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. 81 - With Shani Zanescu, Climate Tech Investor & Entrepreneur
At the age of 30, Shani is a lead investor in Climate tech. But for her, the story starts way back, at the age of 15, when her parents told her to pack everything because they were moving from Israel to Texas.
As a teenager, you can only imagine the drama that occurred due to such a move but in the end, it was one of the best experiences she had in her life. She graduated high school early and went to study at TCU (Texas Cristian University) when her family decided to return to Israel.
She had to make a difficult choice – should she stay there alone until graduation, or should she return home with her family?
“It was an epic moment in my life - not because of the decision, but because it was the first time in my life that I remember feeling intuition. I felt it in my gut, this confidence that I didn’t know where it came from - and this voice inside of me said - ‘you can always come back, just try this.’”
And indeed, she stayed and shared that this experience taught her how to trust herself - being there, visioning, visualizing so vividly how she’s getting her Diploma, and then making it come true built something in her that served her in the future.
It was a very joyful time in her life, but it came with a price - “It was the first time I felt ‘home-sick’. I was literally sick, physically ill from missing my parents.”
This is something I (Gali) have experienced, but it still never ceases to amaze me how deeply our minds affect our bodies and vice versa. This connection is a powerful way for our minds to speak to us through our bodies, when something is right or wrong, and when something needs to be balanced in our life.
So, after graduating, Shani decided to come back to Israel and do her military service, at the age of 21. She served in the foreign affairs unit and realized how passionate she was about the thing she missed the most: Israel.
Relocating for the second time
One day, her army unit got an email from the Israeli embassy in the Netherlands, which said they were looking for someone from the IDF to work there with them.
Listening to her instinct again, she sent her CV and got in, and for the second time, she packed everything and relocated, this time to the Netherlands.
Professionally, it was an amazing experience for her - she loved her job and all the responsibility that was included within her role. But she shared that it was really difficult - “I was not only the youngest, but I was also the only woman there for most of the time, and I was there alone.”
Though that ‘all too familiar’ feeling of homesickness crept in, the force that pushed her to take this role and develop her career was stronger - “I chose this. I knew I would benefit from it and that I would learn a lot from being there, and if I was learning, I should stay. But that doesn't make you forget the sacrifices you make. I was fully aware of that.”
She stayed in the Netherlands for almost two years; one cold night she just knew she had to go back, so she booked a one-way ticket to Israel.
Being attuned to ourselves is the key to managing these different aspects within ourselves, our different needs that may contradict one another, but still, need to be balanced.
Finding her true passion
“I know that the world, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has my back. Some decisions are going to be made for you, and sometimes it can be super painful. Being resilient depends on how much you're attuned to your feelings – to allow me to feel the pain or whatever it is that I’m feeling but know that in the long run or even the short run there’s a bigger plan that is meant for me, and I need to go along with it.”
And here the two parts of her beliefs come together because if she’s trusting herself, she’s also trusting the universe. But for this to happen, we need to learn to let go, which is a very difficult thing to do.
In Israel, she worked in the British Consul – first as a project manager, and after that as a team manager. Shani shared that the biggest takeaway from her job was the insight that she's most passionate about science and innovation– this is what excites her.
After that, she managed an innovation center, which wasn’t the right fit, “But something magical happened - I was blown away by interacting with founders of companies daily and seeing the fire in their eyes - I thought, these are my people. I want that energy in my life.”
She struggled to find a place and a role that she could fit into, and when she couldn’t find it - she founded her own company - “I learned from doing and working so much. It wasn’t theoretical. This is who I am as a person, I like to be thrown into things, and learn from everyone around me.”
When I asked her about what made her choose the Climate Tech arena, she answered with a smile and sparkling eyes - “Something that moves me is being part of something so big that I cannot even see it sometimes, like the climate change crisis. Add the layer of new opportunities in this arena these days, and together there’s no better time than now.”