I'm a simple small town Canadian guy. I graduated from McGill University, moved to the US for law school, and then moved back to Montreal where I worked at a venture capital fund.
While working in venture capital I noticed that less young people were starting companies, and most early startup dreams were dying at the vine. Young people were starving for entrepreneurship. Due to systems in place and the mentality of some, young people were (and still are to a fair degree) opting for traditional career paths to pay back loans and pad their resumes, playing it safe.
This drove me crazy. Today, I am crazy. That's because one year ago, at the age of 23 I decided to walk down a long and lonely path: I took the entrepreneurial plunge by launching FounderProject, out to become a new type of venture fund that invests in student startups. The mission being to bolster a global student startup ecosystem, while simultaneously creating a community to support young entrepreneurs.
Today, at the age of 24, I've had the opportunity to meet and rub shoulders with some of the most respected people in the game. Since FounderProject's inception ten months ago, 200+ startups have been created across Canada, six startups have received term sheets from large venture capital funds, and FounderProject team members have a presence on fourteen universities with reach to thousands of Canadian students.
Other incubators and accelerators are popping up on campuses everywhere. All of this has led to a shift: One year ago, few young Canadians were launching startups. Today, hundreds are. This is great, but I thought more needed to be done.
One morning, at 10:55am, I cold emailed Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, explaining what FounderProject is, asking him if he'd say a few words at our final event of the year. I didn't expect any response. But literally two minutes later, at 10:57am, he wrote me back saying, "This is really cool and I would be happy to do it."
In the aftermath of the Twitter IPO, I knew there was no one bigger, and no one more influential in all of business who could share a few words of wisdom to young people. Talk about a vote of confidence for the entrepreneurial cause in this country and everywhere else. And to add to this, Aaron Levie, CEO of Box (and one of the most colourful personalities in the valley), agreed to say a few words at the event on December 4th as well.
Things were going well for us. FounderProject was moving full steam ahead and more young Canadians are pursuing the entrepreneurial path, however something came over me recently.
It happened last week, when Just For Laughs founder Andy Nulman addressed a crowd of 150 young entrepreneurs at one of our events in Montreal. He said that as an entrepreneur 'he was continuously trying to convince people that he wasn't insane'.
At that very moment when Andy said those words I realized there was a deeper, underlying problem in Canada that I assume exists in many other countries as well. And yes, I believe it's actually a problem:
Today, young people do not think big enough to the point that other people think they're insane. Not enough young people desire, and believe they can change the world on a global scale.
The problem is a mindset problem, one that is more dire than most might think. Too many young entrepreneurs think they're rock stars by launching another social network, or naming themselves the CEO of the world's 498th messaging app. To move the world forward we need people daring enough who actually attempt to solve massive problems, sometimes problems most don't even know exist.
I'm not talking about just one-upping the competition. I'm talking of having the audacity to dream of tubes for people to travel in at the speed of sound, or having the vision to eliminate the need for postal delivery by finding a functional way of having drones drop-off packages at your front door. We need more people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. We need people who beg to redefine entire industries by creating forms of competition that previously didn't exist.
Moving forward I'll dare to try things knowing other people will think I'm a dreamer. And, I'll encourage other young people to do so too. Insane is cool. Crazy is awesome. Social networks, and messaging apps are a start. But there's a lot more that deserves to be tried. I think of those that launch startups that beg to redefine the status quo as rockstars. And it's precisely these types of rockstars who will change the face of this planet.