At Jakt and through startup events in NYC, I end up meeting with so many entrepreneurs and startup founders. I’m also a fairly active member of the Startup Study Group, Startup Chat and Launch Slack groups, and the r/startups community on Reddit.
I troll Product Hunt over coffee each morning. Everyday I see 100 new products and startups and I ask myself the same question, “Do the people that made this give a shit?”
It’s depressing how often the answer seems to be no. I’m sure they give a shit about some things.
Founders that just give a shit about BEING a founder.
It’s a nice, hip thing to be a part of the entrepreneurial class — whether you’re good or bad at it. You can ride that soft exit or even a compelling failure story to your next gig in VC or investment banking.
Being a founder of “this particular product or company” is an item on the life-fulfillment checklist, regardless of what the company is.
Founded a company. Check.
Consulted for Fortune 500s. Check.
I shudder to think that the next item on that list might be, Run for Public Office.
Is it terrifying to you to think how many people maybe got in to “serving the interest of the human race in leadership and policy” because it was the next item on their hedonic treadmill?
Many only give a shit about the OPPORTUNITY of their product.
"I see this one a lot. It comes from the solutionists. The grand IDEA wizards… and their leeches. If someone introduces their startup as an exit opportunity or market size equation, my Spidey Sense is telling me that you’re not looking to run this business, you’re looking to enjoy the end-state pleasure of being successful and you think this is a sound path to get you there."
I’ve been a part of businesses like this, in which the founders weren’t industry-passionate or life-long participants.
What makes them terrible to operate in is that when that end-state vision starts to get murky, or the going gets tough, the founders are more likely to cut-and-run, start to feel fear or pressure, and then propagate these emotions throughout the company.
It’s subtle and you might think it silly, but your life in a startup (and subsequently your actual life) is dictated by what your founder is feeling. If they had bad expectations going in, you’re gonna end up carrying that load.
If they’re in the midst of a three-alarm, flashing-red-light panic mode because they’re seeing the opportunity of their clear path to success start to twist-and-turn, you’re going to have to ride that out with them. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
And then there are those just in it for the money.
I don’t see the money-hungry entrepreneurs quite the same as those that are looking for the fulfillment of an opportunity.
Opportunists are looking for prestige and the pleasure of success, while profiteers are in it for the loot, at all costs.
You see these guys working their story online, a lot. Drop-shipping businesses. Ecommerce plays. The growth hackers looking in to the shady churn-and-burn tactics on BlackHatWorld.
Startup communities like r/startups and r/entrepreneur on Reddit are besieged by these folk and their adoring audience, for whom posts like “How I bought a domain for $480 and turned it to $11,328.14 profit in 3 weeks,” are required reading.
I’m not saying that seeking profit is evil or unimportant for a founder. But, profit at all costs puts founders in charge of companies and teams in industries for which they could largely not give a-single-fuck. If you don’t think that is going to have an impact on your health and sanity, you’re not reading the writing on the wall.
What about these Enthusiast Founders then?
I love them because they’re so damn passionate about their product and their industry. It’s a relief. A blessing.
The Enthusiast Founder, often working in an industry that wasn’t nearly as promising with an opportunity that’s a roulette wheel spin in the first place? Just going at it because they want to keep working in THIS space.
That person's heart is in it.
"They’ve got that Rocky-like drive. Because all they want to do? Keep doing what they’re doing, but do it better."
To be clear… I’m not talking about lifestyle businesses. A lifestyle business need not be built with any passion. I almost started a salsa-of-the-month subscription box once.
Suffice to say, I am not a salsa aficionado. I’m not breeding hatch chiles for perfect Scoville scale consistency across a crop-yield. BUT, the subscription could have been a sustaining lifestyle business for me. It’s not the same.
When I meet enthusiast founders I see people that have dedicated their life to an industry, good or bad. I feel this way about the team at Stage.gg, where we are trying to build a product that does more for people that follow, work in and play in eSports than sanity should permit we care about.
Many other founders braving work in gaming, VR, eSports, cannabis, health & fitness, publishing, video and news are equally in total love with their product, users and the industry they work in.
There’s something unique about the sort of industries I listed because they demonstrate a common proof I’ve seen: Passion is often related to fun, and these are clearly fun industries.
BUT, for the rare and exceptional founder, that same fun and passion is related to agriculture, security, real estate or education.
It’s when you meet experts who have worked in these industries for years (identifiably “fun” or otherwise) and have dedicated their lives to create something new. That is necessary within that field.