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Reflections on Thanksgiving 2021

Entrepreneurs are not often known for looking backwards. Fail fast and move on. Move fast and break things. It's a cliche, but the demands of running your own company do put constraints on the time for reflection.

There are, however, certain anniversaries or milestones that trigger a moment of pause. One such occasion happened just last week.

Eight years ago, my company was just getting started. There were three employees at Proctorio. We were working out of a spare room at my father's house. Every client mattered and not just because every client does matter, but because we had to stretch every dollar to keep the business going.

I had decided early on that I didn't want to go the VC route. Something about creating a company from scratch and building it into an industry leader really appealed to me. I'd seen so many founders give up control of their business and, with it, went the reason they became an entrepreneur in the first place. I didn't want that for us.

Proctorio was going to be different.

Now, that didn't mean that our little company didn't need some help; we did. At that stage in a company's growth, we did what a lot of startups do: we applied to a bunch of accelerators.

Accelerators are organizations made up of experienced professionals who help founders navigate the sometimes tricky waters of being an entrepreneur. It's like having a mentor at your first job or getting an agent in Hollywood. Accelerators can open doors for you, find you the best engineers, introduce you to the right people. As their name implies, they do this all quickly.

While we applied to many, there was one accelerator that stood out. We don't need to go into too much detail here. Let's just say it was a big accelerator with a tiny name. The type of organization with a deep network and access to resources that could have changed our young company's trajectory by simply saying yes to us.

Instead, they said no.

Eight years ago, in the middle of a cold November, I received a friendly, but also very short email politely declining to take us on. Rejection never feels good and this was no different. The vague encouragement offered in the terse three lines stayed with me and our small team for a while. As we prepared for the holiday weekend, we didn't think we had much reason to be thankful.

We were wrong.

Sometimes doing things the hard way is the best way. Sometimes having to figure things out on your own is exactly what you need. Sometimes being told no is the only way you're going to dig deep to find success on your terms.

Most of the posts on our company blog are about new features to the product, our commitment to protecting your privacy, our attempts to do our small part to validate the integrity of your education. I wanted this note, however, to be about what you can do with that education. Contrary to popular overly positive catchphrases, it doesn't always get easier. You still encounter challenges. You still run into roadblocks. You still have people telling you no.

But, this Thanksgiving as I gather with the Proctorio team, things are a little different. There are a few more of us now. We have 120 employees spread across three offices around the world. We're currently used in 2200 universities and organizations in 190+ countries. And this year we proctored our 50 millionth exam.

Being rejected feels awful. But you don't have to take that no as a final answer. Why not take it as a challenge? Why not take it as an invitation? Why not take it as a gift to define what you want, the sacrifices you'll make to get there, and what success will look like years later?

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