Guest Post: Benefitfocus CEO, Shawn Jenkins – “Never in Charleston”

Shawn Jenkins is president and chief executive officer of Benefitfocus, Inc. (NASDAQ: BNFT), a leading provider of cloud-based benefits software solutions. Jenkins founded the Charleston-based company in June 2000 and has been a member on its board of directors since its inception. Here in his guest post, he shares his words of motivation and perspective on growing a startup in Charleston when many said he couldn’t.

The first few years of starting a company are often very challenging. You cannot predict exactly where the challenges will come from, how big they will be or how long they will last. Navigating those early waters is like riding a raft down white water rapids. It’s a lot of fun, but danger is all around.

One unexpected difficulty we faced when starting Benefitfocus was a question of our ability to grow a software company in Charleston, South Carolina. There weren’t many software companies in our state at the time, so most of the business experts we encountered didn’t think our idea was very good and especially didn’t think it could be built in Charleston.

If you have ever visited Charleston, you know what a special place it is—known for its history, waterways, beaches and Southern charm. As I heard more and more people tell me that we would have to relocate to a larger city to be successful, I had to ask myself how much I loved this great city. No matter how many times I asked myself this question, the answer remained the same, “Are you nuts? I am never leaving this fantastic place!”

So my only option was to find a way to grow our software idea in an unlikely location. I thought that if I liked Charleston as much as I did, then so would other people. Thankfully, we found a growing number of people who did fall in love with Charleston and who also knew how to build amazing software and scale a large company. We found great support within the Charleston community. Mayor Joe Riley and Ernest Andrade, founder and director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, were early advocates for us and have been instrumental in our success.

Yesterday, I found myself on my little Scout boat— another successful company based right here in Charleston. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. As I looked at the wildlife and natural beauty, I could hear some of the people who discouraged us from attempting to build Benefitfocus here. I smiled with a sense of pride in our team and the wonderful company they have built in such a terrific location. I took a picture to share the moment – check it out below.

Perhaps you have been recently promoted to a team leader or head of a new project. Or maybe you were just assigned a difficult customer or problem to fix. Maybe you are starting a new leg of your career and have a ton of enthusiasm, or you are on the other end of the leg and just want to get through the next month. You may encounter some people who will discourage you and what is in your heart. It could be as silly as telling you that your city is not up to the task, or that you don’t have what it takes. Let that stuff roll off your back like water off a duck. They don’t know you as well as you know yourself. You are capable of doing amazing things in unconventional ways and places. Soon enough you will be taking a photo and smiling to yourself quietly. Keep moving forward; your success is in your hands, not theirs.


Read more posts from the blog of Shawn Jenkins

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