Naveen Selvadurai from Foursquare dropped by amazing Founders House to have a chat a while back. As you might have guessed, he sure carries a lot of wisdom around. Of the many things he said, one particular almost Hinduistic insight struck home with me.
Naveen views life as a tree growing and trying to strive for the life-giving light. As the tree grows, the branches split up. Some grows to large trunks, and others never reach beyond the twig stage. Naveen point was that you are the tree – or rather your company is. It is your duty to always pick the branch where there is most light and which is likely to give room for more branches – or opportunities – in the future. Interesting! It is kind of like instilling opportunity costs theory with existentialism.
However, it also gives rise to the question, as to when are the tree your life and when is it the company that you have founded or work for? As an entrepreneur, when do your private branches and the company’s branches start and end? I mean everybody has been in this situation, where doing one thing would benefit you or your company, but not both. This is a really interesting thought, and my answer might surprise you…
The founder as entrepreneur
When you establish a company alone or with others, many compare it to give birth to a child you must now nurture and care for. That is not really true when put in the above context. For while you should always think of the child’s best branches, that is not necessarily true for a company, for we must remember what a company is. A company is a legal structure and institution that makes people able to align conflicting goals and utilize resources better over time, while trying to meet a demand for a product. The first part of that definition is like a child. Everybody can found a company and potentially keep it alive forever if they invest enough. But the last part is the important part. It is why companies are such a genius social institution: They breathe demand. So if you have given birth to a company (not a human, mind you) that is unable to breathe demand, it is not a normative responsibility to put its wellbeing in front of yours – you could be damaging the world by wasting your life power on this little twig rather than to go out on a trunk of a branch somewhere else. Twigs are the rarely pretty and can even be annoying, but they are a needed side effect of the tree of life trying to find light, or the humanity trying to find the best possible resource allocation, but they should not be nurtured beyond a certain stage. A surprising task of the entreprenuer is hence to always evaluate the company as a branch.
The employee as entrepreneur
First off, everybody should view themselves and be viewed as an entrepreneur of their own life. My good friend and associate Simon Schock has a really cool girlfriend Maia Mazaurette (read her blog here) who says it well, when on her Linkedin profile, she writes her current position, as “Freelance CEO of my own career”. Great! When you are an employee you spend a lot of time on a job for which you get pay (revenue). I think you as such have an ethical obligation to only think about the wellbeing of the company you work for – it is what you are paid for after all, not your own comfort or career. Great leaders realize this, and motivate employees with a vision to love and fight for the company only. Other leader types do not tap into this extra value pool in their employees, they don’t share and they never care*. Such leaders get lazy employees who only view their job as that, a job, and subsequently will chose only the branches of their private tree, not the company’s. This is really dangerous, as another great thing about companies as a structure is that they decreases short term resource dependency, which leave mental room for long term strategy planning for secure higher pay out of sunlight – an intelligent tree if you like. Imaging that.
So on what kind of tree are you growing? And what about the people around you?
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you Naveen for inspiration for my rant. Have a nice day y’all!
*) I have had the privilege to work for both types and needless to say, I prefer the visionary who get me to work long hours, by including me and saying a little nice word now and again. But who am I to judge.