In life we get paid in cash, ego enrichment, and self-esteem nourishment.
There are certain things that only a founder can experience or appreciate in the ego enrichment and self-esteem nourishment arena.
Here is a list:
1. Only a founder gets the thrill of finalizing — owning — an idea that is either an aspirin (removes some of the pain of living) or a vitamin (improves the quality of life) — or both.
2. Only a founder gets the final say on the name of the company. Jeff Bezos and his wife picked the name “Amazon.”
Same thing on the logo. You do this. You get the thrill.
3. There is that thrill when you look at your Articles of Incorporation, Corporate Bylaws, and Shareholder Agreement for the first time and recognize you are now “part of the system” and you are legal. You’re also glad you opted out of law school.
4. Nothing can equal that first office, the real one with your company name on the door, in the building directory, maybe a sign outside, and where you can control the bloody thermostat.
You set it at 70F and you rock and roll.
5. When your business cards arrive — from Vistaprint, Zazzle, MOO, GotPrint (my favorite), Jukebox Print — with your name, the company name, and the words “President,” or “CEO,” or “founder,” that is a thrill.
You got the ones with the thick paper and the rounded corners and there is your logo. Wow!
You can cut bacon with sharp edge of your thick cards, and you hand them out like they were silver dollars.
6. You are at a party and somebody introduces you thusly, “This is Morgan; she’s the founder of XXX-ABC company. Hot Fintech startup. Crushing it. Y’all should know each other.”
You can only hear the word “founder” that first time.
You get invited to a lot of founder only networking functions and law firms, accounting firms, banks are calling looking for some action.
7. You are looking at a pitch deck you have poured a year of blood, sweat, and tears into and you think, “Hey, this could actually work.”
8. The website goes live and you think, “This is my baby. MY BABY! I did this.” Well, with a lot of help.
9. You make a warm contact with a venture capitalist in NYC — an outfit who funded some household names — and they agree to take a meeting to listen to your pitch and you start thinking, “Wow, I wonder what I should wear?”
Only founders gets this stuff.
10. You pitch the company to a guy who went to Wharton. He has mousse in his hair and you wonder, “Who invented mousse?”
The guy turns you down, but he says, “Not our cup of tea, but XYZ VC firm should take a look. Right up their alley. Can I make an intro?”
You come out of that first meeting feeling a little moist in the armpits thinking, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad. I can do this.”
You do it 213 more times and hear the word “no” in five different languages and you have a burning sensation in your stomach and think you might be developing an ulcer, but you aren’t.
You are living the cruel, nasty, thrilling dream.
11. Different mousselless VC guy looks at you on attempt #189 and says, “Expect our Term Sheet as soon as I run it through the Investment Committee. I like your deal and we would be honored to help you.”
Outside you want to kiss the first stranger you run into — it’s a buff UPS delivery driver in shorts sleeved out on his right arm — and tell him, “I’m getting a bloody Term Sheet. I am a founder.”
You don’t, but you want to.
12. You call your Mom and Dad to tell them. Your Dad says, “What are the terms? Send me a copy of the Term Sheet.”
Dad gets it. He made you play basketball with the boys when you were just a girl. Took you to all those swim meets. He knows you are a killer.
Your Mom says, “That’s lovely, dear. Have you met any nice men? When are you going to get married?”
Mom doesn’t get it — you are married.
13. The cash is in the bank and you look at the bank account three times a day. You are in business and you have cash and you are real — talk about a surge of ego enrichment and self-esteem nourishment, shall we?
14. You get a customer. You get 10 customers. You get 100, 1,000, 10,000 customers and each plateau is a thrill, but nothing is as thrilling as Customer #1.
15. You have your first Board meeting — after you assemble a board that is which turns out to be fairly easy — and everybody is looking at you to run the meeting and you think, “WTF do I know about board meetings?” But, you bluff your way through and figure it out.
You publish agendae, send out board books (via a secure cloud based site), and you run those meetings like Mussolini running the Italian trains. It is a thrill.
16. The Chief Financial Officer walks in one day, looking at something on a tablet and whispers, “Boss, looks like we will turn a profit this quarter.”
When he leaves you sit there looking out the window letting the word “profit” weave its way through your mind and you think. “Wow, a profit? Is this how Jobs felt?”
17. One day somebody says that companies in your industry sell for 15X revenue and you think, “Wow, that makes this outfit worth a lot of money.”
But, you aren’t ready to exit. You are still growing the company.
18. You make enough money you can afford to pay yourself. You become addicted to a paycheck and think, “I have a real job and I get a salary.”
You rent a bigger apartment and you furnish it with Ikea, new Ikea.
19. Your Mom calls and says, “Some lady at church said she heard of your company, dear.” You’re on the map and that is a thrill.
20. You sell the company — lots of folks with options are going to the pay window in lockstep with you, following you — and sit alone in a dark conference room on a very high floor in the kind of building in which $1,000/hour lawyers roost, looking at check with six zeros and other numbers, and stare out the window at the horizon.
The other people, the buyers, left with your company and part of your soul, a lot of your heart. It feels a little funereal. It happened gradually, then fast.
They left you with this obscene check and you wonder what the bank clerk is going to say when you deposit it in your checking account with the overdraft protection.
21. You’re surfing the big swells in Rincon that January and somebody asks you, “What do you do?”
You say, “I founded a company, grew it, and sold it. Looking for my next deal.”
You try to be modest, humble — you have a great tan and finally got a good haircut, nails, and a wax.
The founder gig is a thrill that only founders get. Enjoy the ride. See you in Rincon in January when the big swells come in.
What thrills you, Founders? Tell me.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.