For many years Jake (my co-managing director) and I have watched founders struggle through varying degrees of personal turmoil as they build their companies with little to no available support.
At our new fund, Alpha Bridge Ventures, we are stepping up our game by re-imagining what founder support looks like. Support that will help founders achieve resiliency, avoid burnout and transition from start-up taskmaster to effective company leader.
Recent research as well as our personal experience suggests that happy, healthy founders are more likely to overcome challenges and be in better positions to win as they scale their companies.
I am happy to introduce the next generation for integrated founder support:
Why Are We Doing This?
I’ve Been There
As a former entrepreneur, solo fund manager and professional artist, I’ve experienced the roller coaster ride of stress, anxiety, self doubt, sleepless nights, and 80 hour work weeks. I have oscillated between imposter syndrome and illusions of superiority with no one to turn to.
At the time, I relied on my inner stubbornness and powered my way through; pride prevented me from asking for help. Eventually I did ask for help, but the lack of affordable and well-vetted resources kept me from taking meaningful steps towards wellbeing. Looking back now I can see that my vision was clouded by a lack of self-awareness and kept me from seeing the forest through the trees.
Through my work as a VC, I have realized that many of the founders in my portfolio share familiar tribulations that mirrored my own. They too found it difficult to navigate overwhelming challenges and source effective solutions to help tap into their own self-awareness. Awareness and acceptance are critical before any real change can be made.
Jake and I have seen it again and again, founders turning inward in times of struggle due to the lack of permission, affordability, and convenience of high quality support.
Similar to the way professional athletes have trainers and coaches at their disposal 24/7 to help with rehab after games; we believe founders require similar 360 degree support to maximize their performance. They are the key players in pushing the limits of innovation and human advancement; they truly are the professional athletes of the startup ecosystem.
To me, it seems like something is broken in start-up culture. The people who are pioneering the most consequential changes in the world are left alone, without support and largely without notice. This neglect is most salient in the groups that have a vested interest in seeing founders succeed. I think it is the responsibility of investors and advisors to step up to the plate and embolden a new conversation around founder self-care.
Strong Leaders = Strong Companies
As an early stage investor, I put my support behind people and ideas. I look for founders who have natural leadership abilities, who inspire those around them and retain the talent necessary to carry out their dreams. But even those with natural talent need mentors and teachers to learn the trade. After all, even Michael Phelps may have drowned in the deep end without proper swimming lessons or a life jacket when starting out.
When assessing portfolio founders, I look for grit, determination, perseverance, confidence, resiliency, drive, relentlessness, belief in the impossible, and the ability to win at all costs. However, I’ve come to realize that “at all costs” often means the cost of the founder’s personal wellbeing and vitality. When these things core elements of a founder are compromised by stress, fear, and pressure, s/he ceases to be her best self. This trampling out diminishes her/his ability to grow into an effective leader, innovative entrepreneur, and sustainable business owner. As we know, companies can only grow within the bounds of their leader’s abilities. Therefore diminished leaders produce diminished businesses resulting in diminished outcomes with unhappy employees, customers, and ultimately funders.
This made me wonder, “Do I feel good about profiting from a company that compromises the founder’s personal wellness and self development?” The simple answer is, “No, I do not.” In fact, if a diminished leader leads to a diminished company then it should follow that a vital, well-supported leader has the capacity to build a vital and well-supported company.
The Time Is Now
Now more than ever, influential founders and funders are openly talking about their personal journeys including the challenges they’ve had to overcome and tactics they’ve used to persevere. Investors with prominence are addressing personal wellness and starting a new dialogue in the startup space. This new dialogue reduces the stigma and starts a conversation that gives founders permission to transform their silent suffering into shared lessons and support.
Why Is This Important?
Humans are complex and interconnected systems comprised of bodies, brains, emotions, and relationships. When one of these systems is failing, the others also become affected. We know that at the end of a 100-hour workweek, the decision to go on a run, call a friend, eat a salad, or cultivate a new positive self-talk practice are not at the top of the list. However, each time one of these self-care practices is skipped the entire system suffers. It is foundationally important for these systems to work cohesively to achieve optimal results. We go to the gym to strengthen our bodies, but often neglect our emotional and mental fitness.
Furthermore, in times of professional need, founders often turn to their investors for guidance and support. It is also true that founders have to hold back their messiest and most vulnerable personal struggles due to the fiduciary nature by which the relationship is built upon. Alpha Bridge aims to close that gap by meeting each founder where they are and leading with inclusiveness, permission, and genuine care.
Where We’re At
We are currently working with researchers and experts in the space of self-care and professional development to create a program that addresses the needs of our founders without adding hoops or hindrances. This qualitative research phase allows us to construct a program from the ground up and fueled by the voices of the founders themselves.
Next, we are excited for our Beta testing phase, which includes founders working with best-in-class wellness coaches, practitioners, and vendors to help facilitate their growth.
As mentioned, our model expands beyond simple health into the areas of physical, mental, emotional, fitness matched with support for business and leadership development. Our program will offer a menu of services, which includes everything from nutrition, sleep, and mind/body medicine to founder-specialized therapy, group support, and executive coaching.
Jake and I have deep empathy for the founder journey and want to be leaders in shifting the narrative of startup life. More than just paying for a few therapy sessions, we are offering an integrated solution to help founders maximize their performance and increase sustainability in their lives and their companies.
Alpha Bridge Ventures is a firm driven by a people-first mentality. We care about founders, we care about stakeholders, and we care about the world. Lots of firms say they invest in founders over ideas, but we are putting our money where our proverbial mouth is. Founder longevity, resiliency, and protection against burnout are at the center of our mission to propel long-lasting, impactful companies into success.
Most VC firms bet on founders, we invest in them….literally.