Maybe it’s cultural.
Americans, particularly the children of the Self-Esteem Generation, are brought up to believe in themselves. Every red-blooded American child grows up believing that he (and she) can one day be President.
Other cultures consider that attitude shamefully egotistical. Where’s the humility? Don’t you know your place? Who do you think you are? And why are you so bloody loud in restaurants?
Nowhere is the tension between these poles more apparent than in the world of startups.
In the eyes of the frog, there are different kinds of founders.
Type I founders want to start a small lifestyle business in which they’re the boss and they make a comfortable $200,000 a year.
Type II founders want to start a big lifestyle business in which they’re the boss and they make a comfortable $2,000,000 a year.
Type III founders don’t particularly care how much they make – they just want to champion a new technology or a new way of doing things, and take it to market, make the world a better place. How do they measure their impact? In dollars, but only as a proxy for sustainable social impact.
Type IV founders only care about the dollars. (“You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”) They don’t particularly care how they change the world, as long as they leave their stamp on it, buy a Lamborghini, and fly first class for the rest of their lives.
At JFDI, we select for Type III founders, because we’re geeks at heart and we believe that if you follow your passion, the money will come.
We’re wary of Type IV founders. Some people lack passion for all but wealth itself: “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’other…”. Sometimes you meet someone who reminds you of Morden in Babylon 5. Behind the windows of their eyes you will see no soul, just a howling winter of fear and greed. Icky. It creeps us out.
Type I and II founders aren’t really entrepreneurs, by our lights. They’re small business owners. Freelancers writ large. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we wonder: is a little confidence the only thing that’s missing? Do they secretly wish that they could accomplish greater things? Maybe they do, but maybe their first reaction to stories of great achievements is “those are legendary, world-historical figures. I’m not one of those.”
Guess what? In our world, you don’t have to be born in the purple. You make your own. You’ve got vim and gcc. What more do you need?
We believe that everybody’s human, even Jeff Bezos, even Marc Zuckerberg. I’ve met them both. Marc had zits. Jeff had bushy nasal hair. That’s okay.
Part of our job at JFDI is to help founders overcome their insecurities and learn to dream big. If you’ve been accepted into JFDI, it means we think you can change the world. That journey might stretch you: it might involve estrangement from the comfortable terrors of your childhood. But if the cause is just, then it must be worth a little pain.
Uncovering that cause, finding your métier, will be the subject of my next post.
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