“Life as an Entrepreneur? It’s Pretty Freaking Exciting”

Hanson Grant and Ken Zhang

Hanson Grant ’16 grew up watching his parents run their own business.

As a kid, he embodied their same entrepreneurial mindset, selling anything and everything people were willing to buy.

Mr. and Mrs. Grant needed to sell their parents’ car but weren’t having any luck. “Sell it at your garage sale this weekend,” said their son so matter-of-factly, giving them a look as if to say, “How have you not thought of this before?”

He was 6.

The car sold, and they felt it only right to give him a commission.

This was, and is, Hanson Grant. Selling soda, sandpaper, gum, you name it—as a teenager, he continued to see opportunity where others saw nothing. By his 18th birthday, he had racked up $10,000 in savings and knew he couldn’t work for someone else. He had to be his own boss.

There’s no future in this, his friends advised, you can’t make a living this way.

It wasn’t about that, or the money, he insists. For Grant, “it was just . . . fun.”

Leaning into the Family Business

Always encouraging of his entrepreneurial tendencies, Grant’s parents offered him use of materials and machinery from their family business, free of charge.

It was through Grant Graphics—the family-owned, one-stop shop for all digital printing needs—that he was able to catapult future ventures.

When a friend voiced the need for crew team shirts, Grant jumped on the chance to create something bigger than one simple print job. “We shook hands right then and there,” he stated. Together, they launched a custom T-shirt business at 14 years old.

“I realize how lucky I was,” admitted Grant, “but it was more than just luck. My siblings had the same access to resources. I just took advantage, extra hard.”

The Babson Way

Grant met his future business partner and friend, Ken Zhang ’16, as incoming GAP program students at Babson College.

They worked together in Babson’s signature first-year course—Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME)—where students create, develop, launch, and manage a real business.

“We crushed it,” said Grant. “We finished the semester as one of the top 10 most profitable FME businesses of all time.”

Even though the course ended, Grant, Zhang, and the rest of their FME leadership team wanted to keep going. Jumping into concept mode at the start of their sophomore year, the group dedicated Saturday nights to brainstorming their next move.

Grant brought a sheet of dry-erase film from his family business back to his dorm room and stuck it on the wall. This simple solution allowed them to better visualize their ideas and work through plans. After seven months of writing, erasing, and rethinking, he realized that his next business idea wasn’t written on the wall, it was stuck to it.

From there, everything moved quickly. Friends loved the idea of having a whiteboard film that could turn any surface—wall, desk, refrigerator—into a dry-erase board and were eager to buy some for themselves. Before he knew it, Grant had named the product Think Board and launched the business.

The naysayers from his childhood were gone. This community was different. People encouraged his ideas, pushed him to scale beyond his dorm room walls, and advised on next steps.

“That’s just Babson,” Grant said.

From there, he let the process unfold organically. “In retrospect, it was piloting a product, beta testing it, getting first users. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I just ran with it.”

In July 2014, Grant successfully finished his first crowdfunding campaign, raising more than $10,000 in 30 days. The business took off, and after a few pivots, growth, and more learning opportunities at Babson, he was able to start paying himself a salary just eight months after graduation.

Think Board X

Although he was always in the picture, Zhang officially joined Think Board as COO in the spring of 2016.

“It took some time to figure out this working relationship, but after a killer pitch competition in Atlanta where we won $25,000, I was just like, wow, this makes so much sense,” said Grant. “I’ve actually always joked that Ken’s my CEEO, Chief Everything Else Officer, because he’s been there all along. Always in close proximity, helping with anything and everything I needed to get done.”

Friends, travel companions, and now business partners, Grant and Zhang were accepted into Babson’s Summer Venture Program in 2016 and began the accelerator shortly after receiving their degrees.

As part of the program, they went to an event featuring Rocketbook—a producer of eco-friendly digital notebooks. Impressed with the product, Grant and Zhang approached co-founders Joe Lemay and Jake Epstein and said they could print a Think Board dry-erase film with Rocketbook technology. Intrigued and enthusiastic, the Rocketbook team encouraged them to do so.

Grant and Zhang got to work that night and sent a sample to Rocketbook the very next day.

While the partnership didn’t come to life that quickly, their instant connection and continued persistence led to the recent launch of Think Board X—powered by Rocketbook.

Via Grant’s second successful Kickstarter campaign in just four years, Think Board X was nearly 800 percent funded in a matter of weeks.

Coincidentally, a Babson College student and Rocketbook intern, T.Y. Kim ’19, was assigned to help see Think Board X through from discovery to launch.

“I loved being a part of something so entrepreneurial,” shared Kim. “Between innovating within a more established organization, Rocketbook, and working with a two-person startup team to create something brand new, I couldn’t have asked for a more impactful experience.”

Coupled with his Babson education, this product launch helped Kim solidify his love for the startup environment, and his goals post-graduation.

“Think Board, Rocketbook, and even Babson—they all have this unique, incubator feel to them. They’re operating in a way that makes each and every person feel like a part of something bigger. You’re valued and your efforts make a difference. I’m inspired by it, and now know that wherever I end up working, it has to match up.”

What’s Next?

When asked if he ever considered joining the family business, Grant quickly responded, “I still do.” Zhang smiled and followed suit, “Me too!” They laughed, but it was clear what they meant.

To them, entrepreneurship means not having a defined course. In 50 years, Grant hopes to have launched not one or two successful businesses, but many. He hopes to have traveled the world, helped his parents with the business, and never been tied to a 40-hour work week.

“I get to follow my passions in parallel with my career, and that’s why I love entrepreneurship,” shared Grant. “I’m not deferring my life. I’m choosing to enjoy today.”

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