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Heather Hiles

Founder & CEO

San Francisco, CA

By leaning in rather than giving in, I’m making my dreams come true and making a difference in how people teach, learn and grow.

Two years ago I co-founded a secure document-sharing site with a friend and colleague.  At the time, we felt that families needed something better for safely sharing things like vacation videos or a kid’s baseball game schedule. We struggled to pull together angel financing and to build a minimum viable product, but we got it done.

After the site launched, I noticed a lot of teachers were using the site to share classroom-based media with students and parents. As I got to know these teachers and their goals, I learned they were searching for something known as “e-Portfolio functionality” as a way for students to document all the evidence of their learning and achievement, and as a way for instructors to get at alternative forms of teaching and assessment. I realized we were in the position to deliver a next-generation e-Portfolio platform that could change the way people teach, learn and grow.

It was clear to me that we needed to change our focus. The problem was, my co-founder was not on board.

We had invested a lot – time, money and ego – into our original minimum viable product, and he felt strongly we needed to stay the course. But it was so clear to me that our product wouldn’t succeed as originally designed.

So I decided to pivot the company and go at it alone, if necessary. There were people who believed I was making the wrong decision and my co-founder fought me pretty hard. There were legal threats. There were fights. There was intimidation. At one point, I even offered to just walk away and let my co-founder do what he wanted.

But when faced with running the show on his own and having to raise capital without me, he backed down. We finally agreed on a way to go our separate ways so that I could move the company in a direction I felt in my bones was right. It was painful and took all of my energy and skill to professionally navigate the situation, and it cost me a friend.

It turns out our pivot was the best thing that could have happened for me and for the business, now known as Pathbrite. My whole career before Pathbrite was focused on addressing gaps in opportunity, education and achievement, which is why I’m so passionate about my company. Pathbrite helps people to close the gaps in their education or work experience so they can achieve their most important goals in life.

Though we’re still early-stage, we’re innovating and educating our target markets about what’s possible in e-Portfolios. We’re also learning from those markets about what works and what doesn’t.  It’s funny: Listening to our users has helped me tap into my deepest passions, and we have a company today that I’m really proud of as a result.

By leaning in rather than giving in, I’m making my dreams come true and making a difference in how people teach, learn and grow. It was worth the fight.