Ann Scott-Plante: “My Advice Is to Just Take the Leap”
A cofounder of Wello says entrepreneurs need the confidence to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Ann Scott-Plante is a cofounder of Wello, a service that connects people with personal fitness trainers through online video chat. Scott-Plante and her friend Leslie Silverglide started Wello together in 2011 as students at Stanford Graduate School of Business. They ran the company for three years before selling to Weight Watchers in 2014. Scott-Plante ran product at Wello, despite never having worked on products before. She is now VP of product at Weight Watchers. As a former Division I tennis player, competition and fitness have always been major forces in Scott-Plante’s life. She graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2011.
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
We make it easier for people to get and stay fit.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Ann Scott-Plante | Courtesy
Ann Scott-Plante | Courtesy
A close friend told me years ago that whenever you have to make a decision, you should optimize for the experience. You can never know in advance what will be the outcome of a decision. You can know whether what you are choosing will be an amazing journey full of challenges and rich experiences. That is how I decided to start a company after business school instead of going back to consulting. I didn’t know at the time whether we would be sold to Weight Watchers or fall flat on our faces. Amelia Earhart said: “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
I have heard 1,000 times that “it’s all about the people.” A lot of people focus on what happens when you hire the wrong person. But it’s just as bad when you lose someone great. When you are an entrepreneur, your company is your baby. You are willing to stay up 24 hours a day and sacrifice your life to make it work. It’s easy to forget that it’s not the same for those who are not the founder. You can’t expect people to have an undying devotion. It’s easy to burn people out.
In one instance at Wello we had someone great but we didn’t give her the support she needed and she left. The mistake we made was in overworking and under-rewarding. We were so busy that we never asked. She was a great designer who did so much more. She learned a lot of new skills, including being a front-end developer, but at her core she wanted to just be a designer. She ended up taking a job where she was focusing on what she wanted and was paid 50% more than what we paid her. It took us six months to find a replacement but we still haven’t found someone of her quality. Now we regularly ask people: Are you getting what you want out of this job? Do you feel fairly compensated?
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
As a first-time entrepreneur, what scared me most was not knowing whether I had the skills to do it. You learn a lot on the job. My advice is to just take the leap. You don’t need to have it all buttoned up. You need the confidence to be comfortable with uncertainty.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?
I’m incredibly competitive. I want to excel at any given time. I am constantly trying to learn and do better. I never reach the perfect state.
What inspires you? How do you come up with your best ideas?
Progress in a macro sense inspires me. The idea that we are always moving forward and making things better. I see examples of that everywhere I go. It applies to technology and companies and also to people. I can be better tomorrow than I am today. At Wello we see people making progress and losing weight in the face of adversity.
What is your greatest achievement?
The fact that we have built something that helps people is something I am incredibly proud of.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
I stubbornly believe I can do things on my own. My failure is not asking for help as much as I should. Because of that, I miss opportunities.
What values are important to you in business?
Humility. Being able to laugh at yourself and acknowledge your mistakes and realize there is so much more you can do. Also, having a sense of purpose. I started a business to do good in the world.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I want to make health more achievable. It is extremely elusive. It’s hard to be healthy, whether that is weight loss or disease or mental health.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
I like doing and moving quickly and making a difference. It’s enriching and rewarding to make things that impact people.
What was your first paying job?
I played Division I tennis and was a tennis coach for kids starting when I was 13. What I learned both by playing and teaching is that winning is not about how good you are but how much you want it. I was never a great tennis player. My strokes were really ugly. It was infuriating to people. I sliced the ball all the time and did weird things they didn’t expect but I really love to win. I would fight tooth-and-nail to win. I saw the same thing in the kids I taught.
What is the best business book you have read?
Marty Cagan’s Inspired book about building products people love. Before founding Wello I had never experienced the building of a product. Cagan’s approach to making things people love and figuring out whether people really love them was instructive and interesting for me.
What businessperson do you most admire?
Elon Musk. His intellect is far beyond the rest of us and he has had so many breakthrough ideas. Bill Gates for his commitment to philanthropy. Sheryl Sandberg for bringing to light the challenges women face in the business world and actively suggesting ways to make it better.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
Community. I met my cofounder there. Also time. It allowed me to reflect on ideas and consider who I was as a leader.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
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