Yancey Strickler: Startup Founders Should Make Decisions Based on Values

The Kickstarter co-founder says values are the driving force behind startup success.

In New York in the late 2000s, Yancey Strickler met artists, musicians, and designers who were long on talent and short on cash. He teamed up with friends to build a website for creatives to solicit donations and fund their projects.

Eleven years later, Strickler’s company, Kickstarter, is a global phenomenon that took crowdsourcing mainstream. Kickstarter users have pledged more than $5.4 billion to support nearly 200,000 successfully funded projects

Developing a successful business taught Strickler valuable lessons that he shared in his new book, This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World. He joined LIFT Labs for a virtual conversation with Dalila Wilson-Scott, Senior Vice President of Community Impact and President of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. 

Stickler explained how founders can maintain mental health, respond to pressure, and navigate difficult times. Here are his top tips:

1) Belief in your idea carries you through hard times

When Strickler began working on Kickstarter, he knew crowdsourcing could change lives and lead to a more creative world. His faith in the project kept him motivated during the developing company’s most challenging moments.

“There was a deep belief that however hard things were, the idea was worth it,” he said. “I felt like we found the diamond in the coal mine, and it was our job to shepherd it to the world. That compelled us to keep pushing when we felt tired or discouraged because — although we’re going through a hard moment — the idea is still worth it.”

2) Values drive your company

Strickler and his co-founders found themselves in a similar position as many others who experience early success — they inadvertently created a bottleneck where significant decisions had to go through the co-founders. Over time, they found a solution: articulate company values clearly so everyone understands big-picture goals and feels empowered to make the right decisions.

“The ideal culture is one where the values are so clearly laid out and actionable that you almost have a post-permission organization, where everyone knows what’s critical, everyone knows what the goals are, and everyone knows what’s right or wrong,” he said. “Under that, everyone has permission to act on behalf of the company.” 

3) Respond appropriately to pressure

As Kickstarter became more popular, Strickler felt pressure from all angles. Investors wanted fast growth. Users suggested platform tweaks. Large companies hoped to promote products on the platform even though it was counter to its mission. 

“Keep your product focused on the use case you’re thinking about,” he said. “When you have so much inbound interest, you need a firm filter for yourself to know what’s worth responding to. You can spend all day responding to things and achieve nothing.”

4) Address your mental health

 Being the founder of a fast-growing company is draining. For Strickler, exhaustion, and fatigue set in as he continually tried “to be the superhuman version” of himself. To combat that, he focused on mental health.

“I would create a rhythm. I would go three months full-on, then give myself four or five days to only rest,” he said. “I could tell when I was running low on my cycle. I was getting shorter with people and more impatient. Eventually, I realized I was feeling those things because I was tired.”

5) Go “Bento”

Strickler resigned as Kickstarter CEO in 2017 and has since spent his days on a quest to make more meaningful life decisions. The result is Bentoism, a theory that self-interest is multi-dimensional. It’s based on the acronym BEyond Near Term Orientation (and loosely on the Japanese food box that divides a meal into quadrants). The idea is to focus on four key areas: 

  • Now me — what you want and need immediately.
  • Future me — what’s right for you in the future.
  • Now us — what helps you and loved ones now.
  • Future us —  what helps you and loved ones in the future. 

Staying in touch with those four aspects gives Strickler keen awareness of how he’s spending his time.

“I do my Bento every week. I ask, ‘How should I use my energy this week?’ I’m asking each part of myself for its to-do list,” he said. “Now I have more control over how I use my time, how I express my priorities, and awareness of what I’m doing.” 


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