While at first glance the wisdom of past ages shouldn’t apply directly to the problems of modern-day tech startup founders, this is not necessarily the case. If you zoom out, on a macro level succeeding as a startup founder isn’t that different from succeeding in any other aspect of life.
You need to be able to master yourself and deal with other people – some of humanity’s greatest philosophers have amazing insights into these ageless problems.
In this essay, we will explore how the wisdom of great philosophers can offer evergreen guidance to startup founders.
On Ambition, Hardship, And Motivation
“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it” – Epicurus & “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” – Seneca
Being a tech startup founder is different than being an entrepreneur in general. It entails a certain amount of innovation, and the risk of this innovation means that your upside should be big enough to cover it.
You need to aim high, which consequently means that achieving your goal would be difficult. As a startup founder, you should embrace this from the start.
“Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.”- Christopher Markus
You need to accept that while you would face hard times and a lot of failures, they are not in vain. The more experience you gather, the more competent and well-positioned you would become for success in the future.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” – Victor Frankl & “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche.
While the professional path of a startup founder is usually a lot more difficult than that of a corporate employee, it often feels a lot more meaningful. Not only because of the big financial upside if you are successful, but because of the level of control you have over your life and the potential for non-financial impact on people and the world as a whole.
Use this deeper meaning to motivate yourself and your team and to find the needed mental fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough.
On Humility And Reason
“He who thinks great thoughts, often makes great errors” – Martin Heidegger & “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong” – Bertrand Russell
While aiming high requires a belief in yourself, it also requires the humility to realize that you are likely wrong in most of your assumptions and expectations. Being too attached to your ideas can be disastrous because it would make you inflexible exactly when you need to be most flexible.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
In the early startup stages, your main goal is to learn exactly in what way you are wrong fast enough.
In other words, you will have to do a lot of empirical work. You’d have to test assumptions, learn valuable lessons, iterate, and test again until you find a viable path forward.
This would likely be a long and grueling process, so you need to be mentally prepared to be mistaken many times until you are finally right once.
“It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true” – Bertrand Russell
As a startup founder, you need to be able to split your mind in the middle. On one hand, you’d need to learn to dream big and paint the large picture to all your partners and stakeholders. On the other, you’d need to fully adopt a scientific mindset while testing your ideas and assumptions.
In other words, you need to be ready to change your vision according to the feedback that reality is giving you.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle
While succeeding as a startup founder is extremely challenging, if you are able to adopt this way of thinking in practice, you’d inevitably become the right person for the job.
“One cannot step twice in the same river” – Heraclitus
Finally, even if you find validation (and success), you shouldn’t deceive yourself into thinking that your job is done. To be successful in the long run, you need to constantly adapt to the ever-changing environment.