Jonathan D. Stephens

believer…husband…father…entrepreneur

March 4, 2013
by Jonathan Stephens
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The Power Of Creating: What Really Drives Entrepreneurs?

The following is a guest post by my good friend Zack Mansfield.  Zack has been an active member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem since 2004.  He currently manages the early stage practice in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic for a leading venture bank and has worked directly with hundreds of startup companies of various stages over the last eight years.  He received an undergraduate business degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School.  Zack and his wife Tracy are the proud parents of two children, are active members of the Summit Church, and serve on the Durham-Chapel Hill Young Life Committee.  You can follow Zack on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or read more of his thoughts on his blog, Runway To Exit.

Over the last 8+ years, I’ve spent my professional life working in and around entrepreneurial companies.  For me, there is simply nothing like being a part of the startup ecosystem.

As a student of the entrepreneurial world, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why it is that people are so drawn to starting and growing companies.  This is a particularly interesting question because at a very basic level, startups don’t make a lot of sense as a career.

For the most part, we tend to be very rational creatures, and thus tend to gravitate towards careers that provide stability and visibility into an income that can support us and our families.  Most of us want to be interested by our work, for sure, but at the end of the day we are often working in order to pay the bills and provide things like education, experiences, and just plain fun for those we love.  We work, in many cases, so we can play.

Startups are not a good option for this type of logical framework.  There is quite a bit of research data that shows that entrepreneurial ventures are not “safe” by any objective measure.  Over the last 50 years or so, the data has remained remarkably consistent.  Approximately 25% of all new businesses don’t last a year before shutting down.  And more than half close their doors within 5 years.  Even those who “make it” often find that startups require you to work harder, for more hours, while earning less money than in other, safer work opportunities.

Yet, every single day I spend time in coffee shops or on the phone with people – individuals like you and me – who are quitting their day jobs and taking the fairly irrational risk to start companies.  So the question is Why?

I recently asked a number of entrepreneurs who I work with to answer this very simple question – “why did you decide that startup life was the right life for you?”  I intentionally asked a wide cross section of people to avoid any selection bias – these are CEOs of companies in different industries and geographies, male and female, with diverse ages, personal backgrounds and general views on life.

The answers I received in response were remarkable.  Not a single entrepreneur listed the probability of generating extreme wealth as the #1 reason for doing a startup.  There were a couple who mentioned the risk/reward curve as a secondary reason for building a company.  But almost unanimously there was a different theme that emerged, something bigger than success/failure or risk/reward.

It was about creating something. They stated things like:

  • “I crave the creation process.  Shaping something out of nothing is deeply gratifying”
  • “I love building things and seeing them used and appreciated”
  • “Building a product, team, and company from zero is incredibly challenging, rewarding, and fun.”
  • “I like creating things. Whether its a company or a product, making something that other people use and love is extremely rewarding”
  • “The joy of creating something from nothing”

Within every single entrepreneur was a deeper reason for building a company: a desire to create.

As a Christian, when I hear these quotes I can’t help but think to the creation account in Genesis 1.  It says there that at the end of the 6th day, “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

The JOY of creating something from nothing – it has been there since the very beginning, and it’s still here today.  Even for those who don’t profess to have any belief in God or any specific Christian faith, there is a draw to this creation process that is, in my view, imparted into us precisely because we are created beings.  When we create there is a hint of the divine, that taste of what we all, deep down truly desire but can’t quite put our finger on – or as CS Lewis describes it, the “scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited”.

Perhaps you’re already an entrepreneur or perhaps you’re thinking of joining a startup.  You should know that if you go down this road, it’s likely to be hard and full of challenges.  But it’s also a path which is steeped in the very nature of God, with traces of the divine in the seemingly mundane.  Take a cue from our Creator as you create – find joy in knowing that what you’re doing is, indeed, very good.

February 25, 2013
by Jonathan Stephens
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Meet Them Where They Are

Feet

Meet them where they are:

Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, was a seminary student and part-time youth minister in Gainesville Texas and realized that he was having a hard time attracting “un-churched” kids to his youth group. His response, show up at the high school directly across from his church and meet kids “where they are” instead of hoping they would come to him. Worked then, still works today.

 

In the Fall, Hope Community Church held a Pinterest Party at the Stir Lounge in Raleigh. The idea was simple, the Women’s ministry encouraged the ladies of Hope to invite their friends and family to a fun and entertaining night out on the town. As a result, over 300 ladies showed up. They experienced fun, glitter, food, and great conversation. The reality is that the Women’s ministry was able to encounter an entirely unreached group of women in their community by meeting outside of the traditional church environment.

Of course the idea of “meeting people where they are” can easily be applied in the world of ministry. This is the model Jesus himself set in John 4 where he avoided the safe and well known path from Judea to Galilee.  Instead, he traveled directly through Samaria…a path most Jews of that time avoided. The result, Jesus had a unique encounter with a woman others avoided. John 4:39 tells the rest of the story.

How can this model be applied in the Marketplace?

  1. Be Proactive – Are you pursuing your customers or are you waiting for them to come to you? If you want to catch whales, you have to know where to fish. You certainly can’t expect them to show up right in front of you.
  2. Be Brave – Are you making the effort to go where others are not willing to go to meet your customers? Step out of your comfort zone.
  3. Be Sincere – How do you view your customers and employees? Are they a mean to an end? Show concern for doing what is best for your customers; invest in the lives of your employees. You just may find out that they too may tell the rest of the world about you.

How are you applying the mantra of “meeting others where they are” in your workplace?

Want to learn more about Marketplace Matters? Click Here

 

February 18, 2013
by Jonathan Stephens
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WHY WORK?

Questions

In case you missed the recent battle of two billionaire titans on CNBC, check out the video.  A quick summary, two of the most notorious businessmen in America sounded off on each other like two school children on live national T.V.  They beat their chests, boasted about their net-worth, and made every effort to  to belittle each other for their lack of integrity or how little the other had accomplished.  Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn have both had incredible careers in business and I certainly have no right to question what they have accomplished or how they choose to conduct themselves.  They have both spent their entire professional careers working to reach where they are today.  After watching their childish altercation play out, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question “why do I work?”  Further, “what is the reason for my work?”  My first initial thoughts:

To Provide-I have a wife and two young kids that I feel responsible to provide for.

To Accomplish-I spent years in school studying to receive an undergraduate degree along with a MBA.  According to Strengthsfinder2.0, my top strength is an Achiever, I’m always looking for a new mountain to climb.

To Create- I love working with others to create something bigger than myself.

Sure, these are just a few perfectly acceptable justifications for why I work.  Yet I find myself continuing to wrestle with these questions.  Is working all about my needs, my dreams, my ambitions?

As believers, I challenge all of us to take a deeper look into our purpose for work.  Colossians 3:23 may give you a fresh perspective.

What are your thoughts on why we work?  For those who feel called to be in the Marketplace, what is our purpose everyday?

Want to learn more why we work? Click HERE to download our study guide.

Click HERE to learn more about how to get involved in a Marketplace small group.

 

February 11, 2013
by Jonathan Stephens
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IS IT TIME TO GET IN THE GAME?

2013 target

Sunday mornings are organized chaos in my home.  The alarm goes off at 7:00am and then the race begins.  My wife and I start by getting ready (it actually takes me longer to get ready than my wife).  Our two kids rouse from their slumber at 7:45am; the calm before the storm is officially over!  We race to get two kids out of bed, dressed, fed, and in the car so that we can get on the road by 9:00am.  I think we have made it twice!  We park our car, load the bus, shuttle to Hope’s main campus, check our kids into Kid City, and then make it to our seats in the auditorium just in time for the final song before our pastor speaks…FEW!  But wait…the race is only half over!  We run out of the auditorium, pick up our kids, jump on the bus, and load up our car and race to make it home just in time to feed the never ending trough that is our two kids bellies!  I’ve attended Hope for nearly a dozen years but you’ve probably never seen me.  We show up at church and then quickly disappear without leaving a single trace.

Like thousands of other attendees at church, simply showing up on time at church on a weekly basis can feel like a commitment.  This is the story I have told myself for a dozen years. But is just showing up at church on Saturday or Sunday really what God calls us to?  Does a three-hour rat race equal a relationship with the creator of the Universe?  Is the passive existence of filling a seat in the auditorium really living out the abundant life Jesus promises?  I think not.  I believe in a living God, a God that promises us an abundant life.  I believe God wants us to do more than just show up and fill a seat.  I believe God wants us to get in the game and be a part of the incredible work he is doing in reaching the Triangle and changing the world.

This past June I met with one of our church leaders.  I shared my story and how I felt I could no longer ignore the tug on my heart that I was feeling.  You know, the heart string pull when you hear about ways to get involved in working with Kid City because they don’t have enough volunteers, helping out with the homeless, adopting an orphan so that have clothes and a chance at an education, or taking a short term mission trip to build a new school in Uganda or help build a hospital in Haiti.  I didn’t really know where I could make a difference.  I didn’t know what strengths or talents I had that would allow me to serve where I was gifted.  We spoke about how growing up I had been a counselor at the YMCA and also a Young Life Leader.  As a result, I starting helping out as a large group leader in Kid City.  But I wanted to do more than just help out for 1 hour on Sunday.  We also discussed the business I had recently started after finishing up the MBA program at NC State.  He introduced me to the leaders of our church that were starting a new initiative to bring together believers who are called to the marketplace.   I didn’t know how I could help but I knew that I felt it was time to get involved.  I imagine there are other folks that share this same desire.  Here are four ways you will benefit by getting involved:

  1. Connection: Acts 2: 42-47 speaks about the connection and fellowship of believers. Getting involved in a community will allow you to connect with fellow believers, be encouraged, and learn.
  2. Challenge: Luke 10:2 says that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  By answering the call you will be one of the few that will be able to witness first hand how a personal relationship with a loving God will change lives.
  3. Character: Proverbs 27:17 says, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Would our co-works say that we are the same person during a meeting at 10:30am on Thursday as we are at 10:30am on Sunday?  Getting involved will help us grow spiritually so that we can become a closer reflection of Jesus to our family members, friends, and colleagues at work.
  4. Clarity: Is your life led by a compass pointing north, navigating your life in the right direction?  Psalm 73:24 says “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Where do you turn in times of need or confusion?  There is no better place to seek wise counsel than by serving an all-knowing God.

It has taken me nearly a dozen years to get out of my comfortable seat in the church auditorium.  I have decided that I don’t want to just have a front row seat and watch others reach the triangle and change the world.  Is 2013 the year you decide to get in the game?

What’s holding you back from getting in the game?  What talents and gifts have you been given that you can use to make a difference?

Ready to get connected?  Learn more HERE!