in Startups

Why I’m a Founder

Dave says we can’t all be founders.

He’s probably right. At some point though, I decided that I wanted to be a founder. Lately I’ve been thinking about why it has been so important to me over the last 10+ years to keep at it, even when it didn’t make a lot of sense.

A lot of different things have driven me to be a founder, I’ll try to be as honest about them as I can.

A need for control: Don’t get me wrong on this one. I don’t need to control others. I think you could ask any of my current co-founders and they would tell you that I don’t need to control, I just need results. What I do need control over however is my own life. Every morning I wake up that I am ploughing my own path I am happy and ready to take on the day. The moment I sense I have lost that control I am anxious and ineffective.

A desire to make a lasting difference: There are few things I can do to make a difference, but I feel strongly that providing awesome opportunities for other people to fulfill their own dreams can make a huge difference. I want nothing more than for those who come to work in my startups to see it as a place they can achieve their dreams. Watching people buy homes, raise families and pursue their own passions is probably the most rewarding result of all the work you pour in to your startup.

Watching people grow: The first feeling of failure when a startup is going sideways is always the sense that you are letting these people down. Startups are demanding and gruelling for everyone. It’s inspiring when these early employees suffer through long hours and low wages with you, but it is the never ending belief that you can make their lives truly better in the end that drives you to keep pushing and often asking for more when you know they have little to give.

When a startup is going well you get to give people new opportunities and the great thing about people is that they seem to thrive in new situations. Hard problem? Tough decision? If you’ve hired the right people then you never think twice about letting them dive in to the thick of it.

Working with the best: Simply put: I never have to work with anyone other than those who I think are the smartest, most honest, diligent and incredible people I could meet. Every single one of them amazes me in some way every day and I am a better person because of the example they set.

Constant learning: There are brilliant people everywhere in the startup world. I think they are more varied, interesting and available than any other community I have been a part of. I love it. I leave every coffee meeting, late night drinks and impromptu meetup feeling like I have learned something new. I love that feeling and I love being a part of a community that provides it.

Never knowing what’s next: I have no idea what my future holds. I really don’t. I know I am married to a woman I love dearly and who loves me back. I know I have a family I love and can rely on. Those are just about my only constants. Some people call it “instability”, but the founders I know thrive on it. You aren’t going in to the darkness, you are hurtling towards some future you have dreamt up on your own and which you will achieve for yourself, no matter what. Whatever that might be.

 

We can’t all be founders, but what drives YOU to break out and become one?

  • http://twitter.com/iparamonau Ivan Paramonau

    It’s all very good points Jevon. I take it as this is what you are passionate about and what makes you happy.

    Being a founder for me is like being an artist: you have a privilege of creating things you feel passionate about. And only such things. And you can inspire other creative people to share your passion. 
    It’s pretty rewarding experience and what makes me happy. I tried other ways of life’s journey, and nothing compares. It appears creating your own things is what hot wired into us. I watch my pre-schoolers and all they do is because they really want to create their own things. Somewhere in our education process, we are made to believe we have to live up to expectations, which often means being employed.

    It brings to another observation. As founder, you need to hire artists and let them unleash their creativity. As employee, you need to flee employers who get between you and your passion. 

  • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

    <3 how my comments about "Not being a founder" which was intended to be a "startups are a great place to learn how to be a founder" has been misinterpreted.

    Working for founders like @jevon:twitter @tksimpson:twitter @dossip:twitter and others is a great way for people to see the sacrifices and commitment that it takes to be a founder.

    And conversely, if all we're building is startups that require 2-3 person teams we probably won't be moving things too quickly. We're all founder rah rah, then we bitch and moan that there aren't enough entrepreneurial talent to hire or that it's too difficult to retain them. The decision to be a founder is not an easy one. 

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    The best founders that I know are compelled to solve a particular problem that they have experienced personally and are thus uniquely qualified to fix. The ones that are founders just to be founders, I am much less interested in. If you are driven to solve a problem, you will be a great founder.

  • http://startupnorth.ca Jevon

    @startupcfo:disqus – I’ve founded 5-6 different things over the last 10+ years,. and there were many more which I started but never got past the vetting stage. 

    I’ve been passionate about all of those, but being passionate about those problems/ideas isn’t enough to keep you going back to do it over and over again.

    The desire to solve a problem is the reason I want to be CEO,. I think it is the reason that @gavinuhma is a CTO. I think it is why @byosko:disqus decided to run product this time around. They are the places we knew we could have the biggest impact.

    When it comes to solving a problem you are passionate about, I think it is more important than anything to know your role. When it comes to building great companies you truly need to know your personal motivation, because few ever manage to do it on the first try.

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    All valid points Jevon but you may have actually proven my point. I can’t picture Mike McD doing anything other than Freshbooks or @tobi doing anything other than Shopify. And in each case the company grew out of a personal pain. What I see all too often, is people who came up with an idea a few months ago. They went searching for an idea. So easy to abandon that when times get tough – which they always do

  • http://startupnorth.ca Jevon

    You can’t just pull the Tobi and Mike card! Superfounders(tm) 

    I bet if Shopify and FreshBooks didn’t work out they would both be founders of something else today. Could be wrong, but my gut tells me they would. They had very early (first?) attempts which worked out and went big. God,. if only we all had that. 
    @tobi:twitter @MikeMcDerment:twitter ?

