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Founders Think Different

Startups really do require a personality with a different way of looking at life.

Most people, in life, are seeking these kinds of things from work:

  • Stability
  • Career
  • Paycheck
  • Benefits
  • Saving

And it’s very important to keep in mind that if you want to (or are) doing a startup, those norms *don’t exist*

What we’re in for must be something other than those norms because those norms don’t exist in a startup; at least, not yet anyway. If you’re trying a startup in order to HAVE those, you’re in for a bad time.

Successful founders are Mission driven and otherwise motivated:

  • Proving something
  • Solving something
  • Creating something new
  • Helping society

Those motivations must be as great or greater than something even as obviously needed as money.

Money MIGHT come, but accomplishment WILL come.

Many great advisors and even psychologists have pointed out that “entrepreneur” is actually a fairly border-line questionable personality trait. It’s almost psychotic, truly! (psychosis: emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality) Which is not saying it is psychotic, I said it’s nearly so: you are doing things abnormal to reality and willingly taking on pain/hardship to do so.

We’re not like 99% of people. We like chaos, uncertainty, and great risk likely to fail. That’s not normal, it’s rather psychotic to WANT that. And you know what I’m talking about… Your family and friends don’t get it, they don’t really understand, and can’t comprehend why you keep going, when any sane person would go back and get a job.

You’re different

And so HOW do you persevere? You also have to be counter-culture.

This is why people in startups say odd things like “celebrate the failures!” Rather than celebrating the little wins.

Why?? That’s nuts right?? Except it’s not, in this kind of work. Because Mission Driven Change the World People don’t have wins to celebrate until it’s accomplished. And because Fails aren’t Quits! Fails are lessons. Fails are progress (discovering what not to do).

Celebrate the things normal people don’t celebrate because you’re not normal. We’re not normal.

  • Celebrate the criticism. (They’re idiots)
  • Celebrate the lost customer. Learn and do better.
  • Celebrate the stolen idea. (They’re going to suck at it anyway)
  • Celebrate when someone quits on you. Seriously!!! Because in startups, rapid turnover of the wrong people is a good thing!

When what you’re doing is a little crazy, relative to normal working people, then what you celebrate should be a little crazy too. Stop beating yourself up about what normal people strive for because if you wanted what they have, you could go get a job.

Keep thinking different, join us here and let us know what you’re thinking

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. Entrepreneurs: See what others do not, and move forward despite the feedback from others (who can’t see what they see).

    Most “normal” people tend to think of Entrepreneurs as risk takers. I don’t think that’s really the case. What’s actually happening is Entrepreneurs see more and that mitigates the risks. I’d might actual argue they are less tolerant of risk and thus are better at mitigation than “normal” people.

    1. Love the last point. That yes, they’re not risk tolerant, they’re struggle tolerant and risk seekers; in order to eliminate the risks as part of the process.

  2. Loved all of this Paul O’Brien – especially “rapid turn over of the wrong people is a good thing.”

    1. Jessica Powell Cheers to that because I think it needs to be reiterated for founders much more than it tends to be. It should be part of the culture, expected, that if you work FOR startups, expect your tenure to be 6 months average. Be a culture where it’s normal for people to move around a lot; EVERYONE constantly seeking out the fit that makes something work heart

    1. Cheers, and (though), I always find that question to be a wonderful public discussion and debate, particularly in Texas. My experience (granted mine), is that Texas tends to think customers are necessary whereas Venture Capital genuinely tends to think not (though they say otherwise).

      I find it’s actually a more nuanced distinction of the kind of venture and the intentions of the founders.
      Among the most significantly sized companies in the world today (Facebook, Google, Twitter?) were startups that didn’t make money for years. Things like Tesla and Apple just can’t make money without funding and development.

      You’re not wrong ? I’m not disagreeing with you. Hence the thought that it’s an important public discussion for would-be founders. WHY might *that* rightly expect customers? Why might that over there instead warrant big money without?

      (though too, I recognize that you might be referring to Friends & Family, debt, and Angels, before chasing VC, and that I jumped right to inferring you meant customers)

  3. Since entrepreneurship has become trendy what percentage of today’s entrepreneurs do you think actually have these traits versus the ones who see the money/fame/lifestyle of certain ultra successful entrepreneurs and are actually doing it for those reason?

    While entrepreneurs might not be like 99% of people it sure feels like more than 1% of people are currently trying to be entrepreneurs.

    1. Troy Schlicker I do believe that. Very much so.
      It’s either disillusionment or willful neglect that society disregards how painful attempting a startup is for most.


      Thanks to Pop Culture (shows like Silicon Valley) and trade media (Such as Fast Company, Wired, and Entrepreneur), the “Entrepreneur” is celebrated.

      Where the Astronaut, Scientist, Doctor, or Pilot was the celebrated hero of the last century, now it’s the Hacker, the Politician, and the Entrepreneur. And whereas the first group consists of actual jobs, Entrepreneur isn’t a career, it’s not a job, it’s a personality trait.

      Being entrepreneurial means, you take great personal risks to do things likely to fail. And many seek to become founders, of which 90% lose everything they put into the attempt.

      And frustratingly, given that “DEMAND” from the market (to become an Entrepreneur), we have more and more organizations telling you they can make you one.

      We can’t make entrepreneurs. We can’t make the personality trait that tends to work. We CAN teach how startups work, we can teach how to raise money… but if you aren’t personally capable of the crushing burdens, you aren’t going to make it trying.

      MOST people NEED Stability, Career, Paycheck, Benefits, or Saving. And it’s GOOD that most people need that because, without such people, Entrepreneurs couldn’t do shit.

      Because Entrepreneurs aren’t like that, they are trying to prove something, solve something, create something new, or help society, and without the support of a stable economy, people who want to just work, or even people who do just work to get what *they* need/want, entrepreneurs would suffer even more than they do.

      There is something magical in “Work FOR Startups” rather than wanting to start a startup. ?

  4. Great post. We define normal by our consistent crazy actions. I celebrate the small victories even when nobody else understands. It’s a tune only we can hear, but the melody soothes the soul better than mama’s home cooking. I love it

  5. Interesting/insightful as always, Paul. Thanks so much for taking the time to offer this.
    Much appreciated. Marc

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