These are my notes from an early chat with Boris Silver over coffee back in the summer of 2012. We would go on to become co-founders at FundersClub. We didn’t have a product. We didn’t have users. We had no team. Our bank balance was $0 (or more accurately, negative, and we didn’t actually have a company bank account at the time). We didn’t even know if the idea we had to disrupt venture capital and startup fundraising was possible.
However, we knew what sort of ideals we wanted to live and work by. And we knew what sort of people we wanted to work with as we tackled what many thought was at once an admirable yet impossible concept. I credit our progress to date in part due to defining and understanding who we were and wanted to be from our earliest days.
In the end, we settled on the below list of values. While very particular to Boris and my personalities, and to the FundersClub organization, I still thought it’d be helpful to share:
- Honesty and integrity
- No fear
Love. I’m actually surprised that “love” didn’t make the first cut in my notes, as it drives much of our work to date. If you optimize for love, if your users/customers love you, then you know you’re fulfilling a core need and really delivering a game-changing experience. If you’re merely liked, merely useful, you haven’t attained user love, you aren’t really exponentially improving life for your users. You aren’t really needed. It’s a wonderful experience to provide something people really need and love, not what they merely want.
Honest and integrity. Goes without saying. Yet so often founders let issues like ego and pomp get in the way of things. This is as much honesty and integrity with others as it is with oneself. Tied to this is a degree of humbleness, recognizing that one is never above the ideals of truth, and that one can indeed be incorrect…possibly more frequently than one is correct. Cold, hard truth keeps even the most experienced founders on their toes.
No fear. Acting out of of fear is just about the worst thing that one can do in life. Startups are constantly pushing their teams out to the edge of the cliff, putting structure to things that previously had no definition. It’s important to act out of logic and reason rather than fear in these circumstances. Case in point, fewer than 3 months after launching FundersClub, TechCrunch wrote up that Boris and I risked jailtime were we found to be committing felonies. We could have hung up our hats at that moment (We can share with you what it’s like to have to explain to your family and friends that no, you’re not going to jail, and the rumors they heard were false). Let facts rule the day, not emotion and fear. The truth is we had vetted our operations with 3 separate securities law firms and had engaged in informal dialogue with the SEC to ensure we complied with appropriate regulations prior to moving a single penny. The SEC no-action letter we received soon after was not surprising to us but did capture people’s attention in view of the fear-mongering.
80/20. This can mean a lot of different things to different people. To us, this primarily represents the ideal of taking action over analysis. Another way of stating this is that it will take longer to develop the perfect plan of action vs. to develop an imperfect plan, proceed, and refine the plan as circumstances warrant on a constant feedback loop. Seems like a simple enough concept, but it’s fairly common for startups to spend too much time in the “pre-launch” phase, perfecting a product or service with no consideration for what real users/customers think.
Question. The existing system was not created for disruption. Game-changing startups by definition are disruptive. Be prepared for being told that what you want to do is impossible. It very well might be, within the framework that everyone else is approaching a problem. But question, not in an annoying fashion, but in the pursuit of possibility and curiosity. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The important thing is to never stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
I’d encourage you to define your company’s values as early on as possible. Define who you woud like to be, live by it, and you will become that ideal. Hire by it, fire by it. It’s your startup. Let your values drive it.