Startups are going to save the world
Making money? That’s cool if you do. But it’s a means, not a goal. Your goal is to change the game, to concentrate on a problem that matters and to make a difference. Seize today’s opportunities - now is when individuals can finally hustle their way beyond all expectations. You can learn anything, you can start a business without anyone’s permission, you can be a pioneer. All the barriers are breaking down. But more openness also means more competition and more judges. Against the odds, you’ll have no other choice but to be honest and constantly questioning yourself about WHY you’re doing your startup - because that’s what it means to be brave.
People are going to read that and think that I’m exaggerating, but I actually believe it, and I have serious reasons. Startups create value. Sure, part of that is generating money and returns. But it’s also value that recognizes that some startups are more important to the world than others. Now, I’m not saying that we won’t work with a startup that is purely entertainment; it’s simply to say that our core focus is on finding startups that change the world for the better. That’s why my cofounder Nicolas Colin started promoting the idea of entrepreneurship as the new politics. And all of us believe in our hearts that it’s true: if you want to change the world in the 21st century, don’t go into politics — become an entrepreneur.
You can’t change the world unless you’re at a high level of risk.
At The Family, we are looking for people who are willing to take serious risks. The reward for that risk is the joy that comes with participating in a project aimed at something spectacular. Not everyone is comfortable with that type of risk, and that’s ok — we’ve always said that there are a lot of ways to make a living in this world. But for us, those risks and rewards are what push us through each day and make us look forward to tomorrow.
Because we want projects that change the world, we work hard to reduce the risk of time. We want to know as soon as possible if there’s a huge opportunity in any given project. Every feature that we design, everything that our team does to help startups grow, it’s all designed to optimize the time that entrepreneurs are risking. We aren’t optimizing cost, because being cheap doesn’t guarantee success. But optimizing time is always a good idea.
We’ve always been upfront that as a company, we’re a startup, too. That’s why we aren’t just looking for good investment opportunities, because there are tons of those. We have to spend our time on the best opportunities that fit what we’re aiming to do as a company. That’s why we look for good entrepreneurs, not just good ideas; that’s why we look at the problem, and not just the solution. Any idea is just a small example of what you can do as an entrepreneur, and ultimately it’s your capacities as an entrepreneur that we’re trying to evaluate.
You can make money with a business that doesn’t matter, but you can’t change the world with it. Because it doesn’t just take an idea to change the world — it takes incredible entrepreneurs. And those entrepreneurs understand that in order to have a real impact on the world, you have to create a business that actually matters.
You can make an impact.
Individuals can make a difference. That’s one of the most beautiful things in the world right now. In politics, you have an impact that is based, for better or worse, on a majority. But in entrepreneurship, an individual can start something, and they can then put together a small tribe of people who come together for a real purpose, without needing to conquer a majority.
Take education, for example. In France, if you wanted to change education, you would need to have a majority of political power, you have to change every school and every teacher before you can have any impact on a student. Today, though, you can start a company that finds its first users, and then maybe it will impact 10,000 students, and then maybe it will impact 100,000 and then 1,000,000. That’s a huge new opportunity in the world, one that didn’t exist 25 years ago.
Or as another example, look at Airbnb. Airbnb doesn’t need to kill off hotels to have a huge impact on real people. They don’t even need a majority of people to use their service. They’ve conquered a minority, and used those fans and customers to build an incredible company. And by doing that they’ve changed the way that people around the world travel and interact with others.
Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this,” and as you answer you have to remember that not every idea needs to exist. That’s why I advise people to work on a project as long as possible before it becomes a company. People will keep working on a stupid company for far longer than they will work on a stupid project. Of course, the problem here is that people will hear me say that, or they’ll see a TED talk saying to focus on the why, or whatever, and then they think that’s the entire key. But it’s not — a true, honest “why” needs a good project and a good idea. Go work for someone who has one if you don’t, that’s ok, too. Every entrepreneur needs good people helping them, and it’s perfectly ok to be part of those teams that are having an impact.
