Are You an Employee or a Founder?

If you search on the differences between a "founder" and an "employee", you will see a lot of articles on start-ups, shares of stock, being an entrepreneur, etc.  And if we look at the definition of a founder, it is someone who establishes or creates.  Ironically, the verb form of the word means to fill with water and sink.  I'm sure there are some founders of start-ups that first established and created, and then sank, but let's not go there.

old row boat

The definition of an employee is someone who does work for a business or another person for pay.  So with those two definitions in mind, let's take this in a different direction and see how to apply this to corporate life and being an engineer.

Well, the first question is, are you an employee or a founder?  If you work in a business of any size, your answer is probably that you are an employee.  So the more interesting question is, do you act like an employee or a founder?  And more importantly, how do you think your answer affects your career trajectory?

Many of us are employees by definition and we like the benefits of being employees in a business that is not our own.  We don't need to find customers, we don't need to worry about sales and marketing, how to distribute pay checks, and all the other business aspects that you would have to consider when running your own business.  But in a corporation, if you truly want to see your career grow, you need to stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like a founder.  Treat your company like it is your very own.  Now I don't mean go make crazy decision at work because you are going to pretend like you are in control of the company.  But what I do mean is that you should take more interest in the direction of the company.  A founder cares about the products that get produced, they care about their customers, they care about spending company money, and their work is a part of their life.  They don't separate out their work time from the time they aren't at work.  In their minds, founders are always thinking about their work, how to make their products better, how to make their customers happier.  And then when they are at work, they go make those things happen.

If you think like you are only an employee, you are limiting your potential.  You'll approach problems as a follower of others instead of a leader.  You will miss opportunities where you could step up and be accountable for something important.  As an employee, you truly go to work to get paid and to do what you are tasked to do.  And maybe for some folks, that is enough.  But if you truly want to differentiate yourself from your peers, act like a founder.  Care more about the success of the company and not the thickness of your wallet or the time spent doing "work".  If you have a difficult time wanting to act like a founder, then maybe you aren't in the right role or even at the right company.  If you don't have the passion to make the business that you are working in great, you may want to reconsider your career direction and make a shift in your job (and therefore your perspective) so that you can find an opportunity that will give you the desire to go from an employee to a founder.

In the next day, watch how you do your work.  How do you approach it?  Look for places where you respond to problems like an employee and think about how you may change your response or jump more deeply into a discussion when you act like a founder.  Having that added commitment to do quality work and do it for the sole reason of making the company great should help you grow in your career.  Therefore, remember to help establish and create like a founder so that you don't fill with water and sink.

boats at sunrise