Founding fathers were ultimately entrepreneurs

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 3, 2017

The Fourth of July always refers to the “Founding Fathers.” Leaving aside for a moment my suspicion that we might be better off today if the fathers had consulted with the mothers, the core word that remains enticing for an entrepreneur is “founder.”

What does it mean to be a founder — to be an originator of something? I reviewed some old thoughts from Rory O’Driscoll, a partner at Scale Ventures. He notes the current favorable risk/reward matrix of being a founder. If you win, you get Instagram riches, and if you fail, you can go back to your old job. But think about 1776 (or thereabouts), and the risk/reward ratio was much different. There was no “old job” to go back to — unless you wanted to take a slow boat back to England. This new country thing was an all-in adventure.

O’Driscoll gives his entrepreneurial advice from the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, and he says just substitute the word “startup” for the word “marriage.” The book says, “Marriage is not to be enterprised lightly or wantonly, but reverently, discretely, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which it was ordained.” How intriguing to consider a startup in a religious context. George Washington and the gang of seven had a vision. They were informed with passion and piety. It was a grave and momentous undertaking.

In my coaching and consulting business, I often see entrepreneurs with ideas, but I do not often see them with a resolute seriousness of purpose. They seem to be a bit more intent on reward than on reformation.

As an investor, I am inclined to more and more look for “founding people” — men and women whose ideas can potentially transcend. On this holiday, this year, given the current state of the nation, I am paused and puzzled. We were lucky to have those founders; we ended up with America. And nowhere was there an IPO, a liquidation preference, or anti-dilution protection.

So where are the current crop of true founders, with hearts and minds moved by the spiritual as well as the material? I hear about changing the world, but I am skeptical. Grand passion is nice, but what about grand purpose?

I am afraid that I am sounding like a cranky old man, so I will get off my soapbox. But I can’t help but feel dismayed today when I see the gap between what is and what could be. The Fourth makes all of us pause, consider the past and be thankful — followed by barbecuing a burger with a beer. Not unreasonable at all, but remember that for the Founding Fathers, failure truly was not an option.

Rule No. 528:  We were blessed.

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