Seize that opportunity.
Today’s world is built on an opportunity that was never there before. I feel sorry for people who don’t realize that. What you do today is much more important than who you are, who your family is or where you went to school. That’s a huge generational change, especially in Europe. At the same time, that means that the world is only becoming harsher as it judges what you’re doing. That’s why it’s so important to be driven in what you’re doing and to be honest with yourself. You can’t just say that you want to be a hacker and then not do the hard work that goes into it. You have to take on the weight of learning new things, applying yourself, pushing boundaries, doing what others say is impossible. Today, it’s still possible for anyone to be a pioneer — but not everyone will be one.
The suits are out and the hoodies are in. But just putting on the hoodie isn’t enough. You have to go out there and start learning on your own. Coursera exists, YouTube exists, Quora exists. Information is now a commodity that you can access. Stop acting as if you need anyone’s permission. Stop asking about how to fundraise and start asking about how to build a business where fundraising will just be a step along the way. Stop thinking that learning is something that you do as a child, and start seeing it as a continuous process that you practice for your whole life. Those are the differences between good entrepreneurs and everyone else.
What entrepreneurship is about.
In the future, value will be created in our capacities that machines won’t conquer for a long time: dealmaking, emotions, arts, and all of those things that need a slightly weird outlook on life.
It’s about collecting information from everywhere. It’s about reaching out and participating in the community of people who are smart and interested in the world. In the history of the world, that was never possible: Descartes could spend years without ever interacting with people as smart as he was. And you can just email Mark Zuckerberg, and if what you say is smart and interesting, you could have a reply back in just a few minutes.
All of the barriers are coming down. But that means that you need to be flexible and understand the necessity of selection. You have to be ok with missing out on some good things because you’re involved with other good things. People can become trapped by that fear, they can become simply ‘wishers,’ not ‘doers.’ And that’s the best way to make sure that you miss out on doing something great.
That can start out just by copying what you like. Every great artist and writer passes through a period of copying, before they find their style. Entrepreneurs are the same way, and it’s how you learn. As you do that, you’ll find something that you’re passionate about. Whatever that is, don’t be afraid of it. We Europeans are so afraid of being passionate about our job, we have to get over that. Being passionate helps you to overcome all of the pain that comes with truly dedicating yourself to a project, an idea, a company.
And I’ll say it over and over: being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. What’s more, even for those who love it and are good at it, it’s not always the right time to be an entrepreneur. I had a period of time in my life when I honestly thought I’d never want to do it again. I was happy being a consultant, working a certain number of hours per week, and making pretty slides. I was tired. But then I found the right idea, and the right project, and the right people. That changes everything: it gives you the energy that you need, it lets you be comfortable with the idea that not everyone will love what you’re doing. It lets you love taking the risk.
Risk today isn’t the same as entrepreneurs were taking 40 years ago.
People were selling their house. They were putting everything they owned into an idea, they were taking out personal loans at the bank: that was a risk. Today, the only real risk is waking up one day and having to admit that the idea wasn’t that great. But that’s easy to get over. Once you stop being driven by what other people think, you’re fine. Do that, and the greatest risk disappears.
You can then build upon a niche. You can find a small market and move from there. You don’t need to build a factory or guarantee delivery of thousands of units on day one. Nothing has to be in its final form, you don’t need the “what,” “how,” “why” immediately.
Just focus on your vision and share it, communicate with the world.
Be brave. Be an entrepreneur.
At The Family we are thesis-driven, meaning that our main selection criteria is not the financial return but the meaning. We think that startups are meant to change the world.
Create valueValue creation comes from money generation of course, money that can be reinvested, money as a means and not an end. But you also create value by changing the way we live, by making the world a better place. Entrepreneurship is the new politics because startups have a new kind of impact: while democracy sees a majority choosing a minority that will decide for everyone, a startup is a tribe that impacts a small group that chose it directly, a tribe that can grow each week. Several products/services can live next to each other. It is a smoother process of political change.
