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. 86 - With Gal Gitter, Partner and Managing Director at Ibex Investors
Adapting to change
Gal’s childhood was full of moving back and forth from Israel to the US - “Change was a constant thing for me, for good and bad, and it taught me to adapt very quickly.”
The most crucial part he needed to pick on very quickly is the culture of every place he moved to - what does it mean to be a good student there? a good friend? How do people behave towards each other? and how do I fit in?
This skill was developed in him from a very young age, as he learned the importance of balancing between listening and adapting to the environment and staying true to himself in all of this. It’s easy to get lost in the midst of the mission to try and make people like you, so much so that if you don’t know what’s important to you, you can lose yourself. We need to be aware of the strong pull that the environment has on us, cause it always will have, and ask ourselves - what parts we want to adopt from our environment and what parts we want to leave behind.
The same thing is also true for startups - as founders and CEOs, Gal explained, you always need to make sure you're listening to your investors for example, but also to know what to insist on, to keep the essence of what makes you passionate about your startup, and to not give in and give up on it. As Gal said, there is no right or wrong answer, but the awareness should always be there, as a part of our decision-making - “After all, that's why the investors chose you.”
The importance of diversity in startups
Working in Israel is something relatively new to Gal. He shared that one of the things he loved while working in the US is their commitment to diversity, something that in Israel is not as strong yet. He had the opportunity to meet the amazing organization Tech Career which focuses on helping high-potential Ethiopian youth by training them for entry-level roles in Tech and placing them in good companies.
Gal shared: “We learned through the process of engaging with them just how much unconscious bias there is in the ecosystem here towards anyone who doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what is a Tech employee here in Israel.”
There are a lot of misunderstandings that happen because of cultural differences that we’re not aware of, like in job interviews, where often the interviewees will look down at their shoes as a sign of respect to the interviewer, but if you're not aware of that, it can be perceived as a sign of insecurity. These cultural biases happen here all the time, blocking a lot of really talented people from fulfilling their potential, which is something that in the end, hurts this ecosystem as a whole.
This is a struggle also for many Israeli startups who go to market in different parts of the world - they’re not familiar enough with the culture and the market they want to work with, and that can be very detrimental in the end - we need to keep our minds open for new ways of doing things.
Being the founder’s first call
“One of the things we try to achieve and take pride in when it happens is to be a founder’s first call. Whether it's a professional matter or even a personal issue.”
The difficulty about it, he shared, was that it’s on them as investors to prove daily that they’re here for them, to really put in the work and be available and reliable each and every time.
Many times founders will call for advice on something, and the first answer from them as investors would be - “I don’t know. But here are a few things I would think about if I was in your shoes.” It’s being with them in the struggle, with all your experience and knowledge, but not behaving as if you know better from them what they should do with their own startup.
Gal explained - “We have a bunch of experience and experts - but still, each company is unique and each situation is unique.” What’s frustrating to him the most is seeing investors give automatically fixed answers based on their own experience, which is valuable, but should be viewed as only one input - “If you want to be helpful to CEOs, you have to put in the work. You have to come to the problem and think about it with them, and listen, and ask questions versus providing answers.”
Finally, Gal concluded - “When we’re working with CEOs and teams we have to remember that they’re people - they’re parents and partners and friends before they are CEOs, CTOs... If they’re not in a good place personally, they’re never going to be in a good place professionally.”