Over the past decade, innovation has shaped our economy and tremendously impacted our lives. It’s been globalized and democratized. The cost of starting a tech company has become dramatically lower and more and more people are choosing the entrepreneurial route rather than working for a company. This phenomenon accelerated during the age of covid-19, as technology has been adopted across the board, from enabling remote work to making healthcare a lot more seamless and personalized, among other technology trends.
Yet, the mental cost of building a company is huge. “Entrepreneurs want to change the world, it’s a daunting task,” states serial entrepreneur and investor Brad Feld who knows something about entrepreneurship. Feld started his first company when he was 19 and has been an entrepreneur and investor ever since. He is the cofounder of the Foundry Group, a venture capital fund based in Boulder as well as the cofounder of Techstars, one of America’s top startup accelerators.
Feld has written a number of books as part of the Startup Revolution series and his mission to help other startup founders succeed. In his new book The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors co-authored with Dave Jilk, his writing has evolved to become philosophical unlike his previous books, which were more practical.
So what’s different about this book? Well, it’s all about introspection for entrepreneurs as they go through their journey. “I teamed up with my long time friend and business partner Dave Jilk, who went deep on philosophy and specifically Nietzsche for the past 10 years. We spent many weekends in the mountains and he’d read me quotes from the book and asked me, hey, does this seem relevant for entrepreneurs? I realized that there’s a lot there that applies to entrepreneurship and leadership. And that’s how it all started.”
Most entrepreneurs start a company with a dream to disrupt an industry by creating a product or service that hasn’t been there before. Feld sees a direct correlation between this and Nietzsche’s philosophy. “While writing the book, I realized that Nietzsche is fascinating as he’s extraordinarily misunderstood where people take very strong positions, both positive and negative of him. He was an incredible disruptor and bold thinker just like entrepreneurs are. Startup founders want to change the world and disrupt the established norm. Nietzsche was all about that.”
Feld and Jilk took 52 Nietzsche quotes for each week of the year and wrote them in contemporary English, while providing a short essay applying it to a specific part of the entrepreneurial journey. Their idea here with the book is not to tell founders what to do, but rather be thought-provoking. “It’s about providing entrepreneurs with a way to contemplate how to build their business and their entrepreneurial experience,” states Feld.
This is reflected in an early chapter titled “Finding Your Way.” Nietzsche says, “‘This—is now MY way,—where is yours?’ Thus did I answer those who asked me ‘the way.’ For THE way—it does not exist!” Feld and Jilk translate this to “In other words: People often ask me how to do something. I tell them how I do it, but then I ask them how they’re going to do it. Because there is no one way to do something.”
In the book, entrepreneurs share experiences and provide the narrative for one of the 52 quotes. Some are household names, like Reid Hoffman, cofounder and executive chairman of LinkedIn who wrote the foreword and coined the phrase “Nietzsche is the patron philosopher of entrepreneurs.” However, many others are virtually unknown, early founders, which makes the content even more compelling. That is especially important here since there are many types of entrepreneurs looking to disrupt the norm. Some are first timers, while others are serial.
Given the philosophical approach of the book, I challenged Feld to share his thoughts on who would benefit the most from reading it. He believes it’s relevant to all founders across the board:
“This book is very valuable to the first time entrepreneur as this experience is completely new to them and there’s not a lot of time for introspection when you’re doing it for the first time. The experienced entrepreneur can easily relate to the stories, they’ve been through all of it. In addition, the narratives speak to aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders on the leadership team who are not founders. Our book highlights the blind spots that non-founders typically don’t see.”
When Nietzsche was alive, mental health didn’t get the attention it receives today. In our fast-paced environment, this is an issue at the heart of companies in growth mode, as the well-being of human capital has never been more important. Feld is very vocal on the issue of mental health and has given focus to the topic in the book including chapters on gratitude, persistence, obsession and reflection. “I’ve been open over the years about my own struggles with anxiety and depression as an entrepreneur. If you looked my life from the outside everything was going great but there were a series of things that got me into a depression and once I was out of it I realized that there was so much stigma around this issue in entrepreneurship and business, and I decided that one of my goals was to eliminate that stigma.”
With this book, Feld uncovers another layer in his mission and approach to democratizing entrepreneurship all over the world. Nietzsche plays a surprising role here, one that helps readers look at their entrepreneurial journey in a different light.