Building a Startup? Start with a Mission

I often get asked what my biggest takeaway from all the Tech In Chicago entrepreneur interviews I’ve done is. The one thing the successful entrepreneurs seem to have in common is starting with a mission.

Founding a company is brutally hard and success certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Many of the apparent breakout successes that you see in the news have actually been many years in the making.

Founders need something to keep them going during the low points. A sense of purpose is the thing.

Many famous entrepreneurs and investors have phrased this in different ways…

Paul Graham of Y Combinator calls it the Trough of Sorrow, the period of struggle after the initial excitement of starting a company wears off.

Legendary investor John Doerr, VC at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, prefered missionaries over mercenaries.

“Mercenaries are driven by paranoia; missionaries are driven by passion. Mercenaries think opportunistically; missionaries think strategically. Mercenaries go for the sprint; missionaries go for the marathon. Mercenaries focus on their competitors and financial statements; missionaries focus on their customers and value statements. Mercenaries are bosses of wolf packs; missionaries are mentors or coaches of teams. Mercenaries worry about entitlements; missionaries are obsessed with making a contribution. Mercenaries are motivated by the lust for making money; missionaries, while recognizing the importance of money, are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning.”

Mark Cuban of Shark Tank fame…

“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.”

Finding product/market fit requires significant determination and perseverance. This isn’t a quick process. Founders need more than a passing interest to sustain them for 10+ years of launching and growing a real business.

A sense of purpose makes everything easier.

1. Sales 🤑

Early customers are really buying into you. The product is often barely taped together, but your passion is what wins them over. People love to support passionate entrepreneurs. Give them a reason to. A larger mission also helps customers tell their friends about your story.

2. Recruiting 🤝

Joining an early stage startup is always somewhat irrational. A belief in a mission converts others to join your cause. They want to share in your passion.

3. Financing 💰

Investors want to believe in the future you’re building. Give them a reason to. Passion is contagious and goes a long way when the numbers aren’t yet there to back up your story.

If you’re a mission-driven founder, drop me an email at colin@builders.vc. I’d love to chat. 👋

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