Everyone Wants To Be A Founder
But the reward is not the title, it's the lessons.
Everyone wants to be a founder these days. That’s how many academics navigated the spillover from the political and politically correct environment of academia to the actually competitive world of startups.
The founders of Facebook, Google and Twitter are among the most important people these days, with the power to guide our thoughts and change our minds.
Founder is the coolest title since “Chief Innovation Officer” meant you were the most creative in the company.
But founders come in all sizes. You can be the founder of a nonprofit or a library or a small consulting agency, like Storefront Mastery.
Being a founder comes with some responsibility. Educational, mostly. The learning process that founders of organizations small and large go through makes them the ideal standard bearers for wisdom.
When I got out of Architecture school I decided I was not gonna go the conventional route and work for someone so I opened my own firm.
Turns out it’s very hard to grow if you just jump in the water without any preparation. I have great experiences and a few beautiful works, I learned tons about design, wrestling the city for permits and practical historic preservation skills, but eventually the firm mutated into an urban development consultancy and design took a second place. Some may say the Architecture firm failed.
That firm was not the first thing I founded. A band came before. I learned to play by ear, to turn the volume down and to let someone else play the guitar solo if that meant the song would come out stronger.
There have been a museum, a city agency, and a city, too. The museum came after the city agency. I got a call from the mayor one day asking for “a museum”.
Diligently, I recruited the two brightest minds in art that I knew and set off to create the museum. We made a great plan to create the first public contemporary art collection in the country, which is what sets apart museums from regular art centers, I learned.
The mayor replied with “that’s nice and all but I need you to get me Frank Gehry”. Apparently a politician friend had retained Gehry to design a museum and that was the way to go.
Our plan was celebrated by museum specialists from several global institutions, art market advisors, curators and artists from all over, but it was not enough without the flashy building.
After we did not succeed, the project was shelved. We ended up with the greatest plan in the history of museum plans and no institutional backing.
We carried on, founded the museum privately, vowed to fund it without a single dime from taxpayers money and opened the show during Habitat III in Quito, to a full house.
The museum was part of a city agency I had founded. The Office of Urban Mechanics. I took the name from Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.
The mission was to pursue a similar innovation agenda, but diving deep under the hood of the local government to fix, as an old school mechanic would, the nuts and bolts of the relation of the people and their government.
We took on Placemaking, Licensing and permitting, Entrepreneurship and other aspects. It was fun while it lasted. We proudly carry the badge of creating the greatest reclaimed streets project in the city to this day.
Lack of political support, sadly, put an end to the agency. But the greatest lesson is how we did our projects. We relied on the neighbors. We stripped all communication and notices of official government branding and let neighbors host all meetings in their local hubs, and decide locally what the project scope would be, who would be invited to the implementation events and how it would evolve over time.
The city was a bit trickier. I did not found it. I created the conceptual model for the city that the National government had founded. The TL;DR is short: I learned how to stand up to builders and bureaucrats that have no idea of the destructive effect of scaleless urban places. Now I know much more about what it takes to create a city.
Now, I can confidently advise anyone that promotes such an idea of what roads to avoid.
All this to say that founding new organizations takes time, effort and above all, creativity. Creativity comes from connecting dots, but also from knowing what dots to connect and how.
Each failure teaches lessons, and some are more valuable than others. Each new endeavor will require wisdom and knowledge from what came before, and will need the person that one becomes after trying, failing and recuperating.
My kid has a beautiful book called “I Wish You More”, where the main character says “I wish you more will than hill”. May no obstacle be too large. May you conquer them all.
The tools to do it come from experience. The creativity to think different comes from a conscious reflection on what experience teaches us. The realization comes when we teach what we have learned.
I do that now. Storefront Mastery helps small businesses and the organizations that nurture them see through what seems like the overwhelming process of designing a new store or creating a new product or service, and linking their creativity to the delivery of the experience they want to create for their customers.
I can honestly tell you it’s incredibly rewarding.