Can You Make it as a Founder?

by Jon Kontz

How much can you take? A sense of calling helps to weather the storms of startup life, but for risk takers like me, it can be hard to tell the difference between calling and another great idea.

Driving back and forth between Houston and Dallas every week was inconvenient. Spending a few days every week apart from my family was even harder. Taking no salary made me wonder if I was crazy. Watching many others on my team decide that they had had enough taught me there are different levels to calling.

•       Level 1: Undertaking; n: the act of a person who undertakes any task or responsibility. v: to take upon oneself, as a task, performance, etc.; attempt:

•       Level 2: Endeavor; n: a strenuous effort; attempt. v: to exert oneself to do or effect something; make an effort; strive

 •       Level 3: Venture; n: an undertaking involving uncertainty as to the outcome, v: to take a risk; dare; presume

•       Level 4: Mission; n: any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed, an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation

True entrepreneurs discover level three calling, risking their own time and finances. However, I have found that important innovations are created by another level of external validation. It is difficult to validate something that doesn’t exist yet. Though it is easy to imagine mission as a feeling of obsession attained by the daring and brave, personally, I found that a sense of mission is created most profoundly when it is validated externally by deliberate experimentation. I uncovered it in eye-level relationships with the people I wanted to serve. They told us what their problems were, and I watched their reactions as we described our solution and walked them through our beta. As we met real customers and experienced their pain, and presented an alternative scenario, they called us to create the solution. That external customer validation echoed and confirmed our internal convictions. It was mission-level calling because it was assigned, not just invented. Before we gave them the opportunity to speak into our calling, we were taking risks based on ideas alone. After customer conversations around a tangible beta, we were still taking real risks, but for real people in a real place we could drive back to every week. Those conversations were the means of procuring funding too. Though most investors eyes would glaze over at our pitch, our customers eyes lit up. Internal motivation, the right team, and the resources were uncovered in the customer conversations that informed our mission, and echoed our convictions. As our mission went from being invented by us to being assigned by our customers, we developed the network, the resources and the team to go the distance.  


[Special thanks to Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash for cover photo]