What I learned at the First Founder X Summit

I decided to get involved with the Founder Institute because my startup is alive and growing despite making a long string of what could have been fatal mistakes along the way. There is something very rewarding about finding an organization I can contribute to in such a direct way, and see the benefits of my actions so immediately. That isn’t because my advice is so edifying, but because the founders that make the brutal screening and selection process for the Founder Institute are so capable and motivated that when even an iota of actionable wisdom falls upon such fertile ground, change, fertilization and growth happens within weeks.

This summit was of such high value not only because of the outstanding speakers involved, but because of the relatively small number of hand (and data) picked, attendees. As Adeo Ressi said in his opening remarks, most of the audience could have easily been speakers themselves.

Startup Tourists and back to basics in the post Unicorn Era

Are unicorns now an endangered (fictional) species?

Jason Calacanis opened up the conference with a high value stream of consciousness diatribe about the post unicorn era and how the frothiness of the past few years attracted very entitled first time entrepreneurs. To quote his last blog post:

“The mortality rate shouldn’t actually be that high, but an environment as frothy and freewheeling as the one we have experienced these past three years has lead first-time founders to a level of entitlement that makes an episode of HBO’s GIRLS, filled with the worst decision making since an installment of Friday the 13th, seem decisively well thought out.”

In the talk he called these people “startup tourists”.

Startup tourism has got to stop.

We have all seen these people. Instead of being lean, focusing on growth and product, they participate in every startup event they can (often paying for the spotlight), and would sell their soul for a post on TechCrunch. The current era is being referred to as many things: The Series A crunch, the post unicorn era, but what it really feels like is a return to reality. Basic things like net promoter scores, sound product, revenue models that generate revenue and maybe, just maybe, profits are going to be the focus for a while. Unicorns are dying left and right, and will be at least for the next few quarters, which was a good segue to Dave McClure’s startup metrics for pirates talk. I think I have seen it live 3 times now and I still get something out of it every time. Focusing on product sounds easy, until you realize that it is a balancing act between every stakeholder in your startup with the biggest being your clients. It is by far the hardest thing to do in your startup, and it should never ever end.

Data, earnestness and psychographics

About 80% of startups fail by their second year. Most of them because of lack of product market fit, viable go to market strategy, and lack of funding, depending where you are. But what if you have those? What after that is the because single biggest cause of startup failure? Hint it has nothing to do with external factors. It’s you, the entrepreneur. You and the founding team fucking up, usually in some ego driven, self sabotage with some pretty obvious unresolved psychological shit. Believe me, I have seen it firsthand, in my own company and myself. It’s why I committed to the program and it’s why they have trusted their psychometric testing to a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto : Prof. Jordan Peterson. You see to get into Founder Institute you have to do a psych test. A long one. In that psych test you will be testing for the markers that make up the Founder DNA project, think of it of the 23andme for your subconscious. Being all about data, I devoured every minute of Jordan’s talk, but much more so Adeo’s overview of the latest crop of data on the thousands of startups, founders and mentors throughout the world. He is building the biggest dataset on founders ever created and the correlations between founder DNA and startup success after two years are very strong.

It takes a very humble person to admit your wrong, it takes an incredible amount of learning and openness to challenge the status quo, it takes staying power to build a new business model and to take a new product to market and it takes a combination of all these things to make an entrepreneur. We often say that entrepreneurs have to be crazy. Now, thanks to this data we will be able to measure just what kind of crazy is needed to take the next generations of startups and innovators all the way.

I would like to thank Adeo Ressi for thinking big, LP Maurice and Sergio Escobar for inviting me to be a mentor and getting me involved with the Founder Institute.