Maran Nelson (left) and Michael Akilian (right) are the co-founders of AI startup Clara Labs.
TwentyTwenty Studios

How Clara Labs co-founder Maran Nelson overcame her fear of failure.

By Polina Marinova
July 29, 2016

Meet Clara, your personal assistant. She’s every busy person’s dream, able to set up meetings and appointments with very little effort on your part. And you don’t have to pay her an annual salary or benefits. Why? She’s a robot.

Clara, who lives entirely in your email and whose name can be changed to your preference, is the brainchild of Clara Labs in San Francisco. At $199 to $499 a month, the conversational artificial intelligence platform can schedule meetings, make restaurant reservations and RSVP to invites on your behalf. The more a customer uses her the smarter she becomes. The company reportedly has hundreds of clients, including Airbnb, Stripe, Houzz, and Genentech.

Maran Nelson, along with co-founder Michael Akilian, launched Clara to the public in September 2015. Nelson attended the University of Texas at Austin where she studied neuroscience and psychology.

On Friday, she participated in a live chat on the site Product Hunt where she shared some of the challenges of being a first-time founder and how she is still working to overcome the fear of failure.

 

On advice for first-time founders:

“Before I give perspective here, I want to reminder everyone: I’m still new to this! Everyone’s path is their own, and I wouldn’t get too caught up in other people’s experiences.

Being a first time founder is hard. You will feel incompetent, because honestly you probably are incompetent. The founders that don’t know this about themselves won’t grow. The only thing that gets you through is believing in your vision, and having a great team that believes in it too.

The trick, of course, is making sure you’re not delusional. Your customers are the only people that can tell you whether your vision is reasonable: you can’t operate in a vacuum and expect to succeed. So forgive your inadequacy (you’re not alone in it), talk to your customers, and continuously communicate your vision, for your own sanity and for your team’s.”

On going through Y-Combinator:

“The most useful thing I’ve learned from YC is to surround yourself with good people, but reason through things on your own. No one else knows your company better than you do.”

On being a good listener:

“I think good listeners 1. Care about people and 2. Appreciate that they don’t have all the answers. If you think you’ve got it all figured out? You won’t think there’s anything to gain in conversations with other people.

Every person on earth can teach you something that could change your life. I really believe in that, and go around looking for it.”

On what she looks for when hiring new employees:

“This team and my closest friends are incredibly similar (and in fact many of our teammates were friends with us for years before joining). They are deeply thoughtful, curious, willing to be wrong, and all have a real heart for people. I am honored to get to be surrounded by these people every day: I have learned a ton from all of them.”

On overcoming the fear of failure:

“I completely feel you on this one: ‘fear of failure’ and “absolute conviction of success” are my only states of being. If you sign up to work on a startup you should expect a hysterical, ridiculous adventure, as my team knows. (Hi team!) Your customer is the only person that can help you overcome your fear of failure. Talk to them constantly, listen when they tell you who they are and what’s hurting them. Be patient with yourself, and build the thing they need. Success is an inevitability if you’re willing to do this for a long enough period of time.”

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