Being a Founder is a job that anyone can get and no one is qualified for.
My 9-year-old daughter became a Founder last year within 60 minutes of forming her own company online (she didn't even need my help). I'd argue she's about as qualified as most of the Founders I meet at Startups.com, and that's not a knock. It's to say that none of us are "qualified" to be a Founder, not because we're not smart enough, or capable enough, or experienced enough — it's because fundamentally it's impossible to be qualified for this job.
The difference between a Founder leading a startup and a CEO leading an established business is that the Founder has to be there from the start when no one else is there. That means the...
That's not how this works. We don't get the benefit of sitting on our thrones and commanding our armies until much, much later in life — and in many cases, never. What we are guaranteed along the way is a wraith-like drain on our life force (D&D reference there, fellow nerds) in every possible facet.
What we need to understand, and accept, is that our startup's future can very easily come at the expense of everything we hold dear. It's very much hard-coded into how the Founder Journey works, and damn, do we pay a lot of bills along the way.
Long before we raise money or earn some revenue, 100% of our "income" is just our personal savings. We use terms like "sweat equity" as if working for free somehow mag...
What's the worst equity holder we could possibly have in our cap table? The one who isn't even here any longer.
We all know this, and yet for generations, we've built cap tables loaded with "absentee landlords" who provide no ongoing value but reap all the benefit of those that continue to drive the ship. Until recently the notion of "dead equity" has been just accepted and rarely challenged, leaving those that still work for the company to carry those that don't.
I'd like to poke a giant, trident-sized hole in this argument once and for all. And for my fellow Founders who are dealing with this issue at present, or soon will be, I want to provide you with some ammunition toward what will invariably be a tough and painful conversation.
I've failed numerous times and watched countless other Founders do the same. We kept ourselves awake nonstop worrying about the outcome of our failures. We took years off of our life and put ourselves in horrible places mentally and physically.
And you know what we learned in the end? It generally didn't matter.
That's right, our "fear of failure" was always 100x worse than how the failure itself played out. And so we took desperate measures to avoid failure, like clearing the last of our savings, running up debt, and going yet another year without pay. At some point, we became far more intent on "not failing" than succeeding.
What we need is a method for dissecting failure into actionable bits.
If we think ab...
The one thing everyone remembers about a relationship is how it ended.
As Founders, if we're around long enough, we're going to see the end of a boatload of relationships, and as such if we're not keenly aware of how important it is that we end those relationships gracefully, we're going to end up with a whole lotta angry exes.
There's really no way around this. Unlike our lives as an employee, where it was just us and our boss, when we are the boss, we're at the center of so many important relationships. Whether it's investors, staff, customers, partners, even the media — all of those relationships have a cost, and when they end, those costs actually multiply.
Later on in life, we learn how important it is to have "good breakups" because w...
Founders need to be as militant about recharging as they are about working.
Yet, nothing in front of us suggests slowing down or taking a break to do it — at all. We have a mountain of work, no one to help us, and we're burning through what's left of our cash and credit. The last thing any of that suggests is "Let's plan a sweet vacation!"
What we're missing in this mess is the fact that it's not about whether or not we want to take a break — it's that we have to. If we're going to run the marathon that is the startup journey, we can't just go full sprint 24x7 and pretend it'll all work out. Instead, we have to become highly regimented in our plan to recharge all the time, and treat that recharge as seriously as we treat our startup.
Our startup's culture can all be mapped back to one person — us.
We are the cultural North Star of our startup, and everything we do, and how we act, puts our ship on a course for good things, and if we allow it, really bad ones. Our challenge is that we often don't recognize how even our simplest actions broadcast across the entire organization and poison the actions of everyone else. Our worst behaviors, even those that we think are positive, become the virus that infects everyone.
All of that shitty infighting and toxic politicking — that's on us. Either we encouraged or we let it happen — either way, we're responsible. We may not see it that way though, we may think that "everyone else is being shitty" but that...
There's a more implicit social contract at a startup, which says that if our teams are going to kill themselves and take on risk to build something amazing with us, they rightfully expect some rewards for that risk. Let's take money off the table — because anyone can pay money and we all understand that.
What payback do our employees want that wasn't in their offer letter?
Nothing sucks worse than not being heard. We can almost map every major problem back to someone genuinely feeling like what they have to say just never really had an ear. The biggest casualty to startup growth is internal communication, but we're not really just talking about meetings and Slack messages. We're talking about folks no longer having...
For a very long time, I felt like my startup was a direct reflection of my worth as a person.
When my startup was doing well, I felt on top of the world (this was rare). But when my startup was struggling, which was 99% of the time, I felt it was a direct reflection of my own incompetence as a human, and I felt like hell. And so by way of that, I usually felt shitty.
It wasn't until I started exiting startups (good and bad exits) that my startups were just a moment in time. While they were a reflection of my output, they weren't a reflection of me. It took a few decades to figure that out, so let's see if I can help you do it in the next few paragraphs instead.
I'm a Dad, a carpenter, a crea...
When I (Jonathan) read the book Exponential Organizations 3 years ago, a whole new world opened up for me. Up until then, I didn’t know Salim Ismail that well—just like a lot of other people, I guess.
Today, Salim Ismail is one of the hottest names in the business world. He has spent the last 7 years building Singularity University as its founding executive director and current global ambassador. Prior to that, Ismail was the vice president at Yahoo, where he built and ran Brickhouse, the company’s internal incubator. His last company, Ångströ, a news aggregation startup, was sold to Google in 2010.
Salim Ismail has founded and/or operated seven early-stage companies, including PubSub Concepts, which laid some of the foundation for the real...