There is no “how-to guide” or “secret formula,” the only way I know how to create things is to go out and do it, try it, take a risk.
Tom Valenti is CEO and Founder of ConnectAde, an online road-map that breaks down the complex caregiving maze into bite-sized steps and connects families to the local services that can help navigate the long journey. Unlike other caregiver sites that overload the user with information, ConnectAde is as easy as following a recipe with lots of ingredients.
Prior to founding ConnectAde, Tom was a convertible bond trader and portfolio manager of $100+ million hedge fund portfolios. Tom loved the risk taking and execution involved in managing large pools of money, but his initial career choice left him unfulfilled.
Tom grew passionate about addressing the plight of caregivers due to his family experience as well as conversations with his mom regarding her expertise in gerontology and what she was experiencing working at a large non-profit. Before ConnectAde, Tom could not figure out why someone could easily determine where to find the best burger in town, yet, a time-swamped caregiver had to jump through hoops in order to find what services are locally available to care for a loved one.
Tom has sat on the board of his local Alzheimer’s Association chapter and has spent many years as a high school lacrosse coach. Tom graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Economics and completed his MBA at the University of Notre Dame. He splits time between Michigan and Indiana with his wife.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working to make ConnectAde the best place for families to turn to when faced with the daunting task of caring for an aging loved one.
What does your typical day look like?
A day in the life of a start-up founder is never typical. One day I could be talking to a person trying to navigate the complicated caregiving journey while the next day I might be talking with a marketing executive at a large corporation seeking to partner with ConnectAde. I enjoy the life of an entrepreneur because every day is different and you’re never tied to your desk. On the other hand, it’s not like the typical 9-5 job where at 5pm you leave work at the office and go home to relax. As a start-up founder, work never leaves you.
3 trends that excite you?
• The aging of the population and the massive amount of innovation that is going into making that demographic shift a little easier for everyone.
• Changes in the US health care system – beyond the politics, we finally have a large portion of the population fully engaged in trying to improve our system in relation to cost, efficiency, choice and outcomes.
• The growing acceptance in America, especially from the youth, that entrepreneurship is a worthwhile career choice, and how the process of “starting up” is being revolutionized by Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Alexander Osterwalder and others.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas are easy, execution is hard. Fortunately, the world is full of dreamers. Unfortunately, very few dreamers take the risks necessary to make those dreams a reality. There is no “how-to guide” or “secret formula,” the only way I know how to create things is to go out and do it, try it, take a risk. I come up with new ideas all the time and most of my ideas would be colossal failures. But, I’m at least willing to take the risk to find that out on a few of them. If you’re afraid of failure, you will have a hard time bringing new things to life.
What inspires you?
The people I love – my wife, family and friends – inspire me by their faith in my ideas. In addition to their tremendous support, I’m often inspired by the many people who overcome great hardship to make it in this crazy world. I think it’s easy to be inspired when one thinks about how the US was built by immigrants leaving everything they had in one country and starting all over again here. I’ve had it pretty easy compared to them. I believe I have an obligation to take advantage of my opportunities and work to make life better for others.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I can only pick one?! Why don’t I talk about the two that stand out most to me? The first mistake was initially following a career path for all the wrong reasons. The second mistake was spending too much time planning my ideas and not enough doing. On the first mistake, if you’re not passionate about what you’re working on every day, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, you’re going to be miserable and your unhappiness is going to affect everything from your health to your relationships with your loved ones. It’s hard to walk away, but your life will be 10 times better when you do. As it relates to planning (borrowing a bit from the earlier bring ideas to life question), planning can waste a lot of time. I’ve learned to have a general sketch of how you want to execute your ideas, but I know that nothing ever goes according to plan and it’s better to lay out some basic principles and just go out and start doing.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t have a specific idea but I would suggest that readers look to create things that spread expertise to the masses. Look at professions that get paid for expertise and look for more efficient and scalable ways to deliver that knowledge to the world. For example, look at what E*TRADE and Mint have done to give financial expertise to the masses instead of relying on a professional financial advisor. Zillow and Trulia are giving real estate knowledge to people instead of realtors. WebMD and others are spreading health care knowledge that used to be solely in the possession of doctors. Meanwhile, ConnectAde is trying to spread elder care expertise and make the caregiving experience a less time consuming, financially costly, and emotionally draining process.
What do you read every day, and why?
Believe it or not, I still read the local paper – online, of course. I think it’s important to know what’s going on in your area. Blogs and national media are great, but I have yet to find anything that can deliver in depth, relevant news in as concise and coherent a package as the local daily paper.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
Definitely “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank. Steve created a step-by-step guide to starting a new business or product. His thinking has completely changed how start-ups “start” and forced schools that teach entrepreneurship to rewrite their lesson plans. His theory is all about engaging potential customers before you ever build something. So instead of building something no one wants, you come up with solutions to existing customer problems.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
I would say that my smart phone has become an extra part of my body.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.
Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon.
Can you tell us a bit more about why you started ConnectAde?
Right now, 45 million people in the US are caring for someone over the age of 50. As the population ages, this number is going to explode. Most of these family caregivers are just treading water – they don’t know what to do, nor do they have time to think about what’s next. ConnectAde guides them and organizes their voyage through the complicated caregiving journey.
Do you have a question for IdeaMensch readers?
Sure! What do you think of ConnectAde? What would make it a “must have” for you or your family?