Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

entrepreneur

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BusinessEconomyWork

Who am I? The Identity of an Entrepreneur

What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

I ask the question because in the past 6 months, I’ve started to notice some disconcerting cracks in my own character. In 2018, as an entrepreneur, father and husband, externally, things have thrived. Internally, however, I’ve struggled.

I’ve noticed my patience has gotten shorter with my kids. I haven’t been the kind of husband I want to be. My ability to deal with stress almost seems to be diminishing. I’ve felt spiritually fragile. As I’ve tried to understand what’s happening inside of me, I’ve come back to the question: what is really motivating me to build, grow, and achieve? What is driving me?

In 2013, I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work. It was exhilarating. We pitched the idea to a handful of donors. They started giving and we took off. Beginning in January of 2014, we hosted over 600 people at 6 events over 7 months. More donors came, and we eventually hired a communications director and event director. In 2016, we launched the 5280 Fellowship, our flagship program for emerging leaders in theology, work and culture. Recently, we launched a new online learning platform called Scatter. For a few years, everything looked up and to the right.

Last year, however, I hit a wall. I was doing too much. I was connected in too many spots. I felt exhausted. The this-is-cool thing wore off, and I thought of tossing in the towel. So we restructured. I gave more responsibility to my COO who now leads our internal operations. We built more systems to stabilize and bring about trust and accountability. 

Yet even with the changes, I’ve realized that something inside of me is driving me – something that I wish would quiet down. There’s a good desire in me to build, create, make a positive impact on my city. But there’s also something that’s unhealthy that is bubbling under the surface.

What is it? What really motivates me? What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

At a recent gathering of the Entrepreneur’s Forum at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I asked that question to a room of 60 founders and early stage entrepreneurs. Stories emerged.

One founder in Denver built a recruiting company. He told me many of the CEOs he works for come home to their families with significant stress, principally because of staffing issues. In a tight labor market like Denver, entry-level employees are tough to come by – and tough to keep. Sometimes they don’t show up, can’t get to work, or they have some kind of personal issue. And at the end of the day, the company can’t fulfill orders due to personnel problems, and it’s the CEOs responsibility.  

And so one day I asked my friend, “Why don’t they simply invest more in their frontline employees? Wouldn’t this help to retain their labor and help fix their biggest headache?”

My friend shared with me over coffee that every single CEO he works with says they would invest 10% of their salary if they could solve their staffing issues. But when the time comes, the vast majority don’t. Why?

“Because when you start making over $1 million dollars a year,” my friend at the recruiting company posited, “and you drop below that mark, you feel like you’re failing. And so they protect their salary even if it’s causing them and those around them pain.”

They feel like they’re failing. Though I couldn’t identify with making over $1 million a year, I could identify with the feeling of failure – no matter what had happened in my organization last month.  Oddly enough, after I publish a big article or pull off a big event for business leaders, this is precisely the time in the year when I feel like I’m failing the most.

After the big deal is done, so many of founders I know feel like they’re failing deeply. Why is this? Where does the feeling of failure come from?

What is really driving so much of our entrepreneurship? I believe that its fundamentally about our identity. Too many of us are trying to prove our worth in a world that seems empty of it.

At one of the early small groups at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum, over lunch we shared about how we see ourselves. One day, the topic of our fathers came up. This particular group happened to be mostly men, and a full three quarters of us realized we had really significant issues with our dads and significant pain we’ve taken into adulthood. We realized in our conversation that there’s a part of us that’s longing to be recognized. Because it wasn’t there early in life, there’s something inside of us that keeps driving us. To go, create, achieve. To prove our worth. We simply want somebody to notice out of an internal voice that incessantly says, “It’s never enough.”

No success is ever enough to fill the void within.

Culturally, I believe we’re in a weird spot with entrepreneurship. We have a hero complex we’ve built around entrepreneurs. They’re the formable founders who fuel the economy, suffer the pains of a startup, and finally “make it” and either sell or IPO. They sacrifice their bodies, their relationships, their minds, their time – everything – for the sake of their startup.  

Whenever I hear those stories, I must confess, they sound like a savior story. Both the founder – and their fans – are really longing for salvation. 

I’ve come to believe that Christianity can offer all entrepreneurs – including myself – the only, final healthy motive for building a business. That foundation is this: in Christ, your identity is already spoken for. It cannot change. It is never at risk. Your success or your failures can’t touch it.

