So where do startup ideas come from? And why do some founders seem to do better than others?
Startups, tech or otherwise, ultimately come from the problems that surround people every day. Entrepreneurial thinking is about always looking for a solution that the market might be ready to buy. Tech startup founders take that to the next level by asking, ‘Is there a solution that can be scaled across international markets effectively?’ This journey into new markets is an adventure, often an epic one. Because of this we can often view this journey through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model. The previous blog in this series introduced this model and explained how it will help us understand more about where this illusive breed (otherwise known as the startup founder) comes from. Here we’ll look at the Call to Adventure, the Refusal of the Call and Meeting the Mentor parts of the Hero’s Journey model.
Refusal of the Call
Have you ever been chased by a problem that simply cannot be ignored any longer? It’s not uncommon to think , ‘Somebody else will/can deal with it’. Who am I to take this on? It will turn my life upside down or at least require some serious sacrifice to do this. This thought process is the reason why there aren’t more successful company founders out there. It’s a hard start and only gets harder from there (generally).
In Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey cycle this is where it actually begins. Even in heroic fables, the hero has at least one false start. A protagonist has to be relatable. After all, isn’t that how real life works?
As one of the founders of CapabilityBuilder, Steve Curry, put it, “Seriously, I couldn’t let go of the same problem I had wrestled with for years as an employee and consultant: how to change the world of work so it treated people with respect.”
The founder of ResponSight was also plagued with a frustrating reoccurring problem. “Hackers were making my industry (enterprise security) look bad – we were telling our clients there was lots of great technology, but it continued to fail and hackers were regularly breaking in. The reason was not the technology itself; there was always a ‘people’ element to the problem that the technology was not addressing.”
Both of them decided to take matters into their own hands and build businesses that could take on these big challenges.
Call to Adventure
Nothing worth starting and finishing to the end is easy to jump into, otherwise somebody else would have already done it. In terms of startup ideas, this is a crucial step. Most entrepreneurial thinkers are filled with ideas. Consider Alice when she had to battle the Queen of Hearts: “Sometimes I believe in seven impossible things before breakfast.” With time and observation great startup founders develop a sharp intuition for the difference between technically impossible versus theoretically impossible.
In the beginning, it isn’t really about your idea. As long as it’s not something utterly pointless, just heeding the call will get you on your entrepreneurial way. Heeding the call to adventure against established convention will propel you that much closer to understanding a different way of life. Or in this case, being unable to turn your back on that problem any longer.
Meeting the Mentor
It might seem that the most successful people in life have or know something you don’t. It’s true. They do. They’ve met their mentor to guide them to the other world. In this case, the other world is simply startup land.
In Campbell’s narrative structure, young Luke Skywalker’s meeting with Obi-Wan Kenobi represented this part. If it wasn’t for Obi-Wan’s support and training, Luke wouldn’t have had the guts to take on his quest alone. While it might not be as dramatic to find your first mentor in startup land, it’s just as important. This is a person who sees qualities in you and possibilities in your future that you likely haven’t even started to realise. They are your critical link to the networks and resources you’ll need down the line.
As a founder progresses, he or she will ultimately have a number of mentors but this first one will always have a certain power and influence that the others cannot. This first mentor doesn’t have to have a high profile or even be directly knowledgeable about your particular vertical. They just have to know you in a honest light and understand what you need to hear in order to progress.
For Steve, his key mentor was Michelle Irving, the founder of Heart of Philosophy, “who kept telling me to join a co-working space and go out and learn.” For Jeff, it was a polite kick in the pants by a former co-founder; “I remember him saying ‘you should always grab an opportunity when it comes along. Even if the worst happens and you fail, you’ll learn something from it and there’s always a boring corporate job somewhere to pay the bills.’ ”
So what’s the problem that won’t let you walk away? We all have a founder’s journey we could listen to. The question is what do you want to do about it. Tell us about your journey in the comments and we’d love to feature you in a future blog.
Up next: Crossing the threshold into the new world of possibilities: startup land.