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Start a Company – F the Rules

| December 10, 2010 | 20 Comments

middle finger: f the rules

I am a 28 year old start-up CEO. Last week I read an article titled “the 57 things I learned starting 3 tech companies.” While the list was brilliant, the human brain can only simultaneously hold seven independent thoughts. I am going to assume that two of your seven sockets are already filled with (1) your own great start-up idea, and (2) love and lust or some combination of the two, and I will distill my lessons learned down to five ideas.

Lesson #1 – Do something you are passionate about.

Really. This is so important. My company, Ethical Ocean, is an online social marketplace which brings together the ideas, people and companies needed to drive a new era in ethical consumerism. Think of us as the “Ethical” I have been obsessed with sustainability for most of my conscious life. And guess what? My team of seven is equally as crazy about positive social change as I am. If you’re going to succeed with your new venture, you will need to live, eat and breathe it for the next five years. If it is something you are not genuinely passionate about, you will puke and you will fail.

Lesson #2 – Recruit your friends and colleagues.

My company started with two founders. Then we become three. Then five. Now seven. And guess what? None of us are being paid. We each put in between 15 and 50 hrs each week. Getting people behind your idea is important. As a CEO, you need to be a resource magnet. You need to be able to attract talent, money and ideas and the best place to start is your friends. If you cannot convince them to contribute your idea, you either do not have a very good idea, or you do not have enough friends. From your friends, pick the ones who are hard working, skilled, ambitious and with whom you love to spend time.

Lesson #3 – Get up Sunday Morning.

If your idea is not exciting enough to get you out of bed on Sunday morning, you did not pay attention to lesson #1. If you’re up Sunday morning, with nobody working with you, you’ve botched lesson #2. The Ethical Ocean team meets every Sunday from 10AM to 7PM in random coffee shops to crank on our project. It is amazing how much you can get done on Sunday before the rest of the world has recovered from their Saturday night hangovers.

Lesson #4 – Put your Money where your mouth is.

When we started Ethical Ocean, I had $40k in student debt. Yet, somehow I convinced my bank to extend my line of credit and I put $20k into the business. Better yet, my equally as impoverished team invested another $40k from their savings, credit cards, and day job salaries. Before this, we worked for a long time building the company without any money – these days were lax. The day we decided to write cheques was the day that things really started moving. Not to mention that investors will not even look at you if you do not have “skin in the game”.

Lesson #5 – F the Rules.

Ethical Ocean is doing it. We have hired our first full-time employee, we have recruited 160 great ethical vendors selling 1,700 products. We’ve recruited the CFO of Google to join our advisory board. Finally, revenue is starting to trickle in! Last week we received a term sheet for a 200k investment.

All this said, you would not believe how many people discouraged us from starting this company. “It’ll never work” or “you’re not going to quit your day job are you?” We are an unconventional company. We have 7 founders. We are all working part-time. We are totally democratic in our decision-making. We had a team sleep-over before our beta launch day (ghost stories included). If you’re going to succeed as CEO, you need to sponge up other people’s advice as much as you can, but you must NEVER get stuck in convention. Stay committed to your idea; be creative and resourceful. Do whatever strange things you need to do to make it work – even if it is against the norm.

Working on Ethical Ocean has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life –  and it is only just beginning. Here is the formula: find an idea you are passionate about, build a great team around you, get up and work Sunday morning, and put your money where your mouth is. While you’re at it, F the rules.

Chad Hamre is the CEO of and is based in Toronto, Canada. Follow Ethical Ocean on Facebook and Twitter.

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Category: Startup Advice

  • Ben Giordano

    Great read. I agree esp with #5 about doing whatever you need to do to make it work and going against the norms. I also would add that this is esp important and effective with a business built towards a local market. In the local setting standing out and doing something different is really your best way to get noticed, get talked about and get marketing working for you instead of you working for it. Keep it up!

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  • Morgan Barnhart

    SO SO true on all accounts. Fantastic article!!!

  • Armando Montelongo

    Even though I am not a CEO under 30, I’m still a CEO and understand and abide by these “rules”. These principles are the same for everyone. Thanks for the great article.

  • Jared O’Toole

    Glad you liked it Armando and thanks for the comment…remember Under30CEO is all about the mindset not necessarily the age!

