The 4 main mindsets you need as a founder (and how to cultivate them)

Future Founders Wanted: long days, low pay, years of hustling, endless uncertainty. Any outcome above $0 highly unlikely, billions $, and prestige in event of success.

Welcome, Melissa Kargiannakis here. I’m a former founder myself and have coached > 600 founders through early traction to raise their first $1M - $10M. Coupling my experience with hundreds of examples leads me to deliver this list: the 4 main mindsets you need as a founder (and how to cultivate them).  

  1. Delusional belief in yourself
  2. Unrelenting hustle
  3. Insatiable curiosity
  4. Inspiring & motivating leadership

If you came here to learn how to train your mind to become a rockstar founder, then you’re in exactly the right place. Buckle up!

1. Delusional Belief in Yourself

What is it?

You have to actually believe that you can become a billionaire. Yes, BILLIONAIRE, with a B. If you genuinely believe this without any proof that you could possibly do this – congratulations, you have delusional belief in yourself. Exactly what you need to succeed.

There’s no such thing as too young: I came up with my company idea at 23. I didn’t even say it out loud until 24, when I began exploring if it even existed. By 25 I finally had the confidence to legally incorporate after winning an award from The Queen of England—a story for another time—and exactly 2 years later I raised enough money to quit my job. 2 months after that I moved to San Francisco and never left.

I wish I took the risk to legally incorporate at 23 the minute I had the idea. If you’re reading this in your early 20s, know that you too can do this. My biggest regret is waiting as long as I did to start. Don’t wait. Start today. 

How do you get it?

  • Don’t look back: your past won’t help you. Nothing you have done to this moment will even remotely be on the scale that you’re about to operate on.
  • Verbal affirmations: I use the 5-min Journal consistently since 2018 and write my I AM statements. I write and read out loud my I AM statements. It makes a surprising difference.
  • Visual cues: I love me some chart paper. Everywhere I’ve lived, I get out my sharpies and cover my walls with inspiring affirmations, my I AM statements, listing my big goals, and colorful vision boards going out 3 years, 5, 10, and 20 years.
  • Call on your community: There were absolutely mini-moments of YIKES where I would point blank text my besties “You believe I can do this right? I can do this? Please help remind me that I can!” The responses were overwhelmingly wonderful. 
  • “In times of trouble” folder / album: Every time someone says something nice to me (whether solicited or not) I screenshot it and save it to this folder on my phone. It’s now 637 screenshots strong dating back to November 2017. We all have moments of doubt. These nuggets from your community can help remind you who you are.

2. Unrelenting Hustle

What is it? 

As a founder you have to be insanely resourceful and hustle your way through the impossible. You have to fail endlessly and continue on. You must keep pushing beyond what you think is the end. This goes for product development, acquiring customers, and fundraising. How long do you think it will take to go from idea for first $$ in? How long do you think it should take? I guarantee any number you just thought of needs to be multiplied, many times over. 

Unless you are ridiculously privileged (think trust fund kid or all-star Ivy-leaguer) or even basic privileged (your family paid for at least some of your college)—of which I was neither, it is extremely difficult to break into the networks you need to be able to fundraise. I know many founders who took 2-3 years to raise their first $1M. It took me 2 years of hustling to just get my first cheque (Canadian spelling always 🇨🇦).

But once you get going, momentum is a beautiful thing. I brought in my first $1M between investment and sweet, sweet sales within the first year of being full-time on my funded start-up—but it took 2 years of grinding with no results to get to that faster progress. Do you have the stamina to do the same thing for YEARS with limited or arguably minimal progress? Over and over, and over again? THAT is unrelenting hustle. 

How do you get it?

  • Sports & music are great primers: Think of how many shots on goal you had to practice before you got that game-winning goal. Only 0.006% of the shots that Stephen Curry has made in his career were even in a game. READ THAT AGAIN. Stephen Curry has made 16,000 shots in a game in his NBA career. Sounds like a lot? He’s shot more than 22,000,000, yes 22 MILLION, in total. How many hours did you spend going note by note until you could play something beautifully from memory? How slow did you have to go starting the metronome at 60 then up to 110.
  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way: tapping into your delusional belief in yourself you have to turn believe into action. Take all the positive thoughts and write the email, google the business tips, work on your lean business model canvas. Do at least one thing every day that moves your business forward. 
  • Innate nurtured: I do believe that some hustle is innately within us. And it often comes from the environment (nurture) of being uncomfortable or facing challenging circumstances. Those experiences make you want to be more, do more, and have more. Probably because once upon a time you didn’t have much. This is the underlying science for part of why people like cold plunges so much these days. It forces them to “suffer”, you need the mental steel to do hard things.

