Once a Founder, Always a Founder

"Do we ever cease to be a Founder? Is being a Founder really just a job that we have like being a landscaper? Or is there something about being a Founder that's more about who we are as people, like artists or craftspeople? Do we really need a startup to be a Founder or is the startup something that's a momentary creation?"

May 10th, 2023   |    By: Wil Schroter    |    Tags: Emotional Support

We are Founders for life — we just happen to build a few startup companies along the way.

At Startups.com, one of our most popular products is our "Founder Groups," where we pair 8-10 founders together to discuss the challenges of being a startup Founder. Invariably, startups succeed and fail, and the Founders find themselves asking us an existential question:

"Can I still be in a Founder Group now that I'm no longer a Founder?"

To which our answer is "Of course, because you can never stop being a Founder." We say that because we don't believe being a Founder is a job that we happen to have while running a startup. Being a Founder is who we are as creators. Our startups are a single moment of creation, but our role and existence as Founders are eternal.

Success or Failure, Still a Founder

It's interesting that when we think about someone losing their title as a Founder, we often only consider dropping the title when they have failed in some way. When things go well, those titles seem to proudly stick with us forever, even if we don't work at that company anymore.

Bill Gates is the Founder of Microsoft but he hasn't been active in daily operations in 15 years. But Microsoft did pretty well, so we all leave him with the title. But when we start something that fails, we feel like we've been stripped of "being a Founder".

We are Founders whether our role is active or not, whether the company is active or not. We are Founders because we have created something from nothing. If Steven King decides to stop writing books, he doesn't cease to become an author. Yes, he's not actively writing, but he will always be an author regardless of whether he's presently writing books because that's who he actually is.

It's How We're Built

Founders are cut from a different cloth. We revel in risk. We're willing to run naked into the abyss when everyone else is running in the opposite direction. We're built this way, and there isn't a different version of us.

Those talents exist whether we use them at our startup or not. Our ability to learn and adapt can be just as helpful when learning hobbies in retirement as it can in how we parent a new child. Our ability to innovate doesn't stop because we're no longer venture-funded. We use those same skills no matter where we go, whether we're working in a big corporate or a non-profit. It's in our DNA.

If anything, it's hard for us NOT to be a Founder. I deal with this in my every day. Every time I'm with a group of people my first thought is to lead, even if no one else thinks so. When I play with my kids, every toy I pick up has my mind constantly recreating everything from the brainstorming session used to invent the toy to a cost analysis of where it was produced most efficiently. I can't help it; it's how I'm built.

Founder First, Startup Second

Many of us were Founders long before we even knew what the title even meant. We were the kids selling candy at school, trying to make a tidy profit before we knew what a profit was. We were inventing new games on the playground because the existing games all felt like they were missing something. We were staring outside during class because we knew the bigger dreams weren't in a textbook but outside those walls.

That spirit has always been a part of us, well before we started something, and will continue for the rest of our lives, well after we've succeeded or failed. Being a Founder is a state of being. Yes, it's sometimes a job, it's sometimes a responsibility, and it's sometimes just a giant pain in the ass!

But it's who we are and who we will always be. We'll use these talents to sometimes build startups, and other times build families. No matter when or how we use these talents, they will always be ours, and for that, we will always be Founders.

In Case You Missed It

I’m Killing Myself. How is Everyone Else Finding Work/Life Balance? We're supposed to believe that we can build a world-changing startup from nothing while simultaneously traveling to exotic places and enjoying our "best life." For most of us, that just doesn't add up. What's blowing us up, though, is how we approach the problem.

How to Mix a Family and a Startup How do we create a proper balance between growing our family and growing our startups? Do we have to swim in a sea of guilt through this entire journey or is there some other way to get ahead?

We are NOT Our Startups (podcast) Let’s discuss why Founders should separate themselves from their Startups, the lack of predecessors to guide young founders, what to focus on besides building the business, and maintaining individuality.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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