The other day I was interviewed by a magazine, and they asked me, “What founder(s) of companies do you admire”. I thought for a while about this, and ultimately was unable to come up with an appropriate answer.
My wife and I got married when we were 23, old for her family, juvenile for mine. I was a college dropout when I got my first job as a business analyst, and she was a tech in a children’s hospital when we tied the knot. Six months after I got married, I decided to quit my job, casting the stability I had with employment to the four corners, and cast my future on working for a startup. We were able to raise a little money from friends and family, but two months after quitting my job and raising this money we found ourselves in a situation where we weren’t able to raise more money, and we had blown through what our friends and family (mainly family) had given us.
For two years we fought (literally) and struggled to correct my mistake. I even re-enrolled in college, as a plan B, to earn a degree so that if my company wasn’t successful, at least the corporate world would value my experience – and my education, and welcome me back with arms wide open. Unfortunately / fortunately, I excelled in school, and instead of going back into the workforce upon graduation, I ended up going to law school - after all, people always need lawyers, right? Enter 2008, and to my dismay, the legal world, just like the rest of the world, had the bottom drop out from under it. We became pregnant with triplets in my last semester of law school in 2010, but because the legal economy was still sluggish, I became a joint MBA, JD student, and was in the final semester of my MBA when my children were born, and with triplets, you enter the world of the NICU, you have sleepless nights and many parents’ worst nightmares sometimes come true.
We brought the children home after just less than three weeks, and I ended up graduating, not in December like I had planned, but in May of 2011. I took the bar in February of 2011, but I found out that even if I passed the exam, I would end up having to take one more exam – an ethics exam – that I forgot to register for, meaning I would not be licensed to practice law in September.
I had been in the world of tech my entire career, and I went to law school so that I would never have to do anything tech related again. However, while taking care of newborns, who slept more than they bounced in their bouncy seats and exersaucers, I knew that I could do more for my family as my wife toiled to pay the bills – something I promised her she wouldn’t have to do after I graduated from law school, which she had supported me through. I took care of my daughters and I knew I had to do something, anything to help her, and I crawled back through the demonic doors of the tech world and started up my 3rd company. I had time on my hands, and I decided I would not depend on the market, on an employer to create a job for me, I would take matters into my own hands, and I would fight for me, fight for my wife and fight for them to give us a better life than what was offered to me.
When the question was asked of me, what founders do I respect / idolize, after thinking about my past, the reality struck me. I don’t respect anyone that is known. The founders that are out there, that we talk about, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerburg, they have all struggled (maybe), but have won. They are no longer struggling, they are no longer fighting, they no longer have the passion to live for today now because tomorrow may never come. I have more respect for the people who have tried to start a business, to create something through their own drive, perseverance, sweat and suffering – and failed, than I will ever have for Mr. Zuckerburg or Mr. Page. I might revere them, I might think I respect them for their accomplishments, but in reality, I am envious of them for what they have achieved.
The bottom line is that if you are a founder, if people know about you and know about what you have done, then you have achieved success. This is a wonderful milestone within life’s achievements, but at this point, you are no longer struggling. Your life is easy. You can go out and do whatever it is you do, and the money, complements and friends will find you. I cannot believe that I admire someone for achieving success, because I can’t believe I admire people who are no longer fighting, fighting to define themselves, fighting to provide for their families, fighting to live the American dream. I admire the fight, the underdog who rises to the occasion, beats all odds and ultimately lives the dream – the dream all of us have of providing for our families, ensuring our children have the best we can provide for.
I admire the fight. There is a reason that all of our movies end with success of the hero, because we don’t want to watch them live out a simple life. We want to see the struggle, the scuffle, and the ability to overcome life’s obstacles. I might just be a product of a Hollywood generation, but I don’t admire the people that have won. I admire the unsung heroes that are fighting the fight that is the American dream – the people like me. I admire the people that put their daughters in their bouncy seats while they study for the bar. I admire the people that decide to go and do the things they know they have to, that take matters into their own hands, even as people you think are your best friends call you crazy, say you aren’t a provider, impugn your abilities as a father, a spouse. If you achieve success, then you are no longer fighting, you have waged your war and won, and now your life is easy. I respect this, but these people no longer have the courage, the willingness to put everything on the line for a dream, they lack the passion to pursue new goals that potentially could ruin everything they love – they no longer have the capacity to lay everything on the line.
The answer is that I admire the people who are out there, fighting their fight, fighting the fight to give their children, wives and spouses something more than what they should. I admire the dreamers. I admire the founders that we will never hear of. I admire the dream, the passion, the angst, I admire those that have waged the war, but don’t possess a name that the masses will recognize. These are my heroes; these are the founders that I admire, the ones that no one will ever know their name.