11 quotes from great philosophers useful for budding founders


While on the face of it, the wisdom of centuries past shouldn’t directly apply to the problems of modern tech startup founders, it doesn’t necessarily have to. When you zoom out, succeeding as a startup founder on a macro level isn’t all that different from succeeding in any other aspect of life.

You must be able to control yourself and interact with other people – some of humanity’s greatest philosophers have amazing insights into these timeless problems.

In this essay, we will explore how the wisdom of great philosophers can provide evergreen guidance to startup founders.


About ambition, hardship and motivation

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in overcoming it” – Epicurus & “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” -Seneca

Being a founder of a tech startup is different from being an entrepreneur in general. It involves a certain amount of innovation, and the risk of this innovation means that your benefit must be large enough to cover it.

You have to aim high, which means it will be difficult to reach your goal. As a startup founder, you need to embrace this from the start.

“Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.” – Christopher Marcus

You must accept that although you will experience hard times and many failures, they are not in vain. The more experience you gain, the more competent and better positioned you would become for success in the future.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by a lack of meaning and purpose.” – Victor Frankl & “He who has a why to live for can endure almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.

While the professional path of a startup founder is usually a lot more difficult than that of a corporate employee, it often feels much more meaningful. Not only because of the great financial benefit of being successful, but also because of the degree of control you have over your life and the possibility of non-financial impact on people and the world at large.

Use this deeper meaning to motivate yourself and your team and to find the necessary mental strength to keep going when the going gets tough.

About humility and reason

“He who thinks great thoughts often makes great mistakes” – Martin Heidegger & “I would never die for my beliefs because I could be wrong” – Bertrand Russell

While aiming high requires a belief in yourself, it also requires the humility to realize that you are probably wrong in most of your assumptions and expectations. Being too attached to your ideas can be disastrous because it would make you inflexible right at the time when you need to be most flexible.

“I didn’t fail. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” -Thomas Edison

In the early start-up stages, your main goal is to learn quickly enough which way you’re wrong.

In other words, you will have to do a lot of empirical work. You should test assumptions, learn valuable lessons, iterate and test again until you find a viable way forward.

This would probably be a long and grueling process, so you need to be mentally prepared to be wrong many times until you are finally right for once.

“It is undesirable to believe a statement if there is no reason whatsoever to believe it to be true” – Bertrand Russell

As a startup founder, you must be able to split your mind down the middle. On the one hand, you must learn to dream big and paint the big picture for all your partners and stakeholders. On the other hand, you should fully adopt a scientific mindset as you test your ideas and assumptions.

In other words, you must be ready to change your vision based on the feedback that reality gives you.

“We are what we regularly do. So excellence is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle

While succeeding as a startup founder is a huge challenge, if you can put this mindset into practice, you would inevitably become the right person for the job.

“One cannot step into the same river twice” – Heraclitus

Finally, even if you find validation (and success), don’t fool yourself into thinking your work is done. To be successful in the long run, you must constantly adapt to the ever-changing environment.