Melissa Lee | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Melissa Lee


The GREEN Program is a short-term educational experience and workforce development platform for university students and young professionals in sustainable development. Current program offerings are based in Japan, Thailand, Iceland, Peru and Hawaii. Melissa Lee co-founded the company as a student at Rutgers in 2009.

The Mistake:

Starting off, I was so excited to just get something started. We had an amazing idea and I was so excited to just start right away—not taking the time to understand what other partners or other stakeholders wanted out of [the company].

Later on I found out that we all wanted different things. I’m the only co-founder still here because I wanted to actually fulfill this company's potential. I think I really wanted to push something forward that was lacking in the higher education industry. And other people just wanted different types of experiences, which is fine. ... Getting into business with people who are the right people, and by that I mean making sure they’re aligned morally and aligned ethically, is just as important as knowing what you want from the business.

[Entrepreneurs] are also anxious to just get something going, so we might say yes too quickly. So being able to take the time and know what you’re getting yourself into with the right type of people is really important.

Everybody is feeling some sort of that uncertainty ... What’s important is that you’re walking in the right direction. 

The Lesson:

It’s taught me to have thicker skin. It’s also taught me to be more confident in myself and my abilities. At the beginning I was like, can I actually do this by myself? I think just proving to yourself and the rest of your team that you’re able to do things is what I’ve learned. We have been able to adapt so quickly every year, every time there’s a change that happens. One of our biggest skills is being able to adapt really quickly and roll with the punches and strike back with better solutions.

My biggest advice to [entrepreneurial] students is that everybody is feeling some sort of that uncertainty on some sort of spectrum, “I don’t know what my next move is,” etc. They’re dealing with so much pressure these days that I tell them, “Don’t get too hung up on that.” I think what’s important is that you’re walking in the right direction.

As long as you’re going in the right direction, you’ll end up in a good place. I think staying on your toes and being ready to adapt to different situations is important. Take a little bit of pressure off the long term future once in awhile and be able to understand and trust the process of the direction you’re going in.

Follow The GREEN Program on Twitter at @theGREENprogram

Photo courtesy of Melissa Lee

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