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."
Gigi Levy Weiss is one of the most appreciated, sharp and talented investors in the Israeli startup scene, in addition to making a name for himself abroad. He is a GP at NFX together with James Currier, Pete Flint, Omri Drori & Morgan Beller.
Following his time as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, Gigi had founded several successful startups, including Playtika (acquired for $4.4 billion), Ridge, Beach Bums and more. He used to be the CEO of 888 Holdings, one of the world’s frontrunners in the gaming industry. As an investor, Gigi has backed startups such as Komodor, Mammoth Biosciences, Kenshoo, MyHeritage and countless others. He also serves as an advisor on the board of several organizations, such as MEET - Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow.
The CEO Persona
In my conversation with Gigi, we spoke about the complexity embedded in the CEO role - the costume you wear, and how that sometimes it gets confused with the real you. He shared how as a young CEO - he was led by his ego, offering very little compassion and forgiveness, and how important it is for a CEO to learn to put his ego aside and really listen to others.
In Silicon Valley, both founders and investors use a language which nurtures a complex threshold of expectations - they are all “killing it”. They are expected to refrain from showing any kind of weakness, further adding to the personal burden, often resulting in misery and challenging aspiration. Now, it doesn't mean that you should share your weakness with everyone, but it should be safe to do it with your inner circle and close peers.
The Investor Persona
Gigi sees his role as the sounding board of the entrepreneurs in which he invests. Once they share their truth - it’s a ‘Protected Zone,’ and they can rest assure that it stays that way. Neither Gigi nor the other NFX GPs insist on being on a company's board, however, they do insist on being the last conversation prior to the board.
Sometimes, it's the ‘tough love’ approach, as this is what they need to hear at that moment. Gigi believes that as investors – they should be grateful to have been chosen by the founders to join their journey. The founders are generally brilliant, hungry, energetic and willing to sacrifice a lot on the startup journey. "It’s not ‘our’ company - it’s theirs". One of Gigi's main fears is that he might have picked the wrong entrepreneur.
Founders’ Psychological Traits
Gigi has seen more than 10,000 entrepreneurs over the years. In different verticals - different traits are needed. But, there are psychological aspects that are true for entrepreneurs in general.
- Founders are a mix of inherent contradictions
- Optimism - they never believe they’ll fail
- They must have an elastic and agile mind, so they can reconvene new directions when needed
- Be open and transparent
- Crystalize a clear vision & WHY
- Be data-driven decision-makers
- Entrepreneurs can be either arrogant & loud or insecure & quiet; the range is surprising. However, both types can be great entrepreneurs.
- Decision Makers - “Move Fast and Break Things”:
- Speed is one of the main character traits founders should possess, whilst being willing to accept failure.
- Speed needs to be balanced with the quality of decisions - especially when it comes to recruiting talent.
Gigi shares his personal growth from always needing to be the smartest guy in the room, telling others what to do, to being the mentor that brainstorms together with the founders. He likes providing them with tools to make decisions, and lets them build their own. This has a lot to do with the concept of parenting and how we educate & mentor our children (or founders).
He sees his role as an investor is helping the entrepreneurs balance their psychological traits, learn how to wear the different costumes when needed. And maybe more importantly -- knowing when to leave them aside.
For Gigi, what helped him most in his personal growth journey - was learning from failures. Failure, the way he sees it, is a call to reach a higher level of consciousness. A “wake up call,” an opportunity to better ourselves.