The relationship between founder and investor is a critical one. In good times and bad. We share a little bit of background about how these relationships are built.
Eugene originally reached out to me through a mutual connection. We weren’t fundraising at the time, but he’d been looking into our space, and we came up on his radar. He made a few interesting comments in his very first email that gave me the sense he knew our category more than most so, out of curiosity, I agreed to connect. The conversation ended up being a pivotal point in what happened next. He was an intellectual sparring partner from the get-go.
I always think investors know enough to be dangerous. By that I mean, we can talk about a lot of things at a relatively shallow level. But when challenged to go deeper, we can get caught off guard. I never wanted that to happen to me. I had spent a lot of time understanding the market WorkRamp plays in, and I was keen to hear how Ted was addressing some of the challenges and embracing the opportunities.
I had a strong point of view on the space and wanted to understand his vision, as much to deepen my own understanding of the market, but of course I was also interested specifically in his business.
After that first conversation I put the phone down and said to my partner “I think I’ve just spoken to an investor who knows more about our space than I do!”. That’s a very rare thing. That conversation with Eugene was nothing like the countless cold reach outs I get from investors weekly. And in fact, that thoughtful, insightful type of conversation has been the bedrock of our relationship as founder/ investor.
You know, when we raised our Series A we followed the same MO as lots of startups who go through the major accelerator programs. Think of the fundraise as transactional. Build FOMO. Get people clawing over your deal. For Seed and Series A I guess that makes sense. But for the companies that make it to a Series B round, you get to the point where these relationships with investors can’t just be transactional. These people are coming on a journey with you that will inevitably have tough times. You want to trust the people who are along for that ride.
At a basic level as an investor, you need to believe there is a market opportunity. That’s a given. And that belief is fueled by data, even better. But those numbers aren’t always there at the early stage. Beyond the business fundamentals, you need to be committed to working with this founder for the next 5-7 years. And you only have so many shots on goal as our Canadian friends like to say. A big part of knowing whether to make the final call on an investment, is based on gut feel. And with Ted my gut was telling me this was someone I could confidently back.
Ted has an insatiable curiosity and desire to improve. He seeks insights and feedback continuously and is decisive in each move he makes based on those insights. All of this is underpinned by an incredible sense of determination that just makes those around him want to root for him. A winning combination for a founder, if ever there was one.
One of the things I like about Eugene is his authenticity. He’s been at a startup, so he knows the reality of life on the ground. We’re also at a similar life stage and we both have something to prove. It fuels us. And although our relationship is never adversarial, he is not shy about challenging me. I talk to him regularly about everything from the practicalities of expense management in a scaling business to how to maintain our unique culture and everything in between. He doesn’t try to be part of the management team, but I know he’s there when I need his advice.
As someone relatively new to this side of the table, I want founders to know that I will be with them through thick and thin. I want them to give me homework, tell me how I can help them. Of course, I have operational expertise already in things like product led growth and customer success, but don’t pigeon-hole me – I am very willing to do the research and work my network to a founder’s benefit beyond where I can readily add value today. I will be a resource you can lean on unconditionally but know that I will offer you tough love. Importantly, I’m not just here for the business, I