Unanimous Founder Spotlight: Jonathan Lonsdale, Ender
“I believe in servant leadership. When I think of my team, I ask myself, what can I do to empower them?” – Jonathan Lonsdale
Found-er (noun): a person who establishes an institution or settlement.
Founder backgrounds are some of the most unique stories people will ever hear. Comprising of chapters as early as childhood inspiration to solving problems later in life – the spark, or idea, of starting a company can come from anywhere. For some founders, deciding to embark on the entrepreneurial journey can stem from a simple desire to make things right.
We at Unanimous knew the founding team of Ender was onto something when we learned they were going to take on the archaic industry of real estate management. It is the definition of a white space most people don’t often think about, but many experience pain points within – ourselves and Ender’s founders included. For Co-Founder and CEO of Ender, Jonathan Lonsdale, his experiences in venture capital and merchant banking, coupled with his lifelong devotion to problem solving, made for a great match.
We sat down with Jonathan to share his reflections on what brought him to his founder journey today and some of the learnings he’s had along the way.
If It’s Broken, Fix it
UC: What was one of the “whys” for co-founding Ender?
Jonathan: We see so much waste in the [real estate] industry and needless middlemen. Jason and I wanted to change the fundamental workflows. Abstracting out, when starting a company, there are two types of risk one takes– market risk and execution risk. We didn’t want to build a product that took 6 months to make and had a high chance of failing. We minimized market risk and over indexed on execution risk. Added bonus that our market is secretly 100x bigger than it looks. When we tell people what we’re doing, they’re shocked. We’re building 20 companies in one. What we’re doing is hard and that’s by design.
UC: What’s unique about Ender’s team?
Jonathan: Our founding team moved from the coasts to Austin in 2019. We brought together a senior, motley crew who believed in our mission. We kept our bar high and slowly grew headcount over time. We’re now at ~30 [at the time of this interview] three years in, and everyone is still here. I remember talking to a real estate tech founder who bragged that when their company was 20 people, they were 19 sales people and 1 engineer. We were the opposite.
We wanted to make Ender a place we enjoy working where we personally respect everyone. I’m the last interviewer. One of the things we select for are people capable of arguing any side of a debate. Another is self awareness. We can go from being in hardcore work mode to joking to work mode in the same minute. Beyond that, having our entire junior team and members of our senior team in office has been great for mentorship and culture.
The Early Days of Ender
UC: What were some early wins you saw as a team that gave you all the motivation to keep building?
Jonathan: We had to redefine early wins as a company. No one can use a partial ERP. Feedback from demos was all we had. A lot of our early motivation was sheer force of will. Being two years in with zero paying clients wasn’t a good feeling. Some days I’d wake up thinking I made a horrible mistake. I convinced our team to move their families and lives to Austin to build Ender. There wasn’t any other option but to make it work. Past me was smart enough to raise a $7M seed that let us focus on building our foundation. We stayed disciplined and still now constantly iterate with clients and investors.
UC: What have been some of the hardest challenges that have turned into the greatest lessons in your entrepreneurial journey?
Jonathan: (laughs) There are a few. [in no particular order]
- Most of running a company is doing the simple, hard things
- Only great operators should be allowed to manage
- When you have the correct primitives, first principles thinking leads to useful frameworks… and answers that seem obvious in hindsight
- Pilot customers make or break a company. Choose deliberately
- Knowledge is knowing; wisdom is doing
Thoughts on the Future
UC: How do you look at the next 5 years?
Jonathan: Our company’s goal is to be the operating system for real estate. This means being the source of truth where apps plug into and data flows through Ender. All of real estate is around a dozen horizontal workflows with various configurations. There’s a finite number of necessary configurations, but there will always be improvements and optimizations. Things can always be better. That’s what makes it fun.
Words of Wisdom
UC: Any words of wisdom or advice you’d like to share with those embarking on founding journeys of their own?
Jonathan: I believe in servant leadership. When I think of my team, I ask myself, what can I do to empower them? Be a leader of leaders. Our job [as founders] is to empower our teams.