Notes on 2017 — First Year as a Founder

The core seed idea of Paperchain came into conscious thought around May/June 2016. I wrote my first public words on it in July 2016. Rahul joined as co-founder in December 2016.

At the time I was still working full-time. The response to Paperchain was enough to push me to leave my full-time job.

In January 2017 I arranged with my employer for a 6-month phase out: 3 months at 4 days a week, 3 months at 3 days a week. I didn’t last the full six months. After three months I was ready to go all in. Premature in retrospect but it felt like the right decision then.

I feel like we limped home at the end of 2017.

The more we learned about our market (no small feat considering the information is obfuscated and you need to dig and put the pieces together) the more we realized the market opportunity wasn’t what we thought it was. It was always going to be limited and recent legislative agendas removes it entirely.

While these are no doubt threats to the business, I’ve never seen them that way. They’ve been opportunities to learn more about the underlying music industry challenges and refine our approaching to solving them.

So I’m disappointed we don’t have the product maturity that I’d wanted but I can see now that we are adapting to market forces well and should be encouraged by that. We’re showing ourselves to be resilient and responsive.

And I can look back now and see what an incredible learning opportunity 2017 was. From March 2017 I was a “full-time” founder (I still had and still do take on freelance and contract work to supplement income, until funding is Paperchain’s financial future is secured). Some insights for me:

Obama was right, you didn’t build it

Lately I’ve been thinking about how utterly ridiculous the idea of the lone genius is, most recently in the great-nephew of Australia’s 2nd richest person who made the proclamation that he made it on his own, never taking a cent from his family (he apparently doesn’t consider excellent family business connections, great schooling, or a stable family any help to his success).

Barack Obama was ridiculed for suggesting that rather than building business on their own, a person’s success was the work of their community. I’m not sure how anybody who has started a business could think otherwise.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about those who’ve helped—not just financially, but emotionally. My wife, family, friends who gave unconditional support, school teachers who inspired learning, peers who challenged, sports coaches who challenged for greatness. The journey of being a founder started when I was born and I wouldn’t be here without any of them.

These are the people I think about when I make the decision to continue.

Business is politics

Earlier this year I published a list of book recommendations for founders, and I still stand by those recommendations. These were works of fiction, books on race and politics. Particularly as technology founders, we are dealing with humanity, not technology.

I’m struggling to revere founders like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg because to do so ignores the anti-human and anti-labor practices of their businesses. If anything, it’s a reminder of the dangers in deifying people. People are fallible. Expect it. Great ideas should not be abandoned because of fallible people. Find other people to carry on the work. Poor judgement and decision-making should be called out. Real-world consequences (firings, loss of revenue) should exist.

It’s impossible not to see the link between deification, “genius” founder worship and what Uber is now. So it is with successful businesses, it is also with toxic businesses. Travis Kalanick was not alone in building Uber.

Inspiration is everywhere

I’ve met so many wonderful people this year, other founders and people who have expressed interest in joining Paperchain. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to invite people on board this adventure and see what they do with the company. It’s becoming clearer what my role as founder and CEO of the company should be, and I know I want to be in a position to encourage people to being their ideas, their personality and their history to the company.

I still get inspired by art. I’ve picked up my book-reading and movie watching. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definite History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibram X. Kendi) is essential reading. Some of the more exceptional films from this year were “GOOD TIME”, “A QUIET PASSION, “GIRLS TRIP”, and “A GHOST STORY”. I saw very little new cinema this year.

I was very lucky to be able to return to Australia for the holiday season.
It’s been grounding and re-energizing.
I am very lucky to once again call New York City home.
I’m eager to rejoin the city and start 2018 with focus and humility.