Reflecting on my journey as an entrepreneur so far, I’ve found I love helping other founders. Specifically, I really enjoy helping men and women trying to follow Jesus and honor God in the way they run their startup. Unlike experienced consultants or seasoned entrepreneurs, I do not profess expertise in many kinds of businesses or industries, or even in a potent or broad skillset.
One thing I am confident in is my awareness of my purpose on earth: to live my life in a way that makes God [His Kingdom, His Story, His Love, His Message, His Son Jesus] bigger and me [my pride, my kingdom, my name] smaller. It would be easy to live out this purpose if it wasn’t for my incessant battle against the selfishness and pride that wars for the seat of power in my heart and mind. Shout out to Adam and Eve in the garden for passing down sin nature to all of us.
In this post, my aim is to encourage founders of businesses who want to bring God’s kingdom into the foundation of their business and their everyday operation. I’ll use my story of founding, building and selling a B2B software company, VendorHawk, as the context for my ponderings on what it means to be a “faithful founder.” Some lessons are driven by my failures as well.
But first, here are two verses from God’s Word that motivated me to write on this topic:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:8
“42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:42-45, 48b.
Why do you want to build a business? Do you want to fund it with angel investments and grow it to be valued at 5X the revenue… and then sell it within 3 years? Or do you want to labor for 7-12 years and aim for the 0.5% of companies that could reach a solid IPO? You could be a hundred millionaire by building a ten-billion-dollar, venture-scale juggernaut of a business (sorry – letting my tech startup lingo come out). Or on the other hand, do you want to build a sustainable business that blesses a rural community that has never known a steady, profitable company that provides jobs for locals? Whatever the case, if we’re honest, many founders are motivated by some combination of more financial freedom, more time and making an impact in work in which they passionately believe. Building companies is a hard thing. If it was easy, then 9 out of 10 companies wouldn’t die within the first five years of operation.
Knowing this will be a difficult journey, we must be established in our purpose. As a person of faith, Colossians 3:23-24 reminds us “23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” If honoring God with your life and work is important, why don’t you formalize your commitment to God and to each other?
At VendorHawk, we wrote out what we called our, “Founder’s Manifesto: Startups for Jesus”. In it, we clearly described how we could build a high-growth venture capital-backed business, but still stay married, love our families, and bring a taste of God’s kingdom into the secular tech culture. Can you found a company and honor God alone? Let’s explore that question next.
A Unified Co-Founder Team
There are few passages in Scripture that describe how to pick a business partner, but as I studied more about the following passage, I found it to be a helpful guide.
We read in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, “14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[b]? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”
In context, Paul was confronting the Corinthian church on the issue of co-mingling the pagan practices and beliefs with the those of the Church. Many pastors use this phrase about being “unequally yoked” in reference to choosing a spouse in marriage. I think it can apply more broadly than to other partnerships as well. If you’ve ever co-founded a fledgling business, you’ll know co-founders are like spouses and the business is the young child that needs parenting, nurturing, and developing. When startup founders share the same values it’s easier to build those values into the company. You can co-create norms of behavior from a mutual motivation and a focus on serving each other out of humility and reverence for Christ.
Is this the only way to be a faithful founder? Absolutely not. Part of your mission might be to work alongside business partners who don’t follow Jesus to show them what honoring the Lord looks like while building the company together. But having picked co-founders who shared my love for the Lord, I enjoyed the fact that we could stand together in the manifesto we wrote, and seek to honor the Lord together.
Intentional Culture & Values
What does God value in life, in work, in relationships, and the way businesses build teams and serve their customers? Using our founder’s manifesto, which was based on the Bible, we chose culture and values that we felt aligned with God’s word, and with “Lean Startup” principles.
As founders, we used this origin story to share with employees about our values and how we should work together as a team. We said something like, “As founders who have faith at our core, part of our motivation for building a great company is to honor God while doing it. That’s why we crafted our values from two best-selling books, The Bible (a classic, all-time best seller) and the Lean Startup (a modern guide to best practices on building businesses). While you might want to read these books to better understand where we’re coming from, you don’t have to read them or agree with us on them. We want to build a team who brings perspectives to the table that are different from our own. We do expect, however, that all of our team would uphold these eight values that I’m about to walk you through.”
It feels good to align how you work with what you believe – and that shined through in these conversations. See our values in the last section of this post.
We also learned that articulation of values was not enough. We needed to add “norms of behavior” to give flesh to the bones we’ve laid out. Give tangible examples in quick points about what you do, or what things you say to help new employees better understand what values look like in practice. Your value might be, “Do the Right Thing,” but a norm of behavior is, “If you sense we’re not doing something with integrity, just call it out in the moment or offline with the person or a founder.”
Faithful founders clearly define their values, talk about them often and back up their talk with a consistent walk.
Values and relationships at work are important, but we cannot neglect what happens outside of work as well.
Faithful to Family
Ephesians 5:25-28 says, “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
Building a business is a family endeavor. It’s rare to build a business from nothing with ease, as if you’ll work less than if you had a day job, working for someone else. Faithful founders do not neglect their spouses and families in the midst of starting, building or running their business.
Just as you have a working agreement with your co-founders (defining how you want to work together with them), you must also discuss your boundaries for working at home. You need to establish a type of “home work agreement” with your spouse to protect your time when “away” from work. Make your decision early on things like putting away your cell phone during dinner hours, spending time with your kids in the evenings or taking your wife on a date each week.
With three young children (under the age of five), the only way I knew I could run my startup was if my wife was fully onboard to support me while I did it. We established “holy hours” from 5:00-7:30pm each night where I did no work, except the work of being fully focused on my kids and the house duties I could squeeze in. Scheduling date nights a few weeks out was important for me so I could prioritize time with my wife – who was bearing a heavier than normal load at home. Do my kids see that I’m still in love with mommy more than I’m in love with work?
Once you’ve decided on your boundaries, set a recurring calendar invite every other week or month to check in on how well you’re holding to those commitments. Long after your business starts, succeeds or fails, you’ll have your family – with many or few memories of their dad during the startup phase. Will those memories be warm and sweet to them, or filled with stress, distraction and unmet relational needs? Making the most of your time at home is your responsibility as a founder and your spouse needs to be fully on board to help you do this.
If you are building your startup as a single man or woman, you might apply this section to your local church or a group of close friends instead. Running the race alone is a great way to get tired, fatigued, and completely consumed by your job. To avoid falling out of touch with most of your friends, family and church family, schedule time with those people to keep a refreshing life outside of work alive.
Now that you’ve contemplated the deeper motivations and foundations for how to be a faithful founder, in part two of this post I’ll discuss how to put living faith on display in the everyday decisions of running a business.