individually experienced this first year. From failing fast to imposter syndrome, and Hersh’s love of lists to nuggets of advice for other entrepreneurs, this Q&A covers everything about Dorvie’s first year, while looking ahead to a great second year.
Erin Guidry: What was the best moment of this first year for you?
Anthony Ciochetto: I’d have to say the moment where we pitched a senior living community, and they asked if they could make the program exclusive to them. We had been trying to find the best way to solve this problem of lack of services for people choosing to age independently and this moment told me we were onto something and finding market fit.
Hersh Fernandes: That really resonates for me too. When I watched one of our new partners pitch the concept to their board and I watched their reaction, I was floored.
Dan Thayer: For me it was when [Anthony, Hersh, and I] worked in-person together in late summer/early fall. We’ve worked very effectively remotely, but being able to all be in the same place and to get head-down on the work of laying out the big picture planning was great.
EG: What was the hardest challenge you had to overcome this year?
HF: We had this idea for what Dorvie should be and we had engaged 1,500 potential customers who agreed that it needed to exist. So, we built this thing—a service network meticulously created by Anthony and an amazing tech platform created by Dan—and we did it Field of Dreams-style. If you build it, they will come, right? (We did, but they didn’t). Bridging that gap between interest and demand was our biggest challenge.
AC: Yeah, it was in those long periods of time where we were wondering if things were going to work.
HF: This is common with startups – I think it’s called The Trough of Disillusionment and it’s where you’ve built this thing that you felt so passionate about but then it’s not working as fast as you hoped it would.
DT: It’s challenging not to have a clear vision and direction of where you’re going and just occupying yourself with work that doesn’t feel cohesive yet. So that period was definitely challenging.
EG: If you could go back and re-do one thing, is there anything you would do differently? Why or why not?
AC: To be honest, we made plenty of mistakes, and in hindsight we can say “Why did we pursue that?” but if we hadn’t done all those things, I don’t know if we would have come to the conclusions that we eventually did come to. We’ve been able to work in many ways like a lab and test everything to find what does and doesn’t work.
HF: We tried a lot of different ways to make Dorvie work that just didn’t work. But to echo what Anthony said, I can pull from each of those experiences and all the conversations I had with people during that time to leverage in our current partnership discussions. A lot of the things we built a framework for (like, for example, Move Concierge services) we may eventually come back to, if in a different way.
DT: The only thing I would do differently is start working with our virtual assistant, Camryn, sooner. She got me in the habit of planning out my calendar not just around meetings, but by blocking time to work on certain tasks directly tied back to our top-level goals. That’s been a really helpful habit for me the past few months.
HF: Yeah, definitely. And that probably goes for some of the outsourcing we’ve done for tech development as well. Hiring full-time employees in the first year can be really scary for a startup, so being able to find great people to work with in a contract capacity to help fill gaps has been important.
EG: What is something you learned this year—about business, about yourself, about each other—that surprised you?
DT: How easy it is to get freelance and small task things done. As long as it’s the right kind of task, it’s a really effective and cost-efficient way to work.
AC: We’ve had some really strange requests from members and working with freelancers we’ve been able to find solutions to all of them.
DT: We also learned a lot about how to scale projects down from these huge, big-picture things to find a more quick-and-dirty route to getting things done in a way that looks good and is effective. That allows us to change, customize, and adapt more easily.
HF: Building off that theme of the MVP (minimum viable product), we learned to anchor ourselves to the mantra of “If you’re not embarrassed by your first release, you released too late”. We learned that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to include every single feature we can come up with. Let’s just get something out there. The biggest surprise? People are totally fine with that.
EG: Hersh, you’ve known both Anthony and Dan for years, but you haven’t worked together in this capacity before. Did you learn anything new about each other this year?
AC: I had only met Dan once before, at Hersh’s wedding, and he’s relatively quiet, but he can figure out almost anything you put in front of him. All the while, Hersh and I are looking at him like he’s some sort of wizard. He’s very nonchalant about the massive product he’s built.
