We know their stories:
Sarah Blakely cutting out the feet of her panty hose, showing the Neiman’s buyer in the bathroom. Then getting her now world famous produt SPANX on Oprah.
Daymon John serving shrimp and biscuits at Red Lobster during the day while sewing wool caps at night to launch his fashion brand FUBU. Then creating Shark Tank to help other entrepreneurs.
Lifelong friends Ben & Jerry, two self-proclaimed fat kids who launched what they thought would be a single ice cream parlor by fixing up a dilapidated gas station. Then turning it into a global phenomenon.
Part of what we love about these stories is the founder’s dogged determination. They believed in their cause when others did not, and they applied loads of hard work, innovation and self-discipline to bring forth their dreams.
Yet, not everyone is meant to be a founder.
The question many organizations are asking is: How can we keep the energy, innovation and determination of a “founder” mindset as we grow?
Sometimes in the quest to scale and systematize, even founders forget their early zeal. I recently had a founder say to me, “I want to feel the way I felt in the early days of this company.”
The operative word here is feel. It’s an odd dynamic. A sense of passion and purpose is critical in the early days, yet as organizations become more professional, feelings fall by the wayside in favor of processes. Telling stories gives way to spreadsheets. And the original inspiration is lost.
The key to recapturing the founder mindset is to draw inspiration from those who came before you. I call it the: If they could do that, I can do this phenomenon.
Here are three real life examples:
1. Credit cards and Ramen
Our client G Adventures was founded by Bruce Poon Tip, a young Canadian with a dream for sustainable mind opening travel. He started the company on a credit card and worked tirelessly out of his apartment living on Ramen noodles. If he can do that, his reps can make one more sales call.
2. A sledge hammer and a pickup
Another client, Foundation Supportworks was founded by Greg Thrasher who says, “I was just a kid with a pickup and a sledge hammer.” He dug out basements for years before growing his team. Even then, their first “office” was working out of his home’s basement.
If he could do that, his guys can reach out to that frustrated client with empathy.
3. Mortgaging to become a meat cutter
I recently came across the story of Ruth Fertel, who founded Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Ruth mortgaged her house for $18,000 to buy Chris Steakhouse. She learned how to butcher steaks herself, and grew the business to be a national recognized exemplar of hospitality.
If she could do that, an event manager can go the extra mile for someone’s company party.
As a business grows, it’s easy to forget the essence of what made the organization great in the first place. The pursuit of something greater can be overshadowed by spreadsheets, deliverables, project management systems, and the daily grind.
Yet when that story is alive, nurtured, and seeded deeply in the organizational narrative, the pride re-emerges.
If you have a founder story, tell it. Even if it doesn’t involve Ramen noodles, mucking out basements or butchering meat. Ask your team, what and who got us here. If they could do that, what can we push ourselves to do? The answer may inspire you.