Tom Seery and Ryan Yousefian discuss their startup stories

Two successful founders in the healthcare arena and Foster school alumni

The Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program invited two successful founders — Tom Seery of RealSelf and Ryan Yousefian of ApnoMed — to tell their stories at the second online “Taste of Entrepreneurship” event, which was held on Tuesday, December 1.

The aim of this event was to explore the path that these founders took to start their companies from two different perspectives: freshly out of graduate school and in the thick of securing funding (Ryan, who graduated from the MS in Entrepreneurship program last June), and nearly a decade and a half out from founding and the ups and downs of success (Tom).

Tom Seery
Founder and Executive Chairman of RealSelf, Foster MBA alum ‘00
Ryan Yousefian
Founder of ApnoMed,
MS Entre Alum ‘20

When did they know that their idea could become a company?

“For me it really was competitions,” explained Ryan Yousefian. Ryan won both the UW Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge and the Dempsey Startup Competition while an MS in Entrepreneurship student last year. Even more valuable than the $42K he won from the competitions was the validation that he received. “Those were huge validations because people believed I wasn’t just a crazy person who had this idea…people saw the value in the business model”.

Tom’s true moment of realization actually came after his business was up and running. He describes it as something more like a “lightning shock or near electrocution”: his company was sued. A company did not like the reviews that they were receiving on his platform and wanted to shut RealSelf down. Tom went to back to one of the company’s earliest supporters who reassured him saying, “Congratulations, you will look back on this as the most important moment for your business”. Tom in fact went on to write an article about the experience and reaffirmed to us that “being sued by a large corporation means you must be doing something that’s making an impact”.

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

Tom and Ryan provided a lot of advice to developing and current entrepreneurs. However, one recurrent theme they both touched on—albeit from different perspectives—is the importance of listening to feedback. Startup competitions are important for early-stage entrepreneurs as they provide a safe space for constructive criticism, which Ryan attributes to some of his early-stage success with ApnoMed. And while listening is important, you also need to develop the ability to pick and choose the advice that it is right for you to follow, “because you’re going to hear different things from everyone, it’s a matter of which one is the best for you at that time”. If Tom were to do it all again, he would focus on “talking less than listening more,” because it is “how you build trust with your team”. He goes on to say that “it’s part of why I think I’ve been able to manage this process for 14 years. It’s just that openness and willingness to be wrong, and to listen”.

In closing

Tom put it brilliantly: “Disruption is at the heart of entrepreneurship. If you are not being disruptive, you should probably pack your bags and do something else”. Both Tom and Ryan are making waves in the healthcare arena, empowering consumers to make informed choices and helping people live a better life.

It was wonderful to learn how UW and the Foster School helped shape Tom and Ryan as entrepreneurs. Tom revealed that he also participated in the Dempsey Startup Competition—known at the time as the Business Plan Competition—and placed second! Is this when Tom got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug? In any case, it will be exciting to see what Tom and Ryan have in store next.

Watch the full discussion below:

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