Entrepreneurs – The Can-Do Guys

Founder Institute

Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, I did not have to think twice to agree becoming a mentor of Founder Institute’s Munich chapter in 2013. When FI director Jan Kennedy discussed the first semester with me, I had a flashback to the times of my first startup: a travel agency which morphed into one of Germany’s first online travel agencies ever in 1995.

In those days, my co-founder and I did not have any clue of “How To Found A Startup?” – nobody was even talking about “startups” or “entrepreneurship” – we just became self-employed instead of starting in management jobs at Henkel (in my case) or Deutsche Bank (in my co-founder’s case). We started with no money (speak: bootstrapping) and changed our way to do business several times (speak: pivoting). A business plan? No way! We did not need one! Our business was growing slowly, but steadily. We hired our first employees and started a second company for packaged incentive trips.

In 1998 everything changed really quickly: we were awared “Best Online Travel Agency” and a few months later we sold a minority share of our company to Telegate AG, Munich. In order to get this deal done, we finally had to write a business plan – our first one. But we did not have to pitch to an investor, yet.

Typical investor pitches were involved in my second startup, the social news aggregator YIGG. That was 2005 – and then we used terms like VC, startup, pitch deck or liquidity preference as if we had grown up with them. We had our experiences with international VC companies and term sheets built by top US law firms, before. This was a complete new world for us – very different from the 1990s – and pretty demanding, since we had to build our business and to negotiate this finance stuff with the big guys.

And yet, we were just focusing on building our own business, but we had not to pursue other jobs to keep the money rolling in. And exactly this is what most Founder Institute entrepreneurs are doing: they build their companies while staying in their day jobs. We all know people lamenting about high workloads in their jobs – a typical FI entrepreneur invests 25-30 hours a week on top of his normal workload. Got it? This is a hell lot of work! This workload alone has minimized the largest first semester ever of Founder Institute from 37 accepted teams to 25 teams right after the very first week.

Founder Institute Review Session Dec 2013
Photo: FI Review Meeting, Munich, December 2013 (Michael Reuter)

When my mentor colleagues Sevket, Norbert, Lorenz, Stephan and I met for the first FI review session in December, we were sold on the progress of all teams compared with their first presentations in early November. All of them had developed their basic ideas into sharp keynote slides, presented in a determined, dynamic style. Most of them have persuaded us as future entrepreneurs and many of their ideas could evolve into real startups.

Sure, we mentors all had something to criticize, we all habe our doubts on many of those ideas. But – as Ben Horowitz says in his brilliant piece “Can-do vs. Can’t-do Culture“:

The people who focus on what’s wrong with an idea or a company will be the ones too fearful to try something that other people find stupid. They will be too jealous to learn from the great innovators. They will be too pigheaded to discover the brilliant young engineer who changes the world before she does. They will be too cynical to inspire anybody to do anything great. They will be the ones who history ridicules.

Given the task of building a start-up while pursuing a 40-hour- job, I really like what the FI entrepreneurs accomplish (it helps that Munich’s FI chapter is perfectly organized by Jan Kennedy and Jan Küster). I think it’s one of the greatest challenges of today’s working environment to create and build startups. I love being a member of the mentor team at FI Munich and I invite all would-be-entrepreneurs to jump on the bandwagon and join FI – we want to create 1 million jobs, after all!

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