May 5th, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter
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 they have to instantly become an expert at everything, all at once. We have to understand legal concepts to form a company (no one does, BTW), product development to have anything to offer, customer acquisition to sell it to anyone, and finance to figure out what to do with our tens of dollars of revenue.
Basically, we need to be competent at every job function in a company, at the line worker level, on Day One. No one is qualified to do that. Not you, not me — no one.
Over time we learn that we have to find those resources elsewhere, and sometimes we build up enough capital to pay for them, but long before that, we're in the unfortunate position of being summarily unqualified for most of our current job. There's no way around that.
The startup business, by definition, is built on total guesses. We have no idea if the product we just invented will be viable, who our customers will wind up being, what they will pay (if anything), or how big this idea could possibly get. As we get more "seasoned" we get better at guessing, but we're still guessing.
The implication is often that if we are "more qualified" that we somehow have the ability to predict the future. Look, if you can predict the future, head straight to Wall Street or Vegas. This would be the worst use of those talents! But the truth is we can't predict the future, no matter how many times we've done this, so again, we're all still guessing.
You know who else is guessing? Our employees as to whether they made the right career decision, our investors as if this is going to be the 1 in 20 investments that are successful, and our customers as to whether or not this product will work for them. To be clear, I just pointed out that every single person in a startup's world is guessing.
Building a startup also requires us to know a ton of things there's no possible way we would have had exposure to unless we had already been a Founder. The most common refrain I hear from Founders is this "I don't know anything about how fundraising works!" And my answer is always the same "Why would anyone know how that works?!"
Unless you were working at a venture capital firm or were one of maybe 3 people in the room at your last startup that was actually pitching the business, it's nearly impossible to have a good sense for how to raise capital (not to mention a lot of it just doesn't make sense even if you have done it.). And that goes for tons of other aspects that are unique to startups, from creating an Operating Agreement to managing a cap table. These are all things that you don't learn until you do it for the first time by being a Founder.
In fact, I meet tons of second and third-time Founders that still don't know how to do these things either because they never worked on them personally in their last startup or it just never came up, to begin with.
This job isn't about qualifications, it's about capabilities. Our capabilities aren't listed out on a resume, they are tested in the field of battle that is the startup itself. The only thing that can determine our qualifications as a Founder is how we run our startup, not whether we're magically omniscient going in.
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Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.
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