Startups cultivate break-through ideas. They cause catastrophic disruption to established markets. They smash through incredible barriers on their way to changing the world. Whatever they are doing, it’s a good bet they’ve never done it before. Startups break new ground and get really excited at the prospect of doing it.
Is it surprising that startups are so chaotic?
Entreprenuers are agents of chaos. They are enemies to the status quo.
To help bring some order to this chaos, I created the FounderSensei Order.
If you’ve been reading my posts lately, it’s obvious I’m using a Star Wars framework to explain the FounderSensei Apprenticeship program. This is not just because I happen to like Star Wars. As it turns out, Star Wars is the perfect metaphor for the entrepreneur’s journey. If you look closely at it, I think you will see the parallels.
So, yes, the FounderSensei Order is modeled after the Jedi Order. Hey, when I choose a metaphor, I commit to it!
Even in chaos, every entrepreneur has his or her opportunities for improvement. The FounderSensei Order is a personal progression framework we use in the program.
There are five levels to the FounderSensei Order.
Newbie. A Newbie is a first-time entrepreneur who is new to the principles of Insight-Driven Iteration. A Newbie can come from any background and can be of any age. Newbies can have skills in one or more of the following areas: hacker, designer, hustler or product visionary.
I recommend everyone start as a Newbie, even if you are an accomplished entrepreneur. Approaching something new with a beginner’s mindset is always a good place to start.
Apprentice. An Apprentice is a Founder of an active startup who understands the principles of Insight-Driven Iteration, and is actively applying the principles to his startup. An Apprentice is constantly working to improve his skills and master his craft.
An Apprentice can pass a written test on the principles taught in the Basic Training class. He has created his first startup and is actively toiling away on his business and his craft. He works under the guidance of a Sensei. Their collective goal is to find a scalable, repeatable business model and validate it with real data.
Sensei. A Sensei is an entrepreneur who has created and validated a scalable, repeatable business model that has generated at least $250k in annual cash flow.
The ultimate measure of scalable & repeatable is customer traction, strong unit economics and profitability. $250k is a reasonably successful standard for a startup, particularly a bootstrap startup. Once the business reaches this level, the Founders have options - they can grow organically or raise money under favorable terms.
Master Sensei. The only way to become a Master Sensei is to help an Apprentice become a Sensei. It doesn’t matter how many successful businesses you create. You can only be a Master by helping another entrepreneur become a Sensei.
The power of helping those who come after you is the fabric that binds the FounderSensei program together. The only path to becoming a Master Sensei is by helping others. Helping an Apprentice become Sensei is expected of every Sensei.
Personally, I think this is the coolest element of the FounderSensei Order. Imagine the power of this concept across tens, hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands Senseis. An army of Apprentices, Senseis and Master Senseis, working together to change the world for the better through the businesses they build and create. Awesome.
Grand Master Sensei. This designation is reserved for the highest level Master Senseis. No one yet holds this title.
As the Founder of FounderSensei, I put myself at the Sensei level. I’ve created six startups. I had one failure and grew four to at least $250K in annual cash flow. The sixth is still a work in progress, but it will be successful.
However, I’ve never served as a Sensei for another entrepreneur that has become a Sensei in their own right. So, I don’t qualify to be a Master Sensei. I definitely don’t qualify as a Grand Master Sensei. My current focus is becoming the best Master Sensei I can be.
If FounderSensei grows beyond its current form, I believe its imperative to maintain the standards set by the FounderSensei Order. There are simply no exceptions to this standard. These are some of the few rules that will never be broken.
Collectively, the FounderSensei Order helps define where the entrepreneur is in their journey. It provides a personal benchmark for every entrepreneur in the program. It sets a standard for what it means to be a Sensei and a simple test for reaching each level. Importantly, it contains a mechanism and a process where more experienced entrepreneurs are required to help those who are born later.
The FounderSensei Order helps all of us learn, teach and learn again.