Recently a video of 10-year-old Ivey Zezulka made its way around the internet. It was of a girl who just realized she was going to be adopted. Her adoptive parents gave her a package. When she opened the package, she read a picture frame and said, “I’m going to be adopted?” And when she said this she covered her mouth and began to cry. And so did I.

Why? Because not only do kids in the foster system struggle with deep, internal narratives of who will really accept me – but I do, too. When I am completely exposed and internally sense that I’m a failure who will never really amount to much, where do I turn?

This is the critical difference that Christianity can offer entrepreneurs that no other religion or worldview can offer.

Jesus says to entrepreneurs, “You are mine. All the work has been done through my death and resurrection. You can add nothing to it and take nothing from it. Now be free. To work. To create. To build a business. To fail. No matter what, you no longer need to prove yourself. You are now a part of the family. Your identity is spoken for. You are mine. You are home.”

The freedom for the faith-motivated entrepreneur is that in Christ, all the work is finally finished. Our work, then, is simply to listen, obey, and to tend the vine given to us. And when it grows, to marvel at the handiwork of the Gardener.

This post first appeared on Faith Driven Entrepreneur and was based on a talk I gave at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum.  

Image credit: Inc

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BusinessEconomyWork

Faith and Entrepreneurship

 

Two weeks ago I shared with our newly formed “Entrepreneur’s Forum,” a quarterly gathering of founders and early stage investors in the Denver area. The topic was faith and entrepreneurship, and I laid out what I thought were three starting points for thinking about entrepreneurship as a Christian: Creation, Fall, and the Great Commandment.

Here’s the audio. Eventually, the audio and the Powerpoint will be available on our new learning platform at Scatter.org.

Enjoy.

 

 

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BusinessEconomyWork

Am I an Imposter? The Weary Souls of Entreprenuers

 

Banks Benitez said it perfectly.

When I was interviewing Banks about his work as the VP of Global Expansion at the Unreasonable Institute, a start-up school for social entrepreneurs, one of his founders shared about what it feels like to be an entrepreneur: “It’s like I just joined the very front of the parade and people are cheering me on.”

He continued, “Today it seems like entrepreneurship is almost this embodiment of the American dream. You have this small idea and then you figure it out along the way and you grow and become really wealthy and successful – and you’ll also solve a global problem. Everybody wants you to become like Tesla, and the world is cheering you on…”

But on the inside, being an entrepreneur is fraught with emotional pain and difficulty. One of his founders said in a post-experience survey, “I don’t deserve to have this platform. People don’t really know who I am, and once they really find out who I am they’re going to be unimpressed.”

That’s it. Exactly.

I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work in 2012. As I look back, I think it was a combination of luck and lots of God’s grace. Board members joined, a handful of donors got behind the idea, and we started holding public events. It was odd at our first event to say, “We at Denver Institute…” What is Denver Institute? Just a fiction? We have only a couple thousand dollars in the bank, and yet I’m acting like this is somehow real?

As the organization grew, we began to hire a few staff, got a foundation to underwrite much of our work, and moved into our office. And it was a very odd feeling: in the period of 12 months I went from working in an old, decaying shopping mall at a small Christian school to getting connected to millionaires and city leaders. What just happened to me?

My public persona was growing – often despite myself – and yet tension followed me almost every single day. I would watch the bank account. “We have exactly 6 months until we’re out of money, and then we close the doors, I would think to myself.” Where am I going to get more money to keep this going? Donors, staff are depending on me…

I felt a strain on my relationship with my wife, and with my kids. My work had been consuming. Until one day, divinely, my six-year-old daughter even called me out for making my work an idol.  I felt an acute sense of shame.

And I got into this work because I’m driven by a conviction, that I could solve a key problem in the world. But now I’m leading a staff team, reading P&L statements, trying to manage sales with operations with finance, and I’m afraid to let me know know I don’t really know what I’m doing. I feel like a top that is spinning, and is soon to tip over.

​The contrast between my internal world and my external reputation was creating a chasm, often void of peace and hope… and of God.

