Let us introduce a new blog series - The Founder Files, a series of blog posts exploring the human side of entrepreneurship, where the distinction between success and failure is often a fine line. From founding and scaling, all the way to the exit, we reveal the unfiltered, authentic stories behind entrepreneurial journeys. Ready to hear the truth?
I recently attended an event where an investment entity claimed to host a meeting for 'ugly ducklings’. I was shocked to hear that the meeting was for the entity to go through the portfolio companies of their fund-of-fund investments. A moment later, the same entity stated that these ugly ducklings become swans, but only as investors come to their rescue. Describing budding enterprises as 'ugly ducklings' awaiting rescue from investors not only strikes an unkind chord but also undermines the journey of entrepreneurship—a journey often brimming with tenacity, innovation, and difficulties.
Reid Hoffman famously described an entrepreneur as “someone who jumps off a cliff and assembles an aircraft on the way down”. This quote is powerful and really drills down the essence of entrepreneurship. You have to take the leap of faith and be able to use your resources as wisely as possible in order to land safely. To maximize the likelihood of a safe landing, the journey requires entrepreneurs to be creative, adaptable and resilient. Yes, VCs can be of support by providing additional resources in terms of capital, knowhow and networks, but we are not the ones assembling and landing the plane. At most, we are providing entrepreneurs with screwdrivers and fuel to help with the landing (and some investors might even help to navigate a little!).
That’s why the use of ugly ducklings really hits the ear wrong. Being an entrepreneur is hard and takes a toll. Assembling a plane while falling off a cliff is not easy. If you want proof, look no further than on the reaction from thousands of founders after an amazing 20VC episode with Christian Lanng, founder and former CEO of Tradeshift. Over 1,500 founders emailed Harry Stebbings about mental health after the show, and that number in reality is only scratching the surface. Using a condescending tone to describe the efforts of founders who build something meaningful is not the way to move forward, especially when we rarely know the full situation of the company and its founders. Even if only a handful of companies turn out to be unicorns, it doesn’t mean that all others are failures or ugly ducklings.
Instead of belittling entrepreneurship by calling them ugly ducklings, we should celebrate them. Throughout times that has brought countless innovations to our planet, whether it is Johannes Gutenberg, who introduced Europeans to letterpress printing, or the Wright brothers, who introduced us to airplanes. Entrepreneurship is literally the thing that has allowed humans to flourish. Yes, entrepreneurship means failure for many, but that’s the price of progress. Therefore, let’s celebrate those who dare instead of talking them down.
What’s even more important, there are countless instances where things could have gone wrong for even the most successful entrepreneurs and companies. Most of us in the industry have read about the struggles Airbnb encountered and how close the company was to bankruptcy, as the founders maxed out their credit cards. Airbnb is not the only story out there, which only shows how thin the line between success and failure can be. But that’s how things go when you assemble and land a plane on a fly – you always need a little bit of luck and magic.
That is why we at EGP want to start telling founder stories. And there is not a better way to start that than to introduce the entrepreneurial journeys of our senior partners. No, we are not telling the stories because we want to highlight their successes and how great they are. Instead, we want to share founder stories to dismantle labels like 'ugly ducklings' and instead, showcase the unfiltered, authentic journeys behind entrepreneurial ventures. As the number of start-ups created in Finland has plummeted, we hope these stories can help pave the way for more entrepreneurs. And most importantly, hopefully we can set an example of how to embrace and applaud entrepreneurs.
Stay tuned for more – we are soon starting the journey!