Dr. Mona Jhaveri is the Founder and Director of Music Beats Cancer. She received her doctoral degree in biochemistry at Wake Forest University. During post-doctoral work at the National Institute of Health (NIH), she discovered a promising treatment for ovarian cancer. Moving into the biotech industry, she learned first-hand how many cancer ideas die due to a lack of funding.
Dr. Jhaveri launched Music Beats Cancer to support biotech entrepreneurs working on cancer-fighting technologies. Her crowdfunding platform leverages the power of music to raise funds and awareness for promising cancer innovations. Thanks to this innovative crowdfunding model, donors can give directly to a cancer-fighting campaign they care about, receive quarterly progress updates, and watch more cancer-fighting technologies in the product development pipeline make it to patients in need.
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The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
That’s a great question. This journey has so many ups and downs and tests you in so many ways. If I had to choose my single most valuable discovery along the way, it would be learning to trust my judgment. Judgment is critical because you are swimming in an ocean of opportunities and snake oil salesman. People pull you in a hundred different directions. You are the one who decides whether to make a deal, take advice, build a relationship, or walk away. I think that’s really true of a leader. Good judgment is the mark of any leader, but especially a successful entrepreneur.
You learn to trust yourself on this journey, but you also learn to forgive yourself. You’re going to be wrong sometimes. It’s inevitable. Instead of beating yourself up over a bad decision, let it go and adapt quickly. Part of developing judgment is knowing you’re making a choice, and that choice may be a mistake. When it is, you take responsibility and find your exit strategy.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
You know, I think loneliness among entrepreneurs is common. I don’t know anyone else who has traveled this exact journey. Who else has combined biotech with popular culture to launch a cancer charity? No one else has done that. On the one hand, that feels lonely, but on the other, it’s exciting.
I choose not to dwell on loneliness. There are some people I don’t identify as well with anymore. As a mother of two kids, I see lots of mothers getting together regularly, but I don’t have time to connect with them. I’ve become so specialized in my daily activities and conversations that I appear isolated. In reality, however, I meet fascinating people around the world.
At this point in my entrepreneurial journey, I resonate with hustlers like me. They may not be doing exactly what I’m doing, but they have my spirit. I’m a hustler. I’m not going to take no for an answer. I don’t have to follow the status quo. Music Beats Cancer often leads me to partner with independent artists in the music industry who share this drive. I love getting to know these musicians. They are in a different world, but they’re like me. They’re creating music, while I’m creating this charity. There is like-mindedness in our hustle, in our determination to do good in the world, and in our effort to make our mark.
As I build an army of musicians of all nationalities, ages, genders, and genres to support this charity, I find we’re all like-minded. We form a bond in our battle to fight cancer. I don’t take that lightly. That’s the magic. That’s where there’s no more loneliness.
What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?
I mentioned judgment earlier. That, to me, is pulling the facts together to make your best decision. Intuition is not tangible. In my opinion, it’s your gut. I use intuition to understand what moves people, and then I decide whether to move forward or not.
When I started Music Beats Cancer in 2014, we were living in a very different world. The world couldn’t understand our mission at that time. That was painful. I knew we were on to something, but the world wasn’t ready to join us. My intuition told me to keep fighting.
When Nixon launched the war on cancer in the 1970s, his rhetoric was about research for a cure. For decades, the public believed cures come from academic research. They didn’t understand that research bears fruit and that entrepreneurs bring that innovation to patients.
Before I started a crowdfunding charity, I launched a biotech to produce a cure for ovarian cancer. A funding bottleneck stood between academic research and real-world innovation, and I experienced it first-hand. I knew we faced a systemic problem in funding the war on cancer, and everyone in the industry knew it as well. I had a gut feeling things would change if the public became aware.
Then the pandemic hit, and we needed a vaccine. People learned about companies like Moderna and Phiser that fast-tracked medical innovation to the market. Before the pandemic, people didn’t resonate with that area of medical intervention. After the pandemic, they did. Suddenly, we were on the news, and people were getting it. We’re an organization grounded in innovation. We support the biotech entrepreneurs fighting cancer. Bottom line: listen to your gut. My intuition told me that things needed to change and that my experience could bring about this change.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like for you, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
When you’re an entrepreneur, your vantage point puts you in a powerful place. It fuels you, but you do deal with insecurity from time to time. I’m a scientist turned biotech entrepreneur. I understood the cause our charity was addressing better than anyone, but I didn’t have marketing, speaking, or writing expertise. I didn’t know how to communicate it effectively. You grow into confidence over time. You learn that you are the authority and that you have to act like it.