Take risksRemember that the voyage is much more important than the destination: enjoy every moment of doing something that really matters. At The Family, we know that most of the startups we select will fail, which is why we built a whole infrastructure to reduce your greatest risk (even greater than financial risk): the time risk. Everything we do aims at optimizing your time, helping you make mistakes or even fail faster, so that you can iterate faster and find your way to success.
Ask yourself whyWhat is driving you? Money, glory, passion...? The Why can come later in the process. Start with the What, discover the How, build the Why at scale. Do not do it for the money: entrepreneurship is way too hard to not make money from it, but that cannot be the final goal. Do things that matter.
Understand the opportunity of our generationThe old world was based on the idea that who you were (your social background, your studies) was more important than what you did. That’s not true anymore. There has been a war between hackers and suits, and the hackers won. Suits are out.
Decide what you want to learn and learn itYou have no excuses. Everything you could want to learn is available thanks to resources such as Coursera. You can talk to anyone on Earth, have access to any brain. Do you feel this sense of power? The entrepreneurial age is putting learning back at the center of the industry, because the workforce is becoming a commodity. Jobs are not our collective future, nor the way that future value will be created. The future is in the capacities we have that machines do not: deal making, emotion, art, strategy...
Be a doerUnlimited access to resources can be a trap. Be selective: do not try to do everything or you will end up doing nothing. Choose your side: doer or wisher.
Find your passionThe best way to get passionate about something is to do it again and again. A passion is not defined by the level of pleasure you take but by the level of pain you are ready to accept from a particular activity/field.
Do not leave your life in the hands of othersYou are unique and you cannot build your path based on advice from others or on predetermined ideas about what is right. Ignore peer pressure. People are too worried today about the reputation risk, that one day you have to explain to everyone why your great idea failed. The switch happens when you do not fear judgement anymore.
It’s not for everyoneIt is all about you, a particular timing in your life and your risk tolerance. Ask yourself: what am I ready to do now and how can I do it at 100%?
Do more everyday“Excelsior” was the motto of the Roman army: “always more”. It gave us the word “excellence,” and it is not a static state - it means getting better every day.
Start small, think bigIn the industrial age, the only way to pay back the cost of capital (i.e., the initial investment to launch) was to be a mass-market product on day 1, through large-scale production. Cost of capital is not that high anymore, even for physical products: you can start small, while thinking big, winning one niche after another.
Focus on your visionPlay with it, blog it, share it, communicate as much as possible.
Ask forgiveness, not permission ;)
Articles to go deeper
Nicolas Colin & Laetitia Vitaud, “We Want More Sex (Startups)”
The Family Papers, March 2016
Nicolas Colin, “A Valley Divided: Do Startups Widen the Inequality Gap?”
The Family Papers, February 2016
Nicolas Colin, “Entrepreneurship Is the New Politics”
The Family Papers, January 2016
Nicolas Colin & Laetitia Vitaud, “Valley Politics: the Democratic Party’s Love Story With Entrepreneurs”
The Family Papers, November 2015
Nicolas Colin, “Another 100 Days: A Digital New Deal for Workers”
The Family Papers, October 2015
Tim O’Reilly, “We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing All Wrong!”
WTF?, September 2015
Venkatesh Rao, “Towards a Mass Flourishing”
Breaking Smart, Season 1, 2014
Balaji Srinivasan, “@balajis On Full-Stack Startups”
Eugene Wei, “Amazon and the “profitless business model” fallacy”
Paul Graham, “Airbnb”
Essays, March 2011
Jeff Bezos, “2010 Letter To Amazon Shareholders”
We told you, they lived it!
Philippe Gelis, CEO @ Kantox
Philippe started in finance, working at Deloitte. He met his cofounder at a Startup Weekend and cofounded Kantox back in 2011, in Barcelona. Kantox is a peer-to-peer foreign currency exchange for businesses. It has today over 1,600 clients in more than 50 countries and totalize over than $2 billion in transactions. Kantox raised $11m in 2014.