1) America itself was a startup
In 1776, Congress appointed a group of five to write a statement explaining why the colonies should seek independence rather than try and reach an accord with Britain. The committee was made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.
As the founders began their work, the country was in turmoil. With the battles of Lexington and Concord already done, the war was on. They represented a small colony of 13 states going up against a large super power, England, and its revered leader, King George III. Moreover, the founders were committing a group of pioneers from America to go up against a highly-trained, deeply-funded British military. And there was no central government to pay for Washington's Army. This was truly a David vs. Goliath scenario.
2) Tech was not the first industry to value young thinkers
You may be surprised to learn that Thomas Jefferson was only 33 year old when he joined the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was not only a committee member but the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson turned out to be a gifted writer and an even smarter collaborator--leaning on the editing support of elder statesman Benjamin Franklin and outspoken advocate John Adams.
3) Before Lean Startups the value of iteration was evident
Speaking of editing, the Declaration of Independence went through five drafts before being ratified by the states. The founders understood that it takes more than a few rounds of revisions before pushing out their final product. According to Historian Walter Isaacson Jefferson originally wrote 'We Hold these Truths to be Sacred.' It was later changed to 'We Hold these Truths to be Self-Evident.' Originally, Thomas Payne coined the phrase Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property. The founders liked the phrase but wisely tweaked it a bit to 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.'
4) The Importance of Timing
Just like startups, timing is as important as the idea. For our founders timing was critical. The Founder's writings were largely influenced by several writers. Jefferson's thinking was shaped by the works of John Locke, who believed that people are born with natural rights and Tom Payne who published a pamphlet called Common Sense. Payne's work challenged the authority of the British and British monarchy. Payne had a big impact on the common people, who, after reading Common Sense, became much more supportive of the Revolutionary cause.
5) Taking risks and the importance of a mission statement
The National Archives website hosts a page that invites you to sign the Declaration of Independence. After you sign the document and hit 'submit' these words appear:
"Are you sure you want to sign the Declaration of Independence? If you had been a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, you were a rebel and considered a traitor by the King. You knew that a reward had been posted for the capture of certain prominent rebel leaders and the largest British armada ever assembled was just outside New York harbor. Affixing your name to the document meant that you pledged your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the cause of freedom."
The writers of the Declaration of Independence were not ivory tower academics. They were free-thinking radicals who took the biggest risk of their lives to create something special. A statement that historian Walter Isaacson says aptly 'has become America's creed,' a defining document that governs this nation.
So as I gather with friends and family to watch those fireworks this weekend, I will be thinking about how lucky I am to live in a country where freedom is a basic right. America is a country where we can dream up ideas and turn them into businesses and hopefully live up to the ideals of our founding fathers:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.