I love the show “Billions”.
One of its main characters is Wendy Rhoades, who acts as a “performance coach” or “mental coach” for the hedge fund’s traders. This role is one part executive coach, one part therapist, one part confidante. Wendy is patterned after many “performance coaches” in the finance industry. They aren’t psychiatrists, executive coaches, or spiritual advisors. They simply help traders to “get out of their own way” and do their best work.
We at Refactor are excited to announce that Sara Sperling is our first Performance Coach-In-Residence. She will play a similar role to a Performance Coach for Wall Street firms — but for startup founders. Sara has deep experience in startups — she led Human Resources at Snap and Doordash, and helped launch the Diversity efforts as an executive at Facebook. We felt that this domain knowledge is critical for this role. Any trusted coach needs to have credibility with their clients but provide value immediately since time is the founder’s most precious resource. Sara initmately knows the ins-and-outs of startups and the startup journey having worked with some of the best founders in the world. Founders can meet her once and instantly get value from her because she can quickly get on their page, pattern match their situation, and advise them on how to move forward productively.
Sara is already an advisor to Refactor, helping companies with building positive organizations, developing great leaders and catalyzing strong teams. We like to say that she helps founders to “develop companies” with the same planning and deliberation that they develop products and businesses. Startups are hardwiring these pieces earlier than ever in these aspects, and Sara is a world-class advisor in this aspect.¹
However, there is a common pattern of grueling times for any founder or business owner — firing someone for the first time, pivoting your idea if things aren’t working, deciding whether to sell or move on, etc. Every case is different and involves different circumstances and range of emotions for a founder. And that’s where the human touch is invaluable and irreplaceable. There are some thoughts and feelings that a founder would be reluctant to share with an investor. In these situations, we’ve found that an “executive coach” may not be the exact fit² and a founder may not want a therapist — the problem is more discrete and tactical. We are hypothesizing that a “Performance Coach” will fill this role.
We at Refactor highly recommend that founders have someone with whom they can have as a coach/confidante/advisor. This could be a friend, therapist, executive — or performance coach.³ But, we believe it’s the most important and overlooked part of the founder journey. Many founders don’t invest their time here — for some, there is still a stigma. That is baffling to me. There is so much new information about how managing one’s “circle of emotions” is more important than mastering one’s “circle of competence.” And if elite performers like Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan have “performance coaches”, then hopefully that’s the social proof one needs to manage their emotional fitness as well as they manage their burn rate or body fat.
¹ Under this arrangement, founders will have access to Sara on a limited basis and if they want more services (which we encourage!), they can hire Sara and her partner, Stuart Crabb, at Oxegen Consulting on a full-time basis.
² There are some world-class firms that excel in this dimension along with others.
³ For many founders, it is hard for an investor to play this role as unbiased and active listener in some situations.