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. 80 featuring:
Jonny Saacks, Managing Partner of F2 Venture Capital,
Barak Rabinowitz, Managing Partner of F2 Venture Capital
Noa Matz, Operating Partner of F2 Venture Capital
Jonny has been an investor for over 20 years, and claims, “It’s all about the people. There's the technology, the size of the market, etc., but at the end of the day, it’s about the people – not just as individuals, but as a team.”
When I asked Jonny how he and his team assess founders when meeting them for the first time, he shared that the first thing they check is “their why” – what’s the reason that brought the founders to do what they do: “If we can connect to that and it’s authentic, then that’s a great start.”
But Noa chimed in saying it’s a two-way street – Both parties assess each other to build a relationship - “We try to let them get to know us and who we are. We say, ‘this could be your home someday'. Then, we can ask them to show us who they are. But this approach isn't really an assessment, we’re just trying to get closer to them.”
When challenges arise
What happens when suddenly we’re not completely aligned as a team? Jonny shared that for him it's first and foremost all about communication and transparency – “Try to determine as soon as possible if there’s an alignment of interests”, that way, you’ll know that when you choose to go on a journey together, you’ll solve every obstacle and disagreement as a team, because you agree on the big things and you look in the same direction.
He added: “There’s always tension. There's never a smooth ride to success. There are always challenges– obstacles that you must overcome in various fields as a founder, team member, employee, family member, etc. You have your personal aspirations, and many different factors which come into play 24/7, and you need to manage and regulate them. It’s like a professional athlete – they all have sources of stressors, but when they step on the field, they can always bring themselves to be at peak performance.”
Noa shared that their goal is not to get to a crisis point, but to be prepared and not surprised by obstacles that come in the way and try to show that to the founders they work with. When they prove to the founders daily that they’re with them and support them, they won’t be surprised by a big crisis, because they were there all along.
“The best teams are the ones who know how to talk about crises, overcome them and work productively and effectively together. We had several companies where the founding teams didn’t work out, and in some cases, the company had to be shut down because of this. In one of the cases, one of the founders had to leave, and the founder who stayed brought another founder to work with him, and now the company’s growing extremely well.”
Jonathan suggested that founders choose their partner/s after going through some experiences together.
When I asked if they could tell which founding teams won’t make it, Noa answered that they can spot tension between the co-founders - “Like when one of them speaks and the other is not comfortable, or it feels like one is not giving the other a chance to express their opinion – you can sense the tension through that in a meeting.” That’s why a crucial tool that she teaches the founders she works with is the ability to talk – to really share and listen to one another, to know how to engage in a conversation. “In one of the companies that we work with I noticed that once the co-founders had a conflict and were mad at each other, they stopped everything, found a room, and talked it out – sometimes it could take five hours. And you can see how this ability to talk to one another with our guidance when something’s wrong allows them now to avoid looping into bad blood.”
Barak added a great insight into this process: “We use the analogy of marriage and divorce between founders, but I think it starts to break down when you start to look at the stage of the company. Naturally, we like strong founding teams, but once the company passes series A, and they really need to start scaling in the U.S. and internationally, hopefully, both founders will continue growing individually and as a team. But if they don’t, it’s ok. It’s ok to perhaps allocate a different role to one of the founders, and it’s ok to bring in an executive talent and put the egos aside.”
In the end, Jonny concluded with a punchline: “Remember - it’s not easy, or else everyone would do it.”