Imposter. Once they found out who I really am…

A couple years in, I realized I wasn’t alone. One article in The Economist called it Founder’s blues. All of us founders are filled with energy and entrepreneurial fury. But underneath the fervor is a world of uncertainty. “In the morning you feel everything is on the right track and in the evening everything seems in the gutter,” said Shawn Zvinis, the co-founder of Tab, a London startup which eventually closed down.  The stress can sometimes even become grimmer. Tragically, some entrepreneurs buckle under the pressure and take their own lives. This happened to an entrepreneur in Denver just last year.

As I searched for answers, I was both glad to see the problem being acknowledged – but I found the answers coming from the secular world were painfully insufficient. Much of the counsel coming to entrepreneurs takes into account how to build a lean start-up or access venture capital, but little of the questions that were plaguing my soul. How long can I sustain this kind of life? What will I do if I fail? Where is God in this process (didn’t he call me to start this, anyway)? Who am I becoming? Good advice or tropes like “fail fast” weren’t enough.

Because these questions were gnawing away at my soul, this spring I decided to gather a group of friends and peers to talk about “Caring for the Soul of Entrepreneurs,” one of our breakout sessions at the June 15 event “For Whose Glory: Exploring Faithful Practice in Life, Leadership and Business.”

Of course, I invited Banks, my friend, a 5280 Fellow, and a key leader at the Unreasonable Institute. I also invited Reilly Flynn, Managing Partner at GAN Ventures and fellow follower of Christ. As a venture capitalist, Reilly works with entrepreneurs every day. And as he evaluates new deals, he also recognizes that entrepreneurs are people, with hopes and dreams and frailties and failures.

My Tuesday morning prayer partner, John Paasonen, CEO of tech start-up Maxwell, will also be there (assuming kid #2 doesn’t arrive on that day!). As a Duke MBA, former executive for American Express and PayPal, he came to the start-up world with a unique resume and amount of experience. Yet still, the tension of spending investment capital, hiring staff, and scrambling for new customers, even amidst having a killer product – well, he’s felt what we all do this space. Tension.

I also invited both Henry Kaestner, founder of Sovereign’s Capital, and his colleague, Russell Bjorkman, to join us. Sovereign’s is unique: not only do they work exclusively with Christian entrepreneurs, but their unique niche in this space is caring for the souls and emotional health of their entrepreneurs. Reilly has said that Henry is one of the most faithful thinkers/practitioners in the land on this topic.

Finally, my friend Drew Yancey, who is President of Yancey’s, a food service company, and doing a PhD in both theology and business right now, will be there facilitating the discussion. His research interest in the moral formation of entrepreneurs – yet his heart has also been deeply impacted by his own failures in the world of entrepreneurship.

The Front Range lacks a place for Christian entrepreneurs to come together both for business support and spiritual direction. As a nonprofit entrepreneur who has felt the tensions of both heart and hand, spirit and strategy, I hope this small gathering is the beginning of something bigger… for the sake of our city, and, quite selfishly, for my own life.

Photo credit: Exhaustion

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Nonprofit

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams”: An Interview with Randy Samelson

 

“I have a dream!” It wasn’t only Martin Luther King, Jr. who said those words. Every entrepreneur – whether in a business or a nonprofit – has dreamed of building a great organization and accomplishing an inspiring vision.

But most of those dreams hit a few speed bumps on the way. And too many dreams are often left to “someday,” and never see the light of day. Randon (Randy) Samelson, the founder of Counsel & Capital, has spent a lifetime around Christian leaders. His new book, Breakthrough: Unleashing the Power of a Proven Plan, was written for dreamers who want to actually see their aspirations accomplished. In this interview, Samelson shares about his career as an investor, a strategy for accomplishing any vision, and why King David’s own plan to build the temple should guide those who still dream today. 

What in your personal work experience motivated you to write Breakthrough?

I’ve spent much of my life surrounded by Christian leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs. Almost all have had great and noble dreams. But at some point, all of them have been “stuck.” They have a goal, but they can’t seem to reach it. I’ve seen this with my friends and my children too, and even I have experienced the frustration of feeling “stuck.”

Some years ago, I read the Bible story of King David and Solomon. David had a dream of building a great Temple. I noticed that he followed a simple, six-step sequence to complete it, and along the way, he never seemed to get “stuck.” I was stunned when I realized that those same six-steps are where most people I’ve ever known have tripped up and become “stuck.”

