Family Photo Album

My family in 1989, as we visited my aunt & uncle in California.

At the conclusion of my Clinical Graphics journey I looked back and wished I had it all penned down. How a startup company, a little person of its own, comes into being. How it stumbles, grows. The highs, the lows. The people that you meet and the interactions. It would have made for an interesting read, I’m sure. Time is relentless: I can hardly recall many of the stories myself, even though it’s been only a few years.

Six years earlier I had learned the same lesson, which tells you something about my learning abilities and/or priorities. As part of my PhD thesis defense I wrote: ‘It is possible to obtain a PhD without the keeping of notes,’ which was closely followed by a nudge from advisor CPB: ‘Appreciating the personal development undergone during the obtaining of a PhD requires good notes.’ It’s about time I started paying attention to that lesson.

So here we are. All the way at the beginning. Square 1. To be fair, generally books about companies are written after the fact, when the job’s done, rather than before it. 

I particularly liked the book ‘Shoe Dog’, by Nike founder Phil Knight, which I realise is on another level, no, in another galaxy really, and by no means a comparison. In the book he describes the rollercoaster of founding Nike and it is just an incredible story. A true page turner, which in my case means it takes me three months rather than six to finish. Phil (we connected deeply and now we are on a first name basis) dedicates the book to his grandchildren. The dedication reads: ‘To my grandchildren, so that they too will know.’ This resonates with me strongly, as an entrepreneur and as a father. Not in the least bit because my children still haven’t figured out what it is that daddy does exactly. Their current reality: Mommy is a doctor and daddy fixes the house. My family job title is Bob the Builder. I wish I was joking.

Shoe Dog. Loved it.

When companies are born, they become their very own little person. They develop a character and culture as people join, like genes in a DNA strand. 

In his book ‘Homo Sapiens’ Yuval Noah Harari describes the emergence of limited liability companies. He dwells on the founding of Peugeot and how for the first time in history a company could be considered a legal person. An entity that can be held liable for its actions, in lieu of the people that founded the entity. Harari then insightfully reports on how this was a breakthrough, because it allowed people to take risk like never before. There are many examples where this got out of hand (e.g. Enron, Wirecard), but in general it’s a great property. Allowing companies to become their own person, unlocks innovative capacity beyond what a single human can achieve.

To startup founders out there I cannot overstate the importance of cultivating this very-own-person idea. Get a name, a mission, a logo, anything that breathes life into its identity. Speak of your company as a third person, e.g. ‘The company is going to change the world’. Let this new person develop. And while your baby grows, take notes. Keep a family photo album. Because, you know, they grow up so fast.

Honestly though, it’s an amazing journey. Pay attention.

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