CEO Nathan Chan Reflects on the 10th Anniversary of Foundr
Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight key takeaways from each month’s cover feature. We talked with Nathan Chan, CEO of foundr, about the 10th anniversary of the magazine and how he’s changed as a founder—and a person—over the last decade. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.
Ten years ago, Nathan Chan started Foundr Magazine to discover what it takes to build a successful business and educate other founders along the way. A decade on, he’s learned a ton about the sacrifice, victories, and obstacles involved in creating a company of value for a global community of students.
Foundr’s contributing editor, Luke Ferris, put Chan on the hot seat to reflect on the 10-year anniversary of foundr. They discuss the rise of foundr from a side hustle to a global leader in entrepreneur education and delve into Chan’s personal development alongside the business’s growth.
A Conversation With Nathan Chan
Luke Ferris (LF): You always start interviews by asking how they got their job. I’m going to change that up a little bit. Nathan, how did you get your first job ever?
Nathan Chan (NC): My first proper official casual job was working at McDonald’s. I dropped my resume off at a few places, but nothing came of it. And so I remember my mum called up McDonald’s in Eltham, and she got me an interview, and I went in there, and I didn’t get the job. And the reason they said I didn’t get the job is [because] my mum called up for me.
[I learned that] if you really want something, you’ve got to go out and try and put yourself out there. So then I went to the Greensborough McDonald’s, and I dropped off my resume, and I called them up every single week saying, “Hey, any update on my resume? Hey, any update? Do you have any spots?” And then I walked in there three weeks later after calling them three or four times, and they said, “Yep, we’re going to give you a job purely because you kept hassling us, and you’re hungry.”
And that lesson I took with me and have taken with me throughout my whole working career.
If you want something bad enough, you can get it. And that’s how I got my first job.
LF: Bring me back to the beginning of foundr. I know horses were somehow involved, but can you take me back to that initial purpose of foundr and how it’s changed over time?
NC: Honestly, when I first started foundr, it was by pure accident. I was working in an IT job, which I wasn’t getting joy from. I wanted to get a job in marketing, and so I went down this pathway of studying [for] a master’s of marketing and then wanting to exercise my marketing skills. I thought that I could marry my passions with online marketing. I was looking to launch this magazine because I thought digital magazines were the future. This was 10 years ago.
I found this platform that allowed you to create your own digital magazine. And at first, I was going to create a magazine on horse racing with my housemate. And that never ended up happening because he got a full-time job in racing. So, I was like, “OK, well, I’m just going to launch this thing by myself.” It’s actually unlike me to do anything by myself. I’m usually doing something with others.
Entrepreneurship wasn’t as big [then] as it is now. But I started to hear stories of friends and friends of friends starting online businesses with no experience whatsoever and building companies that were doing really, really well. And I was really fascinated by that.
And so I started to try and interview people. No one would get back to me. I was going to create this magazine, and I called it Key to Success, and it took me ages to get it ready. It took eight or nine months to just bring the first edition together because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about publishing; I didn’t know anything about apps. I didn’t know anything about editorial or design. I didn’t even know anything about entrepreneurship, which was an absolute joke.
I didn’t think that it would be a massive company. All I thought was, “Hey, I want to create something really cool for fun.”
And it’s funny—when I look back at the purpose of foundr, it was really [about] interviewing successful entrepreneurs to share their stories around how they’re building successful businesses and try to demystify how they’re doing it. And that purpose, the heart and the essence of it within foundr, hasn’t changed that much.
LF: What kept you motivated in those early days when it was a side hustle? When did that moment switch where you’re like, “I think this is more than something for fun?”
NC: The first one was the first interview I ever did. I remember it was with Lynn Hoang, and she was the outsourcing angel. You can still watch [that interview]; it’s embedded in the first edition of the magazine.
I remember being so nervous, so embarrassed. But I had so much fun.
I remember thinking, “That’s what I’m born to do. What I’m building at foundr is what I’m meant to do.”
It was like a euphoric feeling after doing it. So that was the first step where I was onto something, but I didn’t know what it would be.
And then getting the interview with Richard Branson in the first four months, relaunching as Foundr Magazine probably seven months in—that’s when I was like, “You know what, I could probably go full-time on this thing.” So about 15 months after launching foundr in mid-2014, I went full-time on it.
LF: Do you wish you would’ve started with co-founders looking back?
NC: Yes, because I think I could have built foundr way, way, way faster. I’ve had to learn a lot about myself around my weaknesses and my strengths and how to double down on those strengths and not double down on my weaknesses. I think you can build a company way faster if you have partners. And also, I think it would’ve been nice to share the journey with one other person.
LF: You talk about the loneliness of being a solo entrepreneur, the loneliness of being a founder. You recently took some time off to travel and disconnect a little bit from the grind of the business world. How have you managed over the past 10 years to balance your professional and personal life?
NC: So ever since I started foundr… if I had spare time, I’d be working on foundr. I reckon I did that for the first seven or eight years. And I went through a phase where I felt unstoppable. There was no stop, only go. And then, after Covid-19 in early 2021, I experienced burnout for the first time. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, my heart beating really fast, or experiencing this crippling, excruciating anxiety.
I wasn’t even excited to do work. It took me a while to work out that I was actually burnt out.
Ever since then, my work-life balance has really, really shaken up, to be honest with you. I think work-life balance as a founder or business owner or entrepreneur is not just where you allocate your time but also what you say “no” to and also what you’re willing to delegate and let go of in the business.
LF: How did you climb out of that burnout?
NC: I started seeing a therapist, which I think is so key. People go to the gym to build their muscles. Speaking to somebody is training your mind. The second thing I started doing was float tanks. I found that really game-changing. I started meditating every single day. I got a really solid executive assistant who could help me—it’s kind of like another pair of arms and legs on my team. And I started to let go of more.
I just started to slow down and focus more on my health and not make it just so obsessive about work. It’s a very difficult thing to learn, but through those steps, you can really grow stronger.
LF: So where are you getting your confidence from to make decisions to lead foundr into the future?
NC: One of my old mentors said it takes seven to 10 years to build anything of true worth and significance. And it also has to be an obsession. It just has to, right? So there’s some of the stuff that I did back in the day that I think was required, but it probably wasn’t healthy. Now, I’ve been a founder for 10-plus years, and I’ve got battle scars. It’s come from experience and just tweaking things and changing things.