First Rule of Founders Club
The first rule of Fight Club is: Don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: Don’t talk about Fight Club.
On the surface, David Fincher’s film Fight Club was a celebration of nihilism. But a few layers deeper you realize it was also a narrative about the comradery of a group who banned together because they were different, and wanted to create something bigger than themselves. Founders Club isn’t much different: We have comradery, we have mentors and leaders, we are trying to execute on big ideas. Those big ideas just don’t involve complete anarchy and destruction. And even after everything we’ve been through, we try to err on the side of idealism, instead of nihilism.
Membership to the Founders Club is automatic when you start your own company. There is almost a gravitational pull that guides you to meet with other founders. Part of this is out of necessity for your business. But most of it is comradery: At Founders Club you find others that have experienced the same blood and tears you have. Almost everyone has suffered setbacks, experienced near-death — company death that is — and certainly suffer from the same neurosis brought on by the omnipresent question: ‘What are you going to do next?’.
Some are burning themselves out, some are riding a high of inspiration and possibility, some are imploding. Most are self-medicating. All are learning along the way.
There is a code in the Founders Club, just like in Fight Club. Everyone’s membership in this club is public knowledge, so we can talk about it, but for whatever reason, we seem to leave our first principle unspoken:
You always help another founder when you can.
OK, this may be less epic than the first rule of Fightclub, but as I said — we are made up of more of idealists than nihilists. 95% of founders are willing to help another founder to some degree or another. Everything from introductions to investors, product testing, recruiting, coaching or simply being a soundboard for ideas, good and bad.
I can’t tell you the number of founders that helped us while we were building Space Monkey. I can trace our first introductions to Jason Calacanis at LaunchFestival back to the founder of DataStax. This introduction and our participation in Launch is what catapulted us from a clever but unknown solution to one of the most courted start-ups in the space. Before we were acquired in 2014, we would have had to shutter the doors without a much-needed bridge loan we received from Alta Ventures. All by way of an introduction from the founder of JuxtaLabs.
Roles change. Sometimes you are the one with your hands out asking for help, and other times you are the one doling out advice and making introductions. This doesn’t change on your second or third tour as an entrepreneur; you always need help and that help is likely going to come from another founder.
Here’s the second rule of Founders Club: When you commit to helping, don’t be a flake.
This rule is much more difficult, but a simple rubric used before you commit will make it easy:
- First, you need to believe in the founder you are helping; this makes it easier when you are tapping into your network of investors or your circle of other founders.
- Second, ask yourself: Do you believe in the idea? You don’t have to be passionate about the idea — it’s not your startup — but you do need to believe the idea could experience a high level of success if executed correctly.
- Third, hear the pitch, give feedback and ask the tough questions.
- Fourth and lastly, be honest and direct. If you don’t believe in the idea then say so and tell them why. If you don’t feel comfortable introducing the founder to your network, decide what it will take to change your mind and let them know. Be direct, be honest and be compassionate. The last one is easy because you’ve been in this vulnerable position before.
If you’ve gone through this rubric with another Founder, and feel like they make the cut, then commit to helping (within reason) and don’t be a flake. Nobody gets to the top without a little help.
And if you’re the one asking for help, do your part: Only ask for help when you really need it and then make sure to execute like hell.