MY FIRST BUSINESS FAILED: HERE'S WHAT I LEARNED: He made a fatal business mistake, but it taught him the secret to effective product development.

Author:Walkingshaw, Nate

I've had the chance to work with some incredible people, tackle many exciting challenges, and learn amazing things. Today, as the chief experience officer at Plural-sight. I help democratize technology skills, which is changing the world in a very real sense. As unlikely as it may sound, what set me on this journey was the impactful experience I gained working as an EMT for four years, making $7.14 an hour. The lessons I learned as an EMT continue to influence my work every day and have transformed the way I see people and approach product development.


I was young and inexperienced, but I was passionate about my work. It amazed me that the same hands I used to save a life could also pour myself a bowl of cereal--and that both events would sometimes occur in the course of a normal day.

I loved being able to help people in some of their greatest times of need. But as much emphasis as the medical industry puts on helping the patients--and for good reason--there's not a lot left over to care for the EMTs working the front lines. Being a paramedic is a physically demanding job, and I saw countless coworkers move to light duty or change jobs altogether because they had injured their lower back lifting, lowering, and carrying patients during their 12-hour shifts. Physically, the hardest calls were the ones with basements or multiple stories that required carrying patients in cots up or down stairs.

So, in my spare time, I tinkered in a coworker's metal shop until I found the solution: a set of "tank tracks" that mounted to the bottom of an ambulance cot so I--and other paramedics--didn't have to carry patients and risk hurting ourselves. I called it a descent control system, or DCS, and started a company called ParaMed around the idea. The other EMTs in my region loved the DCS, and so did a company called Bound-tree Medical, which signed a five-year distribution agreement with ParaMed.

Not everybody loved it, though. The two largest manufacturers of ambulance cots put out a press release saying installing the DCS would void all cot warranties. I'd built the DCS for the problems I encountered as an EMT in Utah, but paramedics in New York City didn't take hospital cots up brownstone apartment buildings, as I expected they would. Similarly, those down in Florida rarely dealt with carrying patients up stairs because the water table was too high for basements. Even EMTs in North and South Dakota couldn't use the DCS because...

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