Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Founder Institute

At first glance, I might not seem like the typical candidate for the Founder Institute. I'm not a fresh entrepreneur. I've been doing it a long time and I've had both favorable outcomes (acquisitions) and failures (losing a lot of money). And I even serve as an advisor and mentor to a lot of other entrepreneurs. But, through it all, two things have remained constant: I'm an entrepreneur at heart, and I have a lot to learn.

And those two things are the key reasons that I'm excited that I just got accepted to be part of the Founder Institute's winter session in Seattle.

What is an entrepreneur anyway? I'm not giving anything away to tell you that the first question on the application form is why you want to be an entrepreneur. And I certainly hope I'm not giving anything away by saying I think it's a trick question. Maybe you can want to be a good entrepreneur, or a successful one, but I think being an entrepreneur in the first place, like being a writer, or a musician, or an artist, is about being true to yourself. Do you want to build things? I know I do! I love the challenges of figuring out the problem and figuring out the solution. And I love making something out of nothing. The opportunity to be around a bunch of other like-minded people over a three-month span would be valuable all on its own.

What do I have to learn? Tons, it turns out. Earlier this year, I wrote the absolute best business plan I had ever written. I created the best presentation decks I had ever written (although I didn't present them that well, ironic for someone who's a very good public speaker). I had a pretty good prototype to go with them. And it was for a business that I really think could make it and be hugely profitable. I'm a CTO, a product guy, and, yes, a visionary (though I don't really care for that term). But, I'm not a CEO and I was trying to start a company that really needed one. In looking at the Founder Institute curriculum, about 90% of the content is centered around the areas that I'm weak in, the places where I still have a lot to learn. If this were CTO camp, I could teach it. But it's a business camp and I'm happy to be a student.

And that brings up the third piece of the picture. I had the good fortune to run into Chris Early, the local person from FounderWise who's running the Seattle session, at an NWEN breakfast a week ago. I'd been thinking about applying but wasn't sure. Chris impressed me with his vision, understanding, and focus. He pushed me over the edge with information. They're looking for a wide range of people, from fresh entrepreneurs to veterans, they're hoping for a mix of talents, meaning both technical people and business people, and they're expecting a variety of representative industries, not just high-tech. But the common thread they're looking for is people who will take what they learn and run with it. All the mentors (aka instructors) are selected for the sessions they're teaching based on their specific knowledge. Each week, there are three different instructors who are best suited to the topic at hand. The sessions aren't those cattle call lectures we all remember from college. They'll be much more interactive and there's out-of-session "homework" every week. I can't predict exactly what all that means, but I loved how Adeo asked each person who asked a question at the UW session what they were passionate about. The Founder Institute isn't about one-way communication or lectures from on high. It's about guidance and learning. And that sounds good to me.

I don't know if the Founder Institute is right for you. It depends on who you are and what you want to do. But I'm really looking forward to it.


Evan Meagher said...

Congrats on getting accepted! Sounds like your thrilled. I've found myself with similar entrepreneurial urges lately, but with less room to explore them while in school. I look forward to any residual knowledge from your Founder Institute sessions that leaks into your blog and tweets.

William Carleton said...

Roy, it's good of you to take the time and explain so thoughtfully why the program seems right for you. It sure sounds intense, and it's probably the better for having such a "select-in" process. Don't know what the ground rules may be for you once you are in, but, I'll be hoping to hear reports from the inside as you go.

Anonymous said...

The first session of winter 2009 program in New York was terrific! We heard three distinctly different yet complimentary perspectives on developing and refining business ideas. If Seattle is similar, it should be very satisfying.

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