See, solve, scale: Teaching entrepreneurship as a structured process

Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, Danny Warshay reflects on his journey from the classroom to the basement to the boardroom and back again.

Danny Warshay teaching a class

Danny Warshay loves three things: his family, Brown University and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, he’s managed to weave them all together throughout his unique career.

A 1987 Brown graduate with a degree in history, Warshay is a vocal proponent of liberal arts education — so much so that he’s managed to turn teaching new venture creation into a liberal art itself. As the Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice, he has spent nearly two decades launching ventures and teaching thousands of students a process he calls “See, Solve, Scale," even authoring a book of the same name.

But Warshay’s journey traces back to his final year as an undergraduate at Brown, when an independent study under the tutelage of Engineering Professor (Emeritus) Barrett Hazeltine led to an opportunity to join the leadership team of a local startup software company based in Rhode Island. Warshay played a pivotal role in the firm's growth, ultimately selling it to Apple Computer in the late 1980s. This early success propelled him into the world of startups, both within and beyond the tech industry following a brief stint in brand management at Procter & Gamble after earning his MBA from Harvard. 

In 2005, his mentor Barrett Hazeltine extended an invitation to embark on a new entrepreneurial venture — this time, to join the faculty at Brown University and teach entrepreneurship.


Translating startup success to academic excellence

Not having taught before, Warshay quickly applied his startup skills to a new course. With no business school at Brown to guide him on teaching entrepreneurship, he soon found himself confronting many misconceptions about new venture thinking.

“Early on I was encouraged to focus on teaching ‘entrepreneurial spirit,’” he chuckles. “I wasn’t sure what that meant and, even if I did, I certainly didn’t know how to teach it.” 

Warshay quickly surmised that what was needed was a structured process — like any engineering endeavor would have. 

“As a faculty member in engineering I approached the task like any good engineer would if they were, say, building a bridge. We certainly would not tell people to go out and have the ‘bridge-building spirit.’” He continued, “We would distill common elements all bridge building has in common. We would teach the beginning, middle and end of a structured process while leaving lots of room for creativity and variation of all kinds.”

That thinking is what led to the development of the problem-solving process he coined, “See, Solve, Scale.” Now codified in a book, translated into other languages around the world, his process has been used in a wide variety of settings well beyond business startups such as large corporations, government agencies, nonprofits and even the military.

“‘See, Solve, Scale’ is a process that anyone can learn, master and apply to solving any consequential problems,” he notes.

Here are a few key takeaways that provide insight into this powerful methodology.

  • Freedom is found in the context of limitations

Prevailing thinking with many leaders emphasizes efforts to acquire more resources. Securing ample funding, assembling a formidable team and amassing a wealth of experience all represent different pockets of resources new venture founders and corporate managers often wish they had more of. There’s a sense that a disadvantage stems from not having enough of these. 

Paradoxically, Warshay has found that there are advantages to what he calls ‘the benefits of scarce resources’ and negatives associated with ‘the burdens of abundant resources.’ 

His point is simple: scarcity forces leaders to focus on the problems that they can solve. “Being constrained forces an entrepreneur to do a variety of things. First, they must find people to collaborate with who bring complementary skills to the table. If you are flush with resources, you might not be motivated to do that,” he indicates.

Secondly, having scarce resources empowers you to fail fast and fail cheap. “When you have a large budget, you can’t afford to lose it and you may end up focusing on protecting your cache, thereby missing opportunities that being constrained would have encouraged,” he says. Abundant resources can lead to complacency whereas the opposite does not.

As an illustration, two of his former students founded the Casper mattress company. According to Warshay, when they started the company, they didn’t know anything about mattresses except that you slept on them. This experience gap led them to take a fresh look at the industry, finding opportunities to produce and distribute mattresses differently than hidebound competitors. This lesson applies to anyone confronted with a dearth of resources — regardless of setting.


  • Build an "A" team

In the startup realm, a common adage rings true: assemble an “A” team, even if you have a “B” idea. This thinking suggests that a great team will figure out a path to success regardless of the starting point — a “B” team won’t be able to. 

That said, even if you’re a great “A” player, you’ll still need a team around you. Warshay is quick to point out that only 16% of startups are founded by a single entrepreneur, and compared to companies started with robust teams, individual entrepreneurs perform worse. The bottom line is entrepreneurship is a team sport.

Well, what’s the secret to forming a successful entrepreneurship team? 

Warshay says confidently, “They’re the same words you hear all the time outside of the new venture arena: diversity and inclusion.” Diversity of all kinds he clarifies, “Race and gender, personalities (introverts and extroverts), points of view, skills and backgrounds too.” 

This point can’t be emphasized enough: successful entrepreneurship teams recruit a diverse set of members. The key here is to tap your weak ties, not just the strong ones you find on social media.

He also adds the critical importance of inclusion. "You must create an environment of trust where all team members can bring their true selves to the team. “Unfortunately, diverse teams that are not inclusive underperform homogenous teams,” Warshay states with disappointment. “It’s not enough to have diversity. Team leaders must ensure they create an environment that harnesses it.”

  • Ikigai

Warshay's final insight came from an unexpected source: his daughter Marin, who graduated from Brown in 2023. Ikigai is a Japanese concept she brought back from leadership training that transcends the startup world into the realm of life advice.

It means living a life of meaning and comprises four key elements: 

  1. What you love
  2. What the world needs
  3. What you’re good at
  4. What you can be paid for

“Anyone can learn the ‘See, Solve, Scale' method,” Warshay says. “But if you don’t have Ikigai, it’s likely not going to be successful.” 

This is useful guidance for anyone working as a leader, entrepreneur or otherwise, whether recent grads or mid-career professionals. Warshay confesses this idea is far more important than he originally thought. He now makes a point to start every course by walking students through the concept. He encourages his students to frame new ventures in the same way he thinks people should approach their lives: with forethought that what they are searching for is something that helps them find both mission and meaning throughout.

Few professors have the depth of experience, breadth of perspective and rich roots that Danny Warshay has from his time here at Brown. His liberal arts education has taken him from Providence to points beyond and back home again. He was recently in Japan where the Japanese version of “See, Solve, Scale” had just been released. If his successes in the basement of Brown housing to the boardrooms of some of America’s hottest startups are any measure of his success, his experience has served him very well.

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