So I decided to write Breakthrough to demonstrate how relevant the Bible is today, and how the story of David and Solomon can help people become unstuck. The more I’ve studied that story, and the more I’ve helped people who feel “stuck,” the more I’ve realized that following those six-steps can greatly enhance your ability to achieve your dream. I’ve realized that the Bible contains a perfect blueprint for turning dreams into realities.

Can you further explain the gap you often find between ‘right-brained’ ministry leaders and ‘left-brained’ business leaders?

The human brain has two hemispheres – the “left brain,” which is largely analytical and sequential, and the “right brain,” which is largely intuitive. In each person, one side usually dominates (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) and this affects how he or she processes and responds to information.

Not surprisingly, many “left-brainers” pursue professions that complement their method of thinking: bankers, scientists, lawyers, accountants, and so on. Similarly, many “right-brainers” find themselves best suited for more creative endeavors: artists, writers, counselors, etc. This isn’t the rule, of course, but it’s often the norm.

I’ve seen this pattern in the Christian community. Very often, ministries are led by creative, passionate “right-brainers,” but their major donors are very often “lefties.” I regularly have ministry leader’s call to say, “We have great ideas, but we don’t have enough money,” while at the same time, wealthy donors call to say, “I have money and a desire to give, but I lack confidence in most nonprofits.” There’s a gap separating both groups, and it’s often because each side speaks a slightly different language based on right or left-brain thinking.

Thus, I believe the biggest opportunity is building bridges of confidence between these left-brain donors and ministries, while still maintaining their effective outreach to right-brain donors.

What can King David and his calling to build the Temple teach nonprofit executives about accomplishing their mission?

First, rely on the wisdom found in the Bible. King David had a dream that was an enormous and remarkable undertaking for his time. Not only did he achieve his dream, but his Temple remains a wonder of the ancient world, and still sits in the center stage of human history. King David followed six simple steps to turn his dream into a reality. Your dream may not be to build a Temple, but it’s still worthwhile to study the sequence David followed. No matter how big your dream, you can (and should) follow the same six steps:

  1. An Inspiring Vision
  2. A Credible Plan
  3. The Right Leader
  4. Initial Funding
  5. Going Public
  6. Sharing Credit

Breakthrough walks readers through these steps in detail, but anyone can start by reading the full story in 1 Chronicles 28-29. Understanding and applying this simple process will change your life and empower you to turn your dream into reality.

How does the model you laid out influence the strategy of Counsel and Capital? 

First, we apply the six-step strategy to ourselves, and then we advocate it for others. We always start by asking our “key log” question, a concept we picked up from the logging industry. A long time ago, loggers discovered that the easiest way to transport felled trees is to put them in rivers and float them downstream. This is usually an efficient and effective method, but logjams inevitably occur somewhere. Instead of tackling the whole mess, the workers instead hunt for the  “key log” – that one log causing the problem that, once removed, untangles the logjam.

We apply the same concept to individuals and ministries who are stuck or trapped in their own version of a logjam. So we ask them, “What one opportunity or obstacle, if captured or removed, would most advance your vision?” Usually, “money” is somewhere in the answer. But money is rarely the real problem.

So we work through the same six-step sequence until we find a problem or deficiency. Almost always, we find that the “key log” is in one of those six steps. And once that key log is identified and addressed, most ministries experience bursts of progress that get them back on track and out of their original logjam.

What practical advice would you give either business leaders or nonprofit leaders who have a dream they want to accomplish? 

Read our book Breakthrough – Unleashing the Power of a Proven Plan. The single best piece of advice I can offer anyone with a dream is to follow David’s six-step sequence, in order. Start with a personal, inspiring, clear, and measurable vision. Follow that with a detailed, credible plan. Then, make sure your dream has the right leader. Secure initial funding first, and only then go public. Finally, share credit with those who helped you along the way. David followed the same six steps, in order, when he pursued his dream of building the Temple. If you have a dream, start by following the same sequence.

Beyond this, let me offer a few final pieces of advice. As hard as it may be, don’t jump from your vision or dream right to broad, public fundraising. I know that impatience is difficult to tackle, but planning is absolutely critical. Don’t make the mistake of skipping or skimping on your plan, and always put your plan in writing. If planning isn’t your strong suit, ask for help from someone who knows how to do it.

