Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and required to constantly be at peak performance. This often makes it hard to find 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."
Episode #36 - Sagi Schliesser, Founder & CEO of Crazy Labs, Angel Investor
Sagi found himself asking several times in his career - “What Can I Be The Best At?” He was always into computers and psychology, figuring out how to combine those dual inherent skills & passions of his. He founded several ventures in the sports arena that were the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey.
Every Year There is a December
Sagi created for himself a very useful ritual - a Yearly December Mental Notes Routine - which in fact - he was considering whether to rehire himself to the same position - not only professionally wise. He was going over various aspects of his personal & professional life and checking the pulse, then making decisions whether or not he should continue in the same path. Sometimes - decisions were too complex to be taken in the coming December - so he would add a mental note for the future, and reconsider with himself in the following year.
When he had to choose between several good job opportunities, which was not an easy decision, one driven by ego-money-title - he cut a deal with himself - and “signed tentatively” - which enabled him to review his decision, reassess where it brings him to in the future, and to keep a space open to choose the other path, if needed.
Sagi is a zero-one person. He knows how to build things from scratch and grow them. He joined IDIT in the InsurTech sector, and worked with the biggest Insurance corporations in the world. He was there for 7 years (In the Jewish religion 7 is a special number with a deeper meaning - a typology number. Same goes to Sagi’s journey, and we’ll get to that number again). Moving on to Sapiens - Sagi led amazing operations also for 7 years, but along the way - he felt that his soul needed to be nourished with something else. So he went to his boss, who saw him, and allowed him to start working on a side project that would nurture Sagi’s creativity. Guy, his future Co-founder - joined him. And they started again - 0-1.
Sagi always wrote a lot. So at the age of 35 - instead of just writing to the drawer - he also published his children’s book - dedicated to his daughter - “HighTech Dad”. He wrote about his passion for what he does, with the trade-offs it contains in it. His smart daughter who saw through him told him - “keep on doing what you love - just come home a bit earlier”.
His “side project” got bigger, and he felt he had to cut the cord and go all in - in his startup. That’s when TabTable became a key player in the gaming industry. I asked Sagi, as a dad who leads a gaming company - how does he feel about what he does with nowadays children’s addiction to screens, tech & gaming. “There's hypocrisy in many of the things we do. We solve the problem of being bored. At the end, or actually the beginning - it’s on us, the parents, to educate and be a role-model. Kids like to imitate - and they see us with the mobiles all day long - they simply do the same”.
And I add - maybe boredom is not the problem we should solve? Adults & children need to learn how to contain boredom and feel comfy with themselves & with being uncomfortable sometimes as well, instead of resisting it and feeling an urge to fill it with screen time.
Pivoting & splitting
TabTable was a gaming company, focusing on games for children. 7 years - and they felt a change had to happen. That’s when they pivot to Crazy Labs, focusing on adult games. “We constantly change. Change structure, products. The market changes, the users - we have to adapt and be constantly ready to see what comes.”
That’s also when it hit him, that change is not for everyone. When you’re more of a conservative person - change can be hard. People evolve differently, and Sagi felt that he and his partner were seeing things in a different way. The company was profitable, but Sagi didn't want just to optimize things - he wanted to continue to grow. That’s how the chaos began. From working together every night - to not communicating at all. It was too emotional and draining - they understood they had to split.
Sagi speaks about founders' relationships and how important it is to understand who is the owner. CEOs need to make hard decisions and that can cause a dispute in the leadership. That year, he didn't do his December Routine. He also got divorced and altogether - things were hard.
Sagi grew Crazy Labs, leading it to a great deal, selling the company to a Sweden corporation. The market was hot, 2 co-founders left, there was momentum, the shareholders thought it’s a good play. The new company manages everything in a very transparent way, and as you can guess - they built together a 7-year plan in which Sagi leads Crazy Labs in a full autonomy.
From a Founder to an Angel Investor
Sagi invests in a diverse portfolio of companies - bringing his extensive experience in startups into the companies he chooses to invest in. He looks at the team & the product - to clearly understand its needs. The chemistry with the team is priceless - it needs to be a good fit. He was one of the 1st angel investors in Jfrog and safeDK, so - so far, there are great instincts involved.
Sagi is a very dedicated entrepreneur, founder, leader and dad. He saw a lot. He speaks frankly about how to part ways with your co-founder, and if necessary - how to try and manage the process through mediation as opposed to lawyers. For him personally - it was already impossible to mediate at that point. He recommends very much to have someone on the board, that both of the co-founders feel comfortable with and trust - so that in case of a dispute - they can help mediate.
When I asked him if he believed the investors should take sides in a case of a major dispute - Sagi says it depends on how well they are involved in the company and familiar with what’s going on there. As a founder - he only wanted the investors to take side and be aligned- otherwise it’s a deadlock to the company.