That being said, I refuse to let my health slide. It’s one of my most valuable assets as an entrepreneur. I work out every day. Sometimes I don’t get enough sleep, but that’s partly because I have two jobs. I’m also a mother.
My work as a mother and an entrepreneur is taxing, and that’s one of the reasons Music Beats Cancer is entirely virtual. As a mother of young children, I couldn’t fly back and forth to conferences and fundraisers. My time is limited, and my responsibilities are demanding. When our kids are little, we’re lifting and carrying them all the time, waking up at odd hours, preparing meals, and running a household. I can’t keep up with that work if I’m not physically healthy. Even when I’m extremely busy, I make time for annual checkups, exercising, and watching what I eat.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
Mistakes are part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks. The worst mistake entrepreneurs can make is not believing they will make mistakes. Growth is learning to manage your internal conversation, forgive yourself, and pivot to adjust course.
I choose to see any mistake I bounce back from as a victory. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made those mistakes. Many people wish they could take back certain decisions or events, but I feel the opposite. You’re never going to learn from success, but you can always learn from mistakes.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
It’s important not to overlook the importance of patience in the entrepreneurial process. People want to move quickly. They also tend to think that they don’t need to grow. Go into this knowing you’ll always be growing. After all, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Another thing entrepreneurs often overlook is the power of humility. I don’t take credit for our accomplishments because so many people have contributed to so many aspects of the project. The best answers are not usually found in yourself; they are generally found in others. Even though it goes against the grain, learn to look outside yourself. Whatever you build is stronger when everyone takes part. If you treat your business less like yours and more like everyone’s, people will be more invested.
Finally, because entrepreneurs focus on the future, they tend to overlook people working with them in the moment. When people are serving you well, you need to acknowledge and celebrate that.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
I think cash is the most significant obstacle for any entrepreneur, and I don’t think I’ve overcome it yet. We’ve gotten much better at raising money, but funding still involves persistence.
Another obstacle that felt insurmountable was building a network. When I started, people told me we needed a celebrity as the face of our organization. I chased dozens of leads that went nowhere. I was a scientist and didn’t have those connections. Then the question became, do we really need a celebrity? Is there another way we can move the crowd? We built our fundraising model based on collaboration with independent artists. As we grew, so did the number of influential people in our sphere.
Today, our primary challenge is moving the crowd. As a crowdfunding platform, we work hard to convince people to join the fight and part with their dollars. To overcome this hurdle, we’ve come up with ideas to bring in a “cold crowd” that doesn’t know us yet. We started a series of fundraisers called virtual tributes to music icons. The key is to hook people in areas that mean something to them. We recently put on a virtual tribute to Aretha Franklin, a musical icon who died of pancreatic cancer. Thousands of people engaged with our ads, posts, and event. So many people see this woman as an angel who changed the world through her music. And there are other artists. Van Halen struggled with lung cancer, David Bowie with liver cancer, and Bob Marley with melanoma. These artists are more than artists. They are eternal leaders, and their fans respect them down to their core. We honor that by sharing about their life, the cancer they died of, and what’s available to help people today.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
Knowing your body and your limitations is critical. One extremely vital piece of balance is your schedule. Establish a routine and stick to it. Go to sleep at the same time each night. Exercise and eat at the same time each day. as an entrepreneur, you’re on a roller coaster. If you maintain a constant routine, you mitigate the ups and downs. I can have a stressful day, but when I jump into the pool to swim laps, I’m back to center. Create the schedule that works for you and hold yourself to it.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?
I wish someone had told me that I had the capacity to be far more adept and skilled than I thought I could be. Often, we sell ourselves short. You don’t realize the skills you’re going to gain during your entrepreneurial journey. You will gain abilities nobody believed you could possess.
Another thing I wish I had known sooner is that people in your past will begin to see you differently. This happens because you are different. You have authority, and it transforms the way you look, act, and speak.
Finally, I wish someone had told me I could listen to everyone and feel free to take or leave their advice. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to be intimidated by all the opinions around you. Remember, you can throw some advice away.
What do you think the most significant difference is between how an entrepreneur sees their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?
That’s a very insightful question. In my opinion, entrepreneurs are less encumbered and see more possibilities. They are not bound by what people think of them or by positions. Entrepreneurs are fueled by the excitement of creating something.
I see entrepreneurs as creatives, but I don’t see that in employees as much. Employees live in a structure, and that structure has a hierarchy. They are fueled by climbing that ladder. They want a higher salary, a better position, or whatever reward comes with the next step.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
First, I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation. I’d also like to leave everyone with this simple thought. The hardest part for most new entrepreneurs is believing they can do something powerful. People will judge you, but you don’t have to conform to their structure. If you have an idea that can start something big, start it!
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