3. Insatiable Curiosity

What is it?

Start-ups are the ultimate “figure it out” test. You will become responsible for: marketing, product development, hiring, firing, investor management, and more overnight. There’s no way that any one human can do all those things extraordinarily well, that’s why we have CEOs, CMOs, CPO, CTOs, CFOs, CIOs, and on, and on, and on. But in a start-up, someone’s gotta do it. And if you’re the founder, that someone is you. 

  • Don’t know how to build financial projections? Find a template online. 
  • Don’t know how to do growth marketing? Take a Reforge course.
  • Don’t know how to fundraise? Work with me.  🙃
  • Don’t know how to build a product? Google it. 

How do you get it?

  • The Internet: seriously. I realize this is probably preaching to the choir, but even back in 2009 / 2010 if I didn’t know how to do something—I Googled it. Plain and simple. Today, it’s a no-brainer with a how-to YouTube for ANYTHING and content creators galore. You don’t know how to do something you need to do to move your company forward? Figure it out. 
  • Solutions-oriented: when you believe in the possible, you’re always looking for solutions. Your mindset is all about HOW DO I [fill in the blank], rather than freaking out about all the things you don’t know how to do. 
  • Caring: if you actually care about what you’re doing, care about delivering a return for your investors, and care about delivering an outcome for your team then you will be curious enough to figure out how to do it. 

4. Inspiring & motivating leadership

What is it?

The Smithsonian says this a myth, but it’s one of my favourite myths, so we’re going to pretend it’s real. (Canadian spelling again 🇨🇦).  Have you ever seen the old time-y advertisement for Ernest Shackleton’s crew to sail to Antarctica?  “Men wanted for a hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in event of success.” This is what start-ups are. You are asking people to literally do the impossible.

Because you have delusional belief in yourself. There will be long days, low pay, years of hustling, endless uncertainty. Any outcome above $0 is highly unlikely, billions $$, and prestige in event of success. This is what being a founder is. This is what you are signing up for. And frankly, for the first few years, this is what you are convincing the first ~20 people to do too. When you genuinely believe that everything you’re doing is so world-changing that you’ll become a billionaire—it’s only a matter of time—then, it’s easy to exude the confidence you need to win over the various stakeholders necessary to build a company. 

How do you get it?

  • Sports & music again + clubs: Ever been team captain? Or lead in a show? Did you run the fringe “mimes” club at university? Leading people, even peers, builds this muscle. If you could convince your team what plays to run, or how hard you had to work together to make a comeback in a championship game – then you’re developing leadership. I was President or Vice-President of every club / students’ council you could think of in university and this taught me how to inspire others to action. 
  • Toastmasters: have you ever heard of this? I hadn’t either until I was 24 years old. Toastmasters clubs are INCREDIBLE. Join one. The concept is that every week or month you meet with a group of people and deliver impromptu speeches about anything. This approach is rooted in that notion that communication excellence requires consistent practice.
  • KYS - Know your stakeholders: KYC is a banking term for “know your customer” related to regulations. It applies here. The only way you can inspire someone to do something, is if you know what matters to them. Knowing what your future employees value vs what your future investors value, enables you to better persuade them to join your cause.  
  • Incentives Alignment: Everything is about incentives. We have a job to get paid to buy things that we need and want. We don’t break the law so we don’t go to jail. We buckle up in our cars to avoid hearing that annoying dinging sound (remember when we designed things for safety not just profit? Ah the good ol’ days, before my time). These are all incentives. Knowing your stakeholders and aligning incentives is everything.
  • Persuasion (aka SALES): there are countless books to read and million different techniques to try. Invest in yourself and become persuasive. Getting a sales job is a great starting point for a career–you’ll be come so resilient from all the rejection that being a founder won’t feel so bad.

If you want to learn how to become a founder and raise your first $1M to $10 million, click here to access Melissa's "So You Wanna be a Founder?" course.

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