  • Anonymous

    I think it all starts with #1. When I talk to someone and they don’t know what they want to do whether it be starting a company or finding a job I tell them to start by thinking about what would you do all day even if you weren’t getting paid (watching TV not included of course). Usually by answering this question you can start to figure out what you are truly passionate about. Unfortunately for me I can’t truly fulfill my #1 passion because I don’t know how to become a ESPN analyst.

    Check out out How To Make It Moments, a collection of resources and experiences of aspiring entrepreneurs and young professionals.

  • Armando Montelongo

    People will always tell you you that you ‘can’t’ do something. But it’s not up to them to decide your future, it’s up to you. So yes, F the rules.

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  • Jbaud23

    Good stuff I enjoyed reading it and some good points. I have two Ventures one I will be CFO of you can never go after your passions too much.

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  • Tony Ouwendyk

    If they weren’t already BRANDED, we would sign them up today! Like all entrepreneurs, the work is all the fun. Creativity is a Gift from The Creator of Everything. Why do YOU think HE, worked six days and nights straight to create the Seventh for man to take over His work forever and a Day? Ho loves to see what we can do with what He’s got to give us. And that should about eat up ALL the ‘Rest of Your Life’ doing what YOU got stored in YOUR head for DNA or Don’t Never Ask cause nobody else knows IN YOUR ‘WHY”? Why Me Lord? Cause YOUR NAME’s ——————
    ad Nobody does it better because Nobody else is Known by the Genes You wear or the ones You Share!

  • Owen

    I love lesson #3… I agree completely.  And it is no excuse to say you didn’t have the time. I read this article’-big-to-do-list and it really gave me good tips too. It helped me get organized and make my own time. You need to have passion to a successful entrepreneur, no question about that.

    Keep up the good work Under30CEO, I find your site very helpful!

  • David

    This article is ok, but is fundamentally flawed in some aspects. The first point- do something you are passionate about. I disagree with it. Let me explain… Doing what you love is all about you. Business is all about fulfilling the needs of others. If you start a business doing something you love, it is less likely to be focused on bringing something of value to others, instead you will be attempting to satisfy your own lifestyle, which is not the best way to build a successful company.

    For example, look at the site the guy who wrote this article has built. It’s a great site, but is there really going to be a big market for these types of items. I question how much money they will make. 7 foudners… for all of them to do well, the site has to make a lot of money. I don’t see this happening, because the market for green products is not as strong as regular goods, plus more and more stores are requiring their products to be sustainable (like Wal-Mart) so the differentiation is weakening. WHy do they need 7 people. I would have hired interns and outsourced a lot of work to India. This site is more likely to be successful if only one person was in charge. Working with friends is overrated. Separate business and pleasure unless absolutely necessary.

  • Anonymous

    Im 28 as well and have started my own company , 

    Love the attitude author if I had 5 people in my company with that mindset I could do some serious damage globally but sadly that attitude and mindset is seriously lacking in the North of Ireland.

    Its looking like im going to have to go to the US or Far East to raise some investment and bring the right people on board. 

    I keep pushing on, networking, searching for the right people to join the team because I know its a winner!

  • David Amerland

    Great advice from someone who is doing it. Success in business requires belief in your own vision first and foremost. Then a willingness to use all the tools at your disposal to make it go where you need it to. 

  • Dan

    Your reply is okay, but fundamentally flawed in some aspects.  Firstly, you misrepresent the article’s goals.  This article is talking about how to do things right, whereas you are talking about doing the right thing.  Chad isn’t talking about how to identify a market opportunity, how to perform market segmentation, or build strategic b2b relationships, he’s talking about how to making the internal mechanisms of a company work.  If you look at it in that context, you can’t fault his advice for the reasons you’ve given. 

    Second, you presuppose that a successful company is one that makes the most money by reaching the largest customer base.  It’s true that that’s how Walmart makes its money, but it’s not the only way to make money.  Most businesses start as niches – it makes sense to do this because you gain expertise faster, are able to pay attention to a more well-defined customer, are more agile, and ultimately serve your customer better.  Probably ethical ocean company won’t generate $100 million dollars in revenues anytime soon, but for the people who purchase products from them, they appreciate what ethical ocean is doing and aren’t able to get that same service from the broad strokes giants.

  • Jono

    Shouldn’t advice come from success? 7 people, 1 paid full-time working 6 days a week does not meet 98% of people’s criteria for succes

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