“The cost of failure of being an entrepreneur today is trending toward zero,” says quintessential entrepreneur Harley Finkelstein, who launched his first business when he was 17. He was among Shopify’s first customers, eventually becoming its Chief Operating Officer.
The story of his rapid rise may well apply to you, too. Today, accessible and affordable technology makes it possible for anyone to be an entrepreneur, and as resourcefulness matters more than resources, creativity trumps capital.
How to keep a startup mindset
It’s easy to lose one’s North Star in the face of exponential growth. Harley has four pieces of advice to make sure you don’t shed your startup mindset.
- Stay highly aligned, but loosely coupled. Nurture autonomous teams by making sure everyone knows their direction.
- Hire staff with a founder mentality. Encourage your people to act and make decisions as if they owned the company.
- Hire for potential, not for experience. The right employees will adapt and grow as your business evolves.
- Provide a great working environment. Keep your employees happy at work with perks, great food and a great environment.
8 ways to build an entrepreneurial city
But great startups don’t exist in a vacuum. Part of growing startup culture is creating an environment that can nurture that entrepreneurial talent, which includes contributions from all stakeholders: politicians, city planners, designers, the greater business community, etc.
“It takes a village to raise a startup,” Harley says. It can take generations to nurture the entrepreneurial soul that makes a city hospitable to budding tech companies.
At C2 Montréal, Harley joined Angela Tran Kingyens (General Partner, Version One Ventures), Eric Boyko (President and CEO, Stingray), Magaly Charbonneau (Principal and Limited Partner, iNovia Capital) and Wesley Chan (Managing Director, Felicis Ventures) for a panel on entrepreneurial ecosystems. It aimed to reverse-engineer the unique mix of culture and nurture that creates the right conditions for startups to thrive. Here are the eight ingredients they came up with:
1. Find comfort in risk.
Startup founders are often outliers. Encourage risk and celebrate the diversity that enables startups and entire communities to stand out.
2. Pay it forward.
Invest in and support young startups. Panelists acknowledged where they came from and how instrumental it was to get financial backing. Today, they’re investing in young, up-and-coming companies themselves.
3. Take a global perspective.
Startups in smaller cities should be poised to court international markets, which can be as simple as translating their content into multiple languages. It’s not about the location of the startup, but an ability to localize.
4. Foster innovation centres.
Creative hubs build community and encourage collaboration. Montreal’s Notman House, a hotbed of entrepreneurial partnerships between startups, funders and government, is one example of an organization helping small companies succeed.
5. Find multiple financing sources.
A startup ecosystem thrives on diverse sources of investment: private, government and academic.
6. Just be yourself!
Draw on your own capabilities. Don’t try to replicate Silicon Valley.
7. Cultivate collective ambitions.
Meet with your village and ask, “What are our strengths? How do we grow them together?” Leveraging these and aligning goals can help create an entrepreneurial identity in your community and produce meaningful partnerships.
8. Respect entrepreneurship.
Recognize when people and organizations are entrepreneurial at heart and support them.
Further reading from the “Rise and shine: Becoming a thought(ful) leader” special:
- Retro inspo: A backward glance at big ideas
- Creativity lessons from a Disney animation master
- Why invest in diversity: Truth bombs from a badass VC
- Profit responsibly: 6 attributes of sustainable giants
- Meet Tunde Kehinde, the Jeff Bezos of Africa
- What urban visionaries can teach you about your organization
- This Brazilian architect is designing cities with love
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