Victor Hunt is a current SPC member based in New York City. He previously founded and exited Astorian, which connected property managers and contractors for building repairs.
For a founder to have any chance of success, they need conviction.
Conviction is the difference between believing in something and acting on that belief. Between should be and will be.
For me, building conviction to start my first company, Astorian, was more about peeling away hesitation than it was about finding an idea worth betting on. It was clear to me that hiring contractors was broken and no one was addressing the problem. I just wanted to solve my own headache.
My father was a professional sports bettor and he used to tell me, “it’s not a bet until the chips are down.” It was tempting to build Astorian as a side project with job offers from Blackstone and Google on the table. But no great business was built only working the weekends. So against a backdrop of fear and judgment from friends and family, I went all in.
SPC is a community built around finding what it takes to go all in. With founding my second company in mind, I’m no longer building conviction against a tide of pessimism but riding a wave of rational optimism. That optimism is fueled by the community. Everyone is embracing the uncertainty of the -1 to 0 phase and supporting each other along the way. Equally motivating is the guidance from SPC founders further along their journey like Joe, Laila, and Grey. We recently hosted a panel discussion with these founders at SPC-NYC on how they built conviction to start their companies.
Hearing the stories of other founders underscores an important point: conviction-building looks different for different people. We founders tend to create our own heuristics for when to stop exploring and take action. For Joe, Titan came from an emotional need to solve wealth creation for his friends. Fascinated by the history of money, Joe understood that building wealth required a certain kind of access and infrastructure unavailable to most people.
It was easy for Joe to care deeply about this problem, but for Titan to be a bet worth taking it had to offer a non-consensus answer to the problem of wealth creation. Only a non-consensus bet made the outcome worth the cost. This made long odds and pushback a positive signal and a source of conviction. Joe and his co-founders had the courage early on to ignore what the available data suggested was an impossible task. As Joe said, “if I listened to all the startup blogs I read, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Sometimes you just have to build for yourself. That’s exactly what Laila did when she decided to start Winter to make buying NFTs a delightful experience. Like many SPC members, Laila didn’t start out knowing what she would build. As a photographer with friends in both art and tech, Laila had heard of NFTs and wanted her own. Her excitement shifted to frustration after realizing how difficult purchasing an NFT was.
She wasn’t alone. Laila’s friends also had painful experiences buying NFTs. Having spent years building an excellent user experience at Stripe, Laila had the confidence she needed to solve this problem.
Laila developed her conviction by pursuing an idea she was intrinsically motivated to solve. While it’s possible to have conviction in something without intrinsic interest, without it you’re less likely to succeed. Intrinsically motivated founders stick around when times get hard. They keep building because they want the solution.
Grey and his co-founder took a different approach on the path to their company Starlight. At first, it was easy to feel strongly about some ideas and dig into solutions before validating the problem that needed solving. Building solution-first, Grey realized, was like building a house of cards. It fed their ego but didn’t build conviction. After joining the SPC Founder Fellowship, Grey realized he needed to stop selling and start listening.
In pushing ahead with experiments grounded in listening, Grey and his co-founder discovered a broadly-shared problem: managing crypto at a company level. They struggled with it in web3 experiments and the companies they talked to regularly shared their frustration. Each echo of the problem was a potential customer asking for a solution. The frequency and consistency of the complaint built Grey’s conviction: this was a problem people wanted solved, and he could solve it. Starlight was born.
As these examples show, there is no one way to build conviction. The process for one founder might look very different than it does for another. Each introduces its own risks and blindspots. But the outcome is strictly necessary for any startup to succeed. Without conviction, you will fail.
Building a company is painful. Astorian taught me that what makes it worthwhile is the incremental realization of a strongly desired idea. It’s turning intention into reality. It is creation itself. Some days feel like the end of the world and others feel like a beautiful dream. Conviction is what keeps you going regardless. Now, as I build conviction all over again, I’m energized every day by a community of people doing the same.