The Founder Tree

Who is the greatest football coach of all time? Championships matter, of course. But when ESPN assembled an all-star panel to pick the 20 best NFL coaches in history, these experts focused on another key attribute when ranking these leaders — their coaching trees.

A coaching tree is just like a family tree, except the descendants are defined as your assistant coaches who later go on to run their own teams.

It’s not enough to win now. You also have the responsibility to recruit and develop leaders who go on to win their own championships.

The same is true with technology startups. Enter the ‘founder tree’.

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The PayPal Mafia is one of the greatest founder trees of all time.

A founder tree is a coaching tree for startup CEOs. It is a network consisting of your former employees who later go on to run their own startup teams.

Startup founders should always be working to improve their founder trees. Optimize for potential vs. performance when recruiting new candidates. Emphasize consistent leadership development programs for all employees.

A CEO with a large founder tree is a sustainable competitive advantage for a startup. It places leaders at every level of the company and attracts new founder-quality employees into the startup long after the founder-level equity is gone.

“I want to work for one startup, and then found my own company.”

If this sounds like you, let me explain why you should make Labdoor that one startup:

  1. You will run your own startup at Labdoor. Your ideas, your planning, your execution. Recruit help when you need it, but the final deliverables (and recognition) are on your record.
  2. Focus on product, and we’ll take care of distribution. Labdoor is quickly attracting one of the largest, most-engaged, health-focused audiences on the internet. Prove that you can perform in front of millions of people.
  3. When you’re ready to branch out on your own, we’ll help you step up into the bigger role. We’ve already coached 10+ new founders through applications to Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Rock Health.

The best part about these trees? Each branch can be the start of an entirely new tree. Mike Holmgren’s branch of Bill Walsh’s coaching tree includes 17 NFL coaches, which makes Holmgren’s own coaching tree one of the largest in football history.

At Labdoor, we’ll know we’ve won a championship when we achieve our goal of reinventing the FDA. We’ll know we’ve succeeded as founders when there is an ecosystem of startups founded by former Labdoor employees. Time to find a name for our version of the PayPal Mafia

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is a scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. He is the founder & CEO of Air to All, a nonprofit medical device startup designing low-cost respirators and ventilators for COVID-19 and beyond. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Labdoor, a consumer watchdog that independently tests and ranks supplements and other health products for its 20M+ users. He was previously co-founder and President of Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has also served as Executive Director of The Detroit Partnership and Senior Advisor to his father Shri Thanedar in his campaigns for Governor and State Representative in Michigan. He received his BBA (Entrepreneurship) and BS (Cellular & Molecular Biology) from the University of Michigan in 2010. Neil lives in Michigan with his wife Shoua, sons Kai (3) and Ajay (1), and dogs Zeus (12) and Pluto (11). He is also a (very) amateur hockey player and drummer.