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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