HF: I think one of Dan’s superpowers is having a great understanding of all the tools that are out there that can be merged together to reach any end goal. On the Anthony side, his ability to cannonball into something that is neither familiar nor comfortable and just do the thing is very impressive to me.
DT: For me, I think both of these guys give me too much credit [laughs]. But yeah, Anthony...for the three of us being relative introverts, he’s the one out there pounding the pavement and calling all these people and developing relationships. Hersh is very good at putting structure and frameworks around everything. Whenever we have any problem, he finds the repeatable solution that we can leverage.
AC: Hersh’s brain works in lists. He worked in consulting for so long that his brain is now in bullet pointed PowerPoint slides [laughs]. But for him, every conversation and bit of data is distinct and needs to be categorized.
EG: Working in a startup is very different from a corporate 9-to-5. What did you find most different about this type of work? What did you like best about it? What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
AC: With a startup, there are no rules. Which can be refreshing but also frustrating. You have an issue? Then go solve it. Find a contractor or figure out a solution. Whereas in a corporate world, you may want to do something and that means you need to send a letter to your manager who will send a request to Department X who will then send this request down, but they might gatekeep because they don’t want to take on any new projects right now. In a startup, you can just...do it. There were three of us, so we could come to a consensus in about 30 minutes and start acting that day. The frustrating part is that sometimes you do wish you had some sort of infrastructure built up around things. The database needs to be cleaned up? Oh well, that’s on you.
DT: I came from being a federal employee, so I was very used to that idea of having multiple levels of approval and long schedules and this has been a breath of fresh air. But in a startup, you also have to have your own motor. I’ve been reading a lot of books and listening to podcasts about entrepreneurs to get in an innovation mindset. It helps me to stay motivated and think about things in different ways. It's been a challenge to turn myself from more of a doer into someone who can step back and think strategically about how to make things happen without it all having to run through me.
HF: I gotta say – there's not a thing I miss about the corporate world. Working in a startup has shown me that all the bureaucracy is just made up. And we're in this great position where if we disagree on something, the answer is always to just test it and see what happens. That’s really refreshing. Freedom to do, freedom to fail, freedom to try as much as we want. The hardest part? I never got the Sunday Scaries and I still don’t, but I do get the Monday morning something-or-others, where from 8am-to-noon every Monday I’m like “Oh man, am I going to run this company into the ground?” By noon I’m totally good because I remember all the great things we were working on last Friday. [laughs] It’s bizarre.
EG: I think that’s probably a common experience for many entrepreneurs. It’s not all glamorous, right? With that in mind, what are you most looking forward to in the second year of Dorvie?
AC: We’ve just hired our first new full-time team employee [Me’Kel Thomas], so I’m looking forward to growing our team. With just three full-time people, you all have to be constantly strategizing and implementing. With a team, we’ll be able to delegate more and focus more deeply on one thing at a time.
HF: I’m excited about the fact that we know who we are, what we’re selling, who we’re selling it to, and how it works. I can’t wait.
DT: I’m excited to serve more users through the senior living community partnerships and to hopefully grow to where we can build out our product and dev team and create our own developer culture.
EG: To close us out, if you could give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs, what would it be?
AC: Accept that you are not qualified to answer most questions. Because ultimately the market will slap you in the face with any assumption you have about it. Also, argue as much as possible with your team. You will find that you often have biases about how you think things work and they will often be wrong. Our best decisions have come after days of arguing about how it should be done. So, I guess start a company with people you can argue with.
HF: To build off that, there should be an explicit acknowledgement that when we do disagree about something, we’re disagreeing to get to the right answer – not to win an argument. That implicit understanding has been core to us making it through this first year.
DT: Imposter Syndrome is real, but no one really knows what they're doing so it’s OK. We’re all just kind of figuring it out.
HF: Lastly, I’d say acknowledge if you’ve tried something out and you have interest, but not demand. Learn to be OK with that and pivot as quickly as possible. That’s something we’ll strive to continue to do as Dorvie grows.