Finally, stay focused. Don’t chase the latest trends or hottest fundraising need. Build no more than three operating “silos” for your nonprofit. Know exactly what you want to do and then, to quote Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”

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Work

The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma

 

I sat in the car, waiting for my next appointment. I was about to meet with two CEOs back-to-back. My bag was filled with literature for my start-up. And I was ready to take the stage.

That’s what it feels like, becoming an entrepreneur. Taking the stage. After months of work, day and night, you put yourself out there to sink or swim. You believe in your idea whole-heartedly, almost to the point of being surprised that others don’t see as you do. But in the midst of the risk, the excitement, a temptation can worm its way into our hearts: I am my idea. 

Several months ago, I remember speaking with a pastor in Boulder who works with young tech entrepreneurs. The temptation for entrepreneurs is to so wholly identify with their new start-up that their soul becomes bound up with the new venture’s success. This is the entrepreneur’s dilemma.

Usually one of two things happen: (1) We are successful. We get the venture capital, our insane hours produce a killer product that takes off. The cash begins to pour in. We believe those who reverently call us “founder,” and soon we begin to whisper to ourselves, “Look what I have done.” And pride begins its cancerous growth. Or, conversely, (2) We fail. Either we get the venture capital and the product flops, or the idea never takes off at all. And because our identity has become so tied in with our logo, our website, the global impact we had envisioned, when the business crumbles, so do we. This failure can lead to caverns of isolation, despair, or a simmering cynicism that bubbles over into subtle anger toward the world who couldn’t see our “true genius.”

Being an entrepreneur myself, I have acutely felt both of these temptations – pride and fear, desire for glory and the specter of failure. But as I sat in the car that day, waiting for my two appointments, I turned on the radio. A song came on, and as I was listening to it, it was if I was experiencing a small taste of a Beauty so much larger and more soul-delighting than a mere song. As I offered a quiet prayer before my appointments with the two CEOs, all of a sudden I felt a rush of emotion. I felt point to a Beauty beyond me, a Beauty so rich, so filled with life, that I remember thinking: He is my great treasure, my eternal song, and he is mine, all mine. He can never be taken from me.

As I grabbed my bag, got up from my seat and shut my car door, I remembered a quote from C.S. Lewis: “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.” That is, the Christian with wealth, power, prestige, pleasure – “everything” – has no more than the Christian with none of those things.

As both my pride and my fear began to melt away, I came to see what I wish all entrepreneurs could see: Christ himself is already the highest treasure and sweetest gift. So, if I succeed, and I can build my new venture to mythic proportions, I will have no more than what I have now. I can be no wealthier, and have no more enduring happiness than here, in this moment. And if I fail, and all my plans come crashing down, I will still have all the riches of heaven, for they are a gift that cannot be taken from me. As St. Patrick said, “Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.”

It’s here that the Christian faith is the truest and best support for both entrepreneurs and economic development in general. The Christian faith is based solely on God’s gift of grace. And when risk-taking entrepreneurs bring His grace into their hearts, they neither ruin themselves nor others by their new enterprises, because they become neither prideful CEOs or despairing “failures.” Instead, they are liberated to both risk everything and, ironically, nothing at all, for their greatest treasure is secure.

On a societal level, I believe Christians have the best reason of all to take big risks. Secular humanism means the risks are real and failure can crush the human person with no reference point beyond him or herself. And it can often lead to Founder’s Blues, an all too common emotional roller coaster that can swell egos but also can lead to suicidal bouts of depression. But for the Christian, to win all or to lose all are both minuscule in comparison to the unsurpassed gift of God himself.

It’s been noted that entrepreneurs are the fuel of the modern economy. What risk. What reward. What responsibility to fuel our modern way of life. But I’ve come to believe that it’s only in the Christian story that an entrepreneur can truly answer take risks without damaging his very soul and ultimately those around him – for in Christ, he already has his great reward.

It is with this confidence that I walked into those corporate offices that day. But the confidence was certainly not in my own ability. But it was with a deep sense of peace that offering my idea was not the same as offering myself. I could confidently share my business plan, and our future prospects, and not try to wrangle him for money or support. Instead, I held my idea loosely, with a balance of eager expectation and an openness to a future that is ultimately in the hands of the One who gave me this idea in the first place.

If I had just thirty seconds with every entrepreneur, I would share with him this mystery. I would give him a soul-filling reason to work, to risk, to build a new business. I would tell him: “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.

Photo: Entrepreneur