Can you be a founder? Who CARES?

Creating an army of founders can drive the culture of a startup into the future.

“Being a founder is not only available to those there in the early days. It’s a mindset that leads to an increased level of engagement, passion and performance.”

Growing up in a 100+ year family business taught me a lot about how owners (specifically my father and grandfather) think about a company vs. most employees at a company. While my grandfather and father didn’t found the business (it was already 100 years old when my dad arrived), they both acted like founders and embodied the culture they desired for the company. I learned a lot growing up around them, and it’s served me well in the many startups I’ve been a part of and encountered.

One thing I think about a lot is how to make “being a founder” something that is available to anyone. I don’t believe it’s a distinction only available to those who were there in the early days. It’s a mindset that leads to an increased level of engagement, passion and performance. As startups grow, they actually need more people to “carry the founder torch” and be ongoing reminders and reinforcements of the desired culture. Most people do not realize that they can also be “founders” of the company from the day that they join. Being a founder is more an attitude than it is a designated position or how long you’ve been with the company.

I’m trying to be more intentional in developing folks, encouraging them and giving them a platform and invitation to develop as company founders. I believe it will serve your startup well to do the same. It just seems there is a certain group within any company who cares more than everyone else. They are often founders. CARES outlines how anyone can be a founder — a framework for how someone can articulate their passion for the company, and be their best self and do their best work there.

These are the principles that enable someone to be a founder, in mind and in action:

Commit — joining a startup should not just be a job; it’s a bond with everyone else who is there to change the world and positively impact customers’ lives. Commit to be part of the cause, make sure your attitudes toward and decisions about customers align to the mission. Remind yourself and those around you how important the work is, and commit to go “all in” and give it your full attention.

Act — in startups, everyone generally gets stock options. So you’re all owners — act like it. Founders pay attention to the details and to what will matter to customers and what they might think. It’s your company, your house. Lead by example and know that others are watching you. Pay attention to details and even do the little things when nobody is watching.

Recognize — look for opportunities to do things better. Remember that your startup needs to improve its approach every day. Also look for opportunities to applaud others’ efforts to advance the company. The culture is not about you; it’s about everyone there, your customers and your community.

Evangelize — sharing and repeating the stories, the mission and vision, and why you get up every day are things a founder demonstrates. You need to believe it and be sincere. Look for opportunities to evangelize to others outside of the company as well. The “movement” your company has begun will require many others to also believe what you believe.

Share — founders freely look beyond themselves and want to give opportunities to others to grow their careers and grow the company. You should be open and proactive to share anything. Founders are mentors, coaches, counselors and friends, sharing their time and perspective to exemplify the culture and reinforce what it means to care about it.

So if you’re thinking, “maybe she just cares more,” know that Committing, Acting, Recognizing, Evangelizing and Sharing can make anyone a founder. And others may see how much you care(s) as well!

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