Gary Stewart, founder and CEO of FounderTribes, sat down for an interview on podcast Think Like a Founder, which is hosted by SNP Communications co-founder & CEO Maureen Taylor. Think Like a Founder is a series of conversations with leaders, thinkers, inventors, revolutionaries, problem-solvers, and smart, nice people. Stewart’s episode aired on March 17, 2021.
Stewart originally imagined himself becoming a lawyer, he told Taylor. After attending Yale College, he went to Yale Law School. “I didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was when I was in law school,” he shared.
Still, Stewart talked about being entrepreneurial — even if he didn’t know what it meant to be an entrepreneur — since his time at Yale, when he started the Yale Black Political Forum to elevate voices from the Black community, which were underrepresented.
“I didn’t think about it like ‘I’m a founder.’ I just thought about, there’s a problem that I see. I don’t really like the way things are right now, so I’m going to solve it,” Stewart said. “And I guess maybe the desire to create, that’s always been there, it’s like, I just don’t like something, so I’m gonna do something about it.”
The immigrant experience has also affected Stewart’s entrepreneurial path. His parents — though they weren’t business owners — were entrepreneurs in that they took “huge risks with the belief that it was possible to create a better life for at least themselves and their children.” Immigrant parents, and even parents who are not immigrants, may hope that their children don’t have to take the risks they did, according to Stewart.
“A lot of people feel almost shunned, at least in the olden days, it was like, well you were stupid, you had that law degree, you could have gone to become a partner at a law firm and made a lot of money, and you decided to throw it all the way to kind of go and pursue this ‘dream,’” Stewart reflected.
But after the success of entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and the growth of entrepreneurship in modern culture and media, perhaps the tides may be changing in favor of taking risks and pursuing these dreams.
Great entrepreneurs can use their passion to solve a problem to “connect dots to other people just can’t connect,” Stewart said. Even when facing rejection and doubt, he said it was important to maintain passion and relentlessness to make the idea happen when others may not be able to imagine it.
One way that Stewart has been connecting dots to solve important problems is through his startup, FounderTribes, which is an e-learning platform for underrepresented, overlooked entrepreneurs to upscale their business and receive funding. Stewart said that although FounderTribes is mission-driven, there can be stigma around social impact companies as being “impure” if they have capitalist aims. Companies can do good and still make money, he said.
“The mission is the problem that I’m trying to solve. I’m still an entrepreneur. I’m solving a problem. That to me is a very big problem, but I know that it needs to make money,” Stewart said.
Still, values and having a strong moral compass are important in starting a company that makes the world a better place. Accountability is crucial, Stewart said, and founders should have values that go beyond just making money.
Finally, entrepreneurship is about the process of constantly learning and improving. In other words, Taylor said, “entrepreneurs are students” who are trying to find answers for problems.
“You might have the best answer for it right now, but that’s not a permanent status, that’s just a temporary situation,” Stewart said. “You have to work every single day to make sure that you continuously have the best answer, because if not, someone else is gonna come eat your lunch.”