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Will Villa

What it means to be a founder

Starting something new is hard. There is no roadmap or a step by step instruction. So it is very important to find true meaning in it.

What does it mean to be a founder? My personal experience

Some might think founders rule the working class and their worlds just surround fancy dinners with the rich & famous.
Others might think most founders never accomplish anything and that companies only grow when more prominent firms own them.
But the truth might be somewhere in the middle.

But first, let's dive deep into the definition of what a founder actually is. According to Oxford, a founder is "a person who founds or establishes something, as a company or institution".
Well, yeah that sounds lame, so I want to bring in my own definition. For me, a founder is someone who sees an opportunity in finding a solution to a problem, need or desire. Now, there are many versions of this case.
One might be what most people think when thinking of a founder, Steve Jobs, Musk, or Zuckerberg, who creates a software startup that conquers the world. 

Sure, that's a founder!

But what about someone who likes to do ...let's say accounting....but there's no firm in town to employ this person. Now there's a problem, that needs a solution and that's an opportunity. The "wanna-be accountant" now goes to local stores to ask if someone needs accounting services and someone books and recommends his work.

Just like that an accounting firm was founded.
The same principle applies to restaurant owners, laundromats, handymen, and any person who ever started a business on their own (not taken over, nor inherited). And also artists, which I will cover a bit deeper in another blog post.

Most wouldn't think of these as founders, but what is the one thing all these personas have in common?
They took a decision they can't reverse: they started something. Independent of success, once it´s started it can never be unstarted.... this is how all founders started.
Some took a big risk, some took a small one.
Some gained big wealth, some didn't.
But they all started something.

After having started a freelance business and a startup, I want to share some experiences I made on the way.

First of all, as a founder, you will become a 24/7 sales agent. So much that your friends don't want to hear about it anymore. But you have to keep talking anyway, it's an exercise.
The truth is that you have to learn how to sell to everybody, not only clients. If you want investors you have to sell yourself to them. If you want to grow a team you have to sell them on your vision constantly, otherwise, they might just leave.
And your spouse, parents, and close relatives? Well, they might not be "buyers", but you still have to sell to them the fact that what you do is actually legit...

The next truth is: not everyone will buy.
And again this includes, investors, clients, teams, and family.
And the last one can be pretty demolishing.
You can go to the next investor or client, but your close ones can't just be replaced. And if they don't buy the vision you're selling, they might distance themselves from you.
Some might criticize your life's decision.
Some might think you´re stupid, irresponsible, or naive. But you can't listen to their critics. If they are not founders themselves, they usually don't have the proper life experiences to have a well-formed opinion about your startup.
Now, other founders might not know your market, but they might remember how they built their own market, so they can give valuable feedback about what's going well and what isn't.
In reality, all opinions you will hear, don't really reflect the success or the failure you're going through. But you gotta hear them anyway. All of them!
And you will have to ask yourself, what part of this critic is valuable and what part is absolute BS? And also, how much does this person know about your vision, your skillset, your market, and your priorities.
Now you don't need to hear you're a loser, but if this person thinks X setting of your company is erroneous, some of your potential clients might think that too. 

In short: listen to everyone and don't listen to anybody.

Yeah, that sounds difficult or even impossible to do, but once you're there you'll understand...

Another harsh reality is that you won't ever stop thinking about failure. And not only that, but you'll keep failing many times.
Remember the Metaverse? Yeah, who would think somebody like Zuck would fail one day?
But he is still around going for the next step. And this is not a failure at all.
You will try, and try and try again. And every time something doesn't work, you'll keep progressing thus making it better (or worse...), and this is the only way to grow.

Remember when you were a kid, and you just couldn't really walk, but now you do it every day without thinking about it? Yeah that's falling and failing over and over....until you didn't.
Grow your business by falling into the next opportunity and then try again.

And when you succeed (at least apparently), the envious and the haters will come.
Some will say you got there just by luck, some will say you're not doing a good job anyway, and some will simply pretend to be your friends, just to try hurting you.
Honesty I still don't know how to deal with this. I am a person who tries to see the best in people, and sometimes I am naive about the intentions of others. But what I have learned is that unfortunately, I have to distance myself emotionally from many people that I used to be close with. Some use information about me to hurt me or badmouth me, and some even try (and succeed) to steal.
It's harsh to say, but as a founder, you will have to build a wall around to protect yourself from those who might do harm. And this unfortunately also keeps out the one's who have the best intentions. This might just be the price to pay. Being a founder is a lonely life, if surrounded by many. 

People will doubt you, but it doesn't matter as long as you don't doubt yourself. 
But this is something that comes up from time to time. Self-doubt is the killer of every founder. Self-reflection is a good thing, but you need to balance the positives with the negatives. I am quite a bit usually I am the proudest person, or I just hate myself.
I learned how to balance it, and I learned that certain tasks require certain moods.
But it is imperative to shut down the little voice in your head and understand that not all can go well all the time. And that the bumpy road still takes you to your destination.

Oh yeah...and Off-days....are a thing of the past. This might scare you, but most founders I know are very driven by this fact.
Sure, we all need to rest eventually, but it's our curiosity and motivation that keeps us reading the latest product news on Sunday night because that's just what we do.
In fact, it is 2 a.m. on easter Sunday right now, as I am writing this blog post. This wasn't scheduled, but something made me really think about this, and now I need to stay up writing it. But I will wait till tomorrow to post it, cause it's really getting late....

Optimism is a very big driver. And as a founder you need to be optimistic about what you do, otherwise, why would you even do it?
The beauty of this is that you will see every little accomplishment as one step closer to your goal!
Sometimes a mattress on the floor will feel like success to you, while others only see poverty and failure.
And you have to celebrate those wins, even if you're alone at that party.

The truth is, nobody understands you.
People will doubt you.
Other people will envy you.
And most people actually don't care at all...

But if you are still reading this, you probably have founded something already.
And if not....just get started! That's all it takes to be a founder.

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