in Big Ideas, Canada

We can’t all be founders

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“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” – Will Rogers

It’s true now even more than when Joe Kraus (@jkrauswrote in 2005 (original post), “it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur” (see Mark Suster’s brillant post on the startup explosion and on changes in the software industry). But is there too much of a good thing? Mark Evans asks if there “are too many startups?”. I think the question that Mark is really asking is not are there too many startups, but is it too easy to become a founder.

We put a lot of focus on the founders of early stage ventures. But let’s face it, not everyone is or should be a founder (See: Founders versus Early Employees). We need to start and grow companies. This is more than just a whole bunch of 1 and 2 person pre-seed startups. We need people to want to cut their chops at Wattpad, Wave Accounting,, Lightspeed Retail, Fixmo, Shopify, Kik, Hootsuite and other startups. People that can grow a company to 500 million users and beyond.

“Being an early hire at a startup gives an individual the ability to make tremendous impact on an organization as it grows – and both the founders and those hires should know it.” David Beisel

We need to create companies that create opportunities for employees to become their Chamath Palihapitiya and Andy Johns or Adam Nash. There are a number of Canadian startups that are poised to break out. All they need is a few key people to make a huge difference. I tried to highlight a mix of founders and the people behind the scenes on the Hot Sh!t List (2011, 2012). There are the founders that we always talk about, but there are people behind the scenes that are driving.

“Cross-pollination among companies is what drives so much of innovation, so I would not project a lot onto this event” – Brett Taylor (@btaylor)

We’ve seen a number of young founders build brillant products and then move to new roles. Josh Davey (@joshdaveyLinkedIn) founded BurstN and is now killing it at Chango. Daniel Patricio (LinkedIn, @danielparticio) founded Pinpoint Social and is building products at Jet Cooper. Ben Yoskovitz (LinkedIn, @byosko) founded StandoutJobs and NextMontreal, is now the VP Product at GoInstant. There are lots of opportunities at Canadian startups for entrepreneurial employees to make a huge impact!

Looking for a gig at a Canadian startup? Check out the StartupNorth Job board which features jobs like:

More reading on starting your own vs joining a startup:



  1. Interesting post.

    I wonder, is there too much emphasis put on founders? Should early employees be given more credit publicly?

    One early employee of a successful company once told me that sometimes people forget the company was built by more than just the founders.

  2. To expand on my comment a bit, it’s tough to be an early employee when the Founders are the ones who will get all of the credit. Does that encourage people who should be employees to be founders? In that case, would the overall ecosystem be improved if early employees were given more credit publicly for their efforts?

  3. Great post indeed. With everyone launching projects left and right and barely surviving you can’t help but think whether it wouldn’t be better if more were joining early-state startups instead of yet-another accelerator program.

  4. Yup. Great post. Thing is tho, at least in my mind the “cachet” of “being” a founder is more important to some than the actual startup itself… At many of the recent StartUpWeekend events I’ve attended, one of the ubiquitous conversations that I hear early on day 1 is – “I want to be a founder” type of claim by just about all in the room. So…as David points out, the actual “making” of a founder appears to be worth more to some….than the actual “being” of a founder…something to ponder further, I’d surmise….

  5. Hard to believe that “founder” has cachet. I think there are a lot of people that don’t see the blood, sweat, tears, relationships and other things that get left by the way side to be a founder. 

    Starting, growing and operating a successful company is incredibly hard work. 

  6. Not a very aspirational post.

    “We can’t all be heroes” <– for the first time in history, because of the lowered cost and increased acceptance of startups, we can.  Assuming this means $1B companies every time misses the point of what's happening in society.  Big companies are cutting fixed costs and are willing to work with first-time contractors and teams working out of their dorm room.  Demonstrate your expertise on dribbble, oDesk, and countless other sites and you get to pick what you work on from anywhere in the world, regardless of your culture, language, or university diploma.  You can build a powerful network through Linkedin and Twitter even if you can't afford a plane ticket.

    "There are the founders that WE ALWAYS TALK ABOUT, but there are people behind the scenes that are driving."  So why always talk about them?  At some point the brand overpowers the founders and takes on its own life.  Shouldn't we talk about the companies – the vision, and the opportunity to create change?  Besides bragging rights for founders, wouldn't highlighting the actual products be more effective (I still don't know what kik does)?

    So what's the issue?  Not everyone should start a company because – in many instances (and this is true with tech and non-tech companies) – individual risk tolerance is different.  Because people want to live balanced lives and just don't care about the goldrush.  Because many people enjoy being experts in specific things and participating on high performing teams.

    But what's with the hating on too many startups?  The implied message that unless you're going to build a $B company, you should get on someone else's bus?  Shouldn't everyone get to experience the roller coaster?  Why shouldn't people get the opportunity to see if their idea has a potential to exist in the world?

    If there was suddenly an increased focus and market for beautiful paintings would you tell everyone to stop painting unless they had the skills of Rembrandt?

    We are seeing the birth of a new global economy where everyone should have some entrepreneurial skills and innovation will be the highest value.

    I recommend EVERYONE to start something they are passionate about to change the world AND participate in teams where they can work with amazing people on big visions – its isn't an either or.

  7. @scottannan good point. I think my message got muddled. The goal wasn’t to be uninspirational, the exact opposite in fact. Being a founder is hard. It is ok to not be the founder. There are wicked entrepreneurial opportunities to be a part of great companies.

    We have the advantage unlike other geographies to not continually worry about every employee trying to be recruited away or going to start their own thing. Not because they shouldn’t, but because there are wicked opportunities to do crazy things at some of the existing startups.

  8. great post. In many cases a founder becomes successful when they have a co-founder. This seems IMHO to be an important point that sometimes decides which startups becomes successful. Obviously hiring the right people and holding on to the talent is not an easy task but it critical for the success of the startups. In addition to the posts you highlighted, there was an excellent MBA Monday series on Fred Wilson blog about best hiring practices that might be relevant to your post –

  9. I never really thought about the issue like that, David. My husband is a contractor, but general contractors are a dime a dozen. Trying to distinguish your company is difficult. I have noticed that specializing in a more specific field, like foundation repair or something, can be the key ingredient for success. Then again, there is only so much work. Interesting perspective. Thanks for the article!

  10. Being a founder is a tough position, so the success of the company depends on the decision that he makes. But  of course, we should also give credits to the employee since they are the man power of the company.

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