The Calm/Storm Academy

Marine Popoff
Calm/Storm Ventures
4 min readMay 29, 2020


Founders supporting founders finding calm during the storm. Marine, Investment Manager, describes Calm/Storm’s Academy and its unfair advantage.

What is the Academy?

The Academy is a place where founders openly talk about their failures, share what they would have done differently, and what they have learned along the way. A safe place of truth and honesty where founders can stay in no-pitching mode.

When we invest in a company, we are actually investing in the founders of the company. We call them our “Portfolio Founders”. They become part of the Academy that is run by Calm/Storm’s network of experienced entrepreneurs, whom we refer to as “Supporting Partners”. While success is subjectively defined, all of our Supporting Partners bring valuable experience to the table, for instance by having led a startup to an exit, but also by leading a startup through a crisis or having to shut down after failing miserably.

We organize online sessions as well as physical events where Supporting Partners exchange with our Portfolio Founders. Instead of giving “clever” recommendations they act as sparring partners, forcing the new entrepreneurs to defend and explain their positions. Very similar to what Phin Barnes, partner at First Round Capital, once described a “good advisor”:The entrepreneur already has the best answer. A good advisor will bring it out by forcing her to walk through the problem again and again.

We are not reinventing the wheel: A more hands — on approach is more effective — as we can see in the example of Y Combinator. Why do YC’s alumni consistently recommend this particular accelerator as an investor to new founders? We know they don’t have Jedi tricks. We’ve been there. It is simple, not a secret: Surround yourself with experienced founders. Talk to people who you trust. Let them guide you. You’ll feel the force.

Why is an Academy needed?

Early-stage founders need support from experienced founders

The Academy is built upon the assumption that in order to deploy their full potential, founders need a safe place where they can reflect, refresh, re-focus and resolve! Entrepreneurship is one of the skills which is almost impossible to learn. You can read about it, but it won’t mean you can apply those words successfully. Just like you cannot read a book on “How to be a Zinedine Zidane” and become the next world’s best football player. But who wouldn’t choose to do a little training session with him?

Pivots are the norm

Early-stage concepts rarely end up doing what they initially were set off for: Youtube started as a video-based dating service, Slack was a popular but unprofitable video game, Shopify was an online snowboard equipment store! The product does rarely ever look the same at Seed stage and when the startup files for IPO. Like in real life, it takes a lot of turns to figure out that sweet spot between what you love doing, what you are good at, and essentially what the market needs.

A healthy level of craziness

People who choose entrepreneurship are, without doubt, a bit crazy. They deliberately choose to get off the beaten path of a stable job and income. Often, they don’t have a degree. They always, however, sign up for a ridiculous amount of work, endless challenges and a lot of disappointments on the way. Founders are pitching to everyone they know: family, friends, people in restaurants, probably dozens of VC firms. It takes a strong and skilful person to project a bold vision with unwavering enthusiasm despite all odds and all the rejections. As Abraham Lincoln said, Success is walking from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Knowledge is King

Starting a successful business is only the beginning: In order to keep the company, you’ve founded successful, you must stay ahead of the game. And that only works with acquiring the most industry and entrepreneurship knowledge possible. This is a challenging task as new founders usually find themselves in a situation where they have more to-dos on their plate than time available. Consequently, they spend less time reading, listening, and learning.

Network is Queen

Founders could turn to their investors for support. But let’s be frank, they don’t always do that or are often too late. If you prepared for sailing across the Atlantic: Would you first ask your banker for advice? Or would you turn to someone who recently made it back from the trip? It’s human to believe the sailor! Calm/Storm understands that. We know we won’t have all the answers, but chances are high that another founder had a similar experience. Our Supporting Partners will share their learnings with you.

What’s the Academy’s goal?

Learning is for life, and the more you become good at it, the tougher the lessons get. Sometimes along the way, you meet people who share their lessons with you. Use that opportunity. When we invest in founders, we invest as much in their visions as in their personalities. We invest in the strong characters that will stand, learn and fight the storm.

We believe entrepreneurship is a continuous storm.

Our goal is to support entrepreneurs to adapt and respond faster to the consistently challenging landscape around them. We want to create opportunities for them to grow personally and professionally, by being there when they need us. Our network of Supporting Partners is our unfair advantage to help founders calm the storm.