Ep 24 Jonathan Nelson, How the Serving Leader Empowers Startups and Changes Communities

There are many roads to Silicon Valley, but you’ll likely not hear one as unusual as the one my guest today took. Jonathan Nelson started out as the son of missionaries in Honduras and Costa Rica and learned the role of a serving leader by watching his Dad lead a mission organization. But he left Central America for nursing school, a computer science education, and finally headed to Silicon Valley.

Today, Jonathan runs Hackers and Founders, the largest network of entrepreneurs in the world. In this conversation we walk through the steps that led him from nursing school to startup founder, how he created an entrepreneurial meetup in a bar that led to an acceleration co-op, and the ways he’s iterating to bring more funding and more improvement to the cultures of Latin America through his company, Hackers and Founders.

Why Jonathan decided to sell something other than his time.

One of the lessons Jonathan learned as he worked as a nurse is that everybody is selling something, and for most people in the world the thing they are selling is their time. That’s what he was doing as a nurse and what he saw happening around him day after day. He wanted something different. If he was going to sell something, why couldn’t it be a company that could net him millions of dollars?

That’s what led him to pursue computer science and step into the world of startups. Jonathan is a fascinating guy who sees things a bit differently than most people – which is exactly what has made him so successful and what is opening doors of opportunity for startups and founders across Latin America. Be sure you take the time to hear his story and get a taste for the creative ways he’s empowering startups to solve problems.

The serving leader is the type of leader that makes startups thrive.

Being the founder of a startup is not about making a name for yourself, it’s about serving the people your company was built to serve. But before you can get there, you’ve got to learn how to serve the people who make your company’s operations possible in the first place – your team.

Jonathan Nelson says that the serving leader will be more likely to experience success because he is not concerned about who gets the credit for the team’s accomplishments. Her role is simply to see that the team has what it needs to accomplish the goals they are all striving for. That is service, and it’s what makes a company cohesive, strong, and ultimately successful.

Helping more tech companies be more successful in emerging markets.

Hackers and Founders was never intended to become a funding mechanism for startups, it just sort of happened – flowing out of a bunch of entrepreneurs meeting together in a bar to discuss their challenges and get and give advice. The needs represented in the room each week made Jonathan realize that there was great potential there that needed to be realized, so with the nudge of a well-known angel investor, Naval Ravikant, Jonathan took the plunge.

Today, Hackers and Founders is aimed at helping more tech companies be more successful, particularly in emerging markets. Jonathan has seen how the entire community surrounding a startup is helped when it is based in Latin America and he wants to see that happen more and more, improving the quality of life for people all across Central and South America.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:12] The birth of Hackers and Founders.
  • [4:38] How entrepreneur meetups turned into an opportunity to launch a startup accelerator.
  • [12:13] The path Jonathan followed to try out different business models.
  • [14:23] Jonathan’s childhood as the kid of missionaries in Honduras and his winding career path as an adult.
  • [19:32] Growing up in Honduras and Costa Rica in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • [22:43] The biggest things Jonathan learned growing up in Central America.
  • [31:49] Tweaking the angel investing model to connect investors directly with entrepreneurs.
  • [36:37] The financial model Jonathan’s company uses and how you can invest in it.
  • [39:39] What Jonathan saw that made him want to move into Mexico.
  • [48:00] Why startups are primarily merit-based organizations.
  • [50:38] The next step to scale the funding platform: Hack Coin (cryptocurrency)
  • [54:33] Jonathan’s vision for the next 3 to 5 years in Latin America.
  • [57:18] The advice Jonathan would give to himself if he were starting over.

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