Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and requiring constant peak performance. This often makes it hard to find a balance between one's professional and personal life. Maintaining strong relationships with the co-founders and investors is also not an easy task, where clarity and empathy are not always present. As one of my entrepreneurs says: “It’s not the technological challenge we deal with, it’s the mental one.”
“Throughout my +15 years as a professional, I've always been attracted to the intersection of business and psychology through entrepreneurship - What makes people tick? How do people think and act? And what motivates people in business? What drives me is being there for the amazing entrepreneurs, who are under constant pressure, so that they can make our world a better place. That’s what I’m here for, and this is my podcast – The Human Founder.”
EP. 67 - with Boaz Gaon, Founder & CEO of Wisdo Health
Boaz is part of a very well-known family in Israel, that has significantly influenced Israel’s modern economy and business. His father, Benny Gaon, was the CEO of “Koor Industries”, which at one point owned 20% of the Israeli market as it was still partly owned by the government. He helped lead Israel’s transformation to become a free market.Though he had an impressive father, like most sons, Boaz wasn’t interested in the family biz. To him, his dad was just that; charismatic, warm, and invincible dad.
Boaz has 3 siblings: an older sister, a twin brother, and an older brother who is also fairly known in the worlds of business, advertising, and political strategy. His mother is a feisty Greek woman who came to Israel when she was 6 years old as a Holocaust survivor. Boaz was and still is surrounded by high achievers in different fields, but he did the unexpected and went in a totally different direction; he became a journalist and playwright.
Boaz’s family had weekly dinners, which seemed more like board meetings, as they were expected to share their weekly achievements. They were also expected to measure up to what dad had to report, as a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar industrial giant. It was important to Boaz’s father that his kids will leave a mark and contribute something to humanity. Boaz shares that it was indeed stressful and created a layer of competition between the siblings, but he still sees it as a gift because it gave them the drive and freedom to excel in every field, they were interested in. If they were driven by the same values, pushed themselves and remained motivated, they would in turn leave a mark.
Today, in addition to continuing his career as a novelist, playwright, and consummate storyteller, Boaz is the CEO and founder of Wisdo Health, a startup that is leading in identifying and treating those suffering from loneliness, which affects 124 million Americans alone. The company achieves this through collaborating with health insurance providers and employers who rightfully view loneliness as a predictor of mental and physical illness. Wisdo is unique since it leverages the power of a supportive community to build healthier support networks that can detect when someone requires a referral to clinical care. Based on research that Wisdo has conducted with healthcare leaders in the past 24 months, sponsoring insured and employed members into Wisdo can save U.S. healthcare $198 billion a year.
Know your path
Boaz’s journey toward realizing his true calling as a storyteller was a gradual process. In the beginning, his father wanted him to be a lawyer, but after his first year in law school, Boaz knew one thing –he definitely did not want to be a lawyer. He announced he was taking a break from law school– a break that is still going on today.
“Yes, it was very hard for him and he had me go to all these different meetings with the titans of Israeli law, but again, I give him credit because he understood that doing something that you don’t like is going to lead to you doing something now well, which will lead to you being unhappy. There is simply nothing to be gained from pursuing something you just don’t care enough about.”
Boaz never felt like he was making a mistake, even before his father understood and learned to accept his path. When I asked him about it, he simply said: “When there's something you enjoy doing and you're good at it, it’s very difficult to give it up.” He knew who he wanted to be, and he knew that this was the only path for Boaz.
From his experiences, Boaz said that he learnt that when we are in this state of unknown, it isn't because we don't know what we want, but rather it is when we begin to question how we feel. We all know this dilemma – our dreams and passions can sometimes seem like they're in an unmanageable conflict with reality. Other options seem easier, more comfortable, but there's a voice deep inside that wants something different – and we become torn between the two.
Boaz’s advice is to keep reminding ourselves of two things:
- 1) Understand that what you’re feeling and what you’re attracted to is real. It’s not an illusion. This inner calling means something.
- 2) Life is short - what alternative do you have? “Do what you like and give it your all, because you understand that the biggest risk is becoming bitter and feeling that you've missed your chance.”
The power of storytelling
The act of writing has immense power. Using this force as a therapeutic tool is something that I (Gali) use with founders I work with, and also have discovered through writing a book. It helps us connect and discover what it is that we really want in life, and what we really feel. Something about this process manifests insight and clarity; our stream of thoughts is suddenly exposed to us in a completely different light, and through writing, we can process our difficult emotions better and reconnect to ourselves. This is something I see a lot with experienced and successful entrepreneurs; they feel a need to connect to themselves again because something got lost along the way.
Boaz fell in love with writing and was especially fascinated by the nature and architecture of stories. In fact, his first interaction with the founder’s ‘jungle’ was when he worked with founders and CEOs on their storytelling skills.
A story has the power of connecting people together. By bringing our truth and innovation as founders to the VC world when we want to raise funds or gain users, we give them a promise wrapped in a story. It’s not a negative thing, because stories can be very real – it’s a way to bring new ideas into the world and for others to remember them because it has an emotional core that we’re drawn to and impacted by.
“Stories are technology. A story needs to have optimal engineering, or else it won’t resonate. You can learn how to build and engineer a well-crafted story.” When you learn the building blocks of a good story while being your authentic self as a founder, you get into a whole different way of engaging with investors and users– you really learn to touch people.
One of the pains that founders often share with me is how lonely they feel. Even if they have good co-founders by their side. “Loneliness is often misunderstood”, Boaz explained as he shared his vision behind Wisdo. After his father passed away, he was struggling with meeting people online with whom he could be honest and connect in a meaningful and supportive way.
Loneliness has become an epidemic and is now considered a condition that leads to mental and physical illness. “Loneliness is simply a gap between the relationships that you have in your life, and the relationships you would like to have in your life. The larger the gap, the lonelier you feel. It’s not a matter of if you're married, have co-founders, or a lot of friends– if you are living a life where you're surrounded by people you don’t feel close and connected to and can be open, authentic, and vulnerable with, that gap is not going to be closed by itself.”
At Wisdo, they’re working with Prof. Dan Russell who co-developed the UCLA scale of loneliness, and also found 4 specific provisions that can help you lower levels of loneliness as quickly and effectively as possible:
- 1) Emotional support
- 2) A sense of worth
- 3) A sense of belonging (a community)
- 4) Reliable alliance - the understanding that there are people that you can support.
We need to constantly ask ourselves as co-founders, CEOs, seniors, and managers: do I allow for and provide emotional support to my employees and co-workers? Do I feel a sense of self-worth? Do I provide and gain from my relationships? Do I belong– is this my place and if not, what’s missing?
I told Boaz about a good friend of mine who's a very successful entrepreneur. He shared with me that everyone always invited him to give talks and speak about his success, but he always feels lonely because he feels someone always wants something from him, rather wants his genuine self; he feels invisible. So, we must remember that everyone can suffer from loneliness, and we need to be there for each other, and be kind to one another.
Social networks were not designed for meaningful connections, but now - with technology, we can help bridge the gap of loneliness around the world. Side by side with the challenges, it’s a really exciting time for those invested in creating, and maintaining, meaningful and healthy human connections.