  • http://www.getsnappay.com/ Jim Rudnick

    as Mark said here “…So easy to abandon that when times get tough – which they always do…” I would agree here big time! From my own experience, it’s the founders who get “past” the incredible high of the birth of a startup and stare at the future…who seem to make the diff….least in my world. But great piece too, Jevon…love the comment about being a “better person because of examples set by other co-founders” too…love it!!!

  • Dan Morel

    @jevon:disqus ugh, that last point.  It swings hard both ways in love/hate for me.

  • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

    motivations is a big reason behind being a founder or even joining a startup. If you are motivated by purely financial reasons then I think everyone agrees that startup route is probably not the one that should be pursued. However, if you are driven by need to solve a problem and ‘building’ something new, being around innovative individuals then joining a startup is right place. Being a founder is ‘nice’ but in my opinion, it is equally important to be one of the early employees at a startups because these are the ones will have have biggest influence in shaping the future of the startup. As @startupcfo:disqus mentioned, the obsession should be on solving the problem – the titles are not as important!!

  • http://startupnorth.ca Jevon

    yeah, it’s a pretty romantic view of things. It doesn’t always feel that way, to put it mildly. 

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    I did go nuclear with those references!I look at David Ossip, he’s done a similar company 2x now. It’s the space he knows. I don’t see him doing something totally different. At least not with the same success. I would argue that to be able to succeed and stick with something over many years you need to be doing something that you are compelled to do for yourself – going back to my original point. You need luck, timing and many other things but it has to start from within you if you have any chance of being successful over the long run.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sophie-Mortimer/100003970913460 Sophie Mortimer

    I read both yours and Dave’s articles, and even though I see Dave’s point, I have to agree with you. There are entire professions based on being able to predict the future, and sometimes they’re right. Still, if anything, these professions have proven the unpredictability of the future. Anything goes. I commend people who still take chances and push themselves and devote themselves to customer service. There are loads of roofing companies Barrie, Canada, has seen pop up lately. Who knows if they’ll all last, but I respect that each one has pushed themselves to be better. And every time I open a newspaper, I see further examples of human ingenuity. Sure, not everyone will succeed, but there is still a lot to laud about everyone believing they can.

  • http://startupnorth.ca Jevon

    You’re such a VC. You pick one thing and you think it is the only answer! 

    The good news is that we get to watch you invest and see how it works out :) 

  • http://www.demacmedia.com Matthew Bertulli

    Perhaps a good follow up to this would be the similarities between a great VC and a great startup. :)  

    Mark has a criteria that he considers is what makes for great investments.  Its repeatable.  Right or wrong it probably helps achieve focus.

    Whatever my 2 cents is worth, I’m sort of split on this.  There’s no question that founders who are “scratching an itch” have a personal connection to their problem and less likely to abandon it in tough times.  However, there are a lot of founders that are simply great at building businesses.  That’s their passion.  

    They too are scratching an itch, just not always in the same spot.

    Side-Note: I’m a founder who is solving problems I’ve experienced.  

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    Ha! It’s so easy to just pull out the VC insult.

    I don’t think there’s just one thing and I have been part of enough startups to know better.

    What I am telling you from my experience is the one thing that separates founders that achieve greatness (and create exceptional company value) from the rest. 

    If you stick with what you’re doing long enough at Go Instant it may very well become a core theme or purpose in your life the way it has for Mike & Tobi.

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    Repeatability is not my point. In fact, very few founders have multiple successful outcomes in them (at least from a VC perspective). I have seen a lot of data that backs that up.My point is the purpose of the startup has to be very important to you personally. Otherwise you won’t stick with it. David has done it 2x. As for similarities between VC and a startup, I’ll have to think about that

  • http://www.demacmedia.com Matthew Bertulli

    I should have been more clear.  I meant repeatability in your own process for selecting investments.  Not repeatability in the successes of any one particular founder :)

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    Ah, got it. Well, check back with me in a few years and I’ll tell you if my process was any good :)

  • http://twitter.com/jbondc Jonathan

    Right on Jevon “The desire to solve a problem is the reason I want to be CEO”. 

    Not everyone will be “lucky and find the right timing” and get a hockey stick. You’re better off focusing on improving your skills every day with hard work and perseverance, establish a good strategy, and one day you’ll hit that financial home run. Doubt and fear are your enemies, don’t be afraid to take risks and believe in valuable things that aren’t trendy.

  • http://brydon.me Brydon

    there’s a grind to it, most people can’t handle the grind. (yes, promoting my own writings here..) I wrote a bit about it here, talking about the days where it’s a grind and I almost vomit on my self.. http://shiftmode.com/2012/06/do-not-start-a-business.html

    It sounds like we can all agree here that’s it’s overly simplistic to suggest that all you need to be a great founder is be driven to solve a problem. It’s a drop in the bucket. It’s a bucket of mess.

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