Rethinking Working with Mercenaries

Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve learned about mercenary builders like John Malone, Robert “Bob” Johnson, and Willis Johnson by reading books about their journeys. I’ve also spent time thinking about my own journey and the journeys of friends who are entrepreneurs. I’m starting to adjust my thinking on mercenary builders.

I used to give more weight to missionary founders, likely because they have a clear idea about what problem they’re solving and what the end game looks like (they have a vision). How they’ll get there isn’t known, but where they want to go is.

My criteria for evaluating mercenary and missionary founders were the same. I was dinging mercenary founders because they hadn’t figured “it” out. I was subconsciously saying, I want to know where the ride’s going before I agree to get on. That was a mistake and ignored my own experience and that of others around me who were wildly successful mercenaries.

Going forward, my criteria will be different. I’ll spend time developing a framework to evaluate mercenaries, but one thing is crystal clear: working with mercenaries with questionable values or ethics isn’t something I want to do.

Where mercenaries end up can be unpredictable, and that’s okay. They’re shaking trees, seeing what falls, and picking up and running with the best opportunity until they find “the one.” How mercenaries go about this journey matters—they’ll often be presented with questionable paths or choices that could be lucrative. Strong values and ethics will guide mercenaries and stop them from engaging in questionable behavior that could be financially rewarding. I’m happy to be part of the ride, but not if by-any-means-necessary methods power it. I want to win the right way, not any way, and I want to work with people who think that way. The end never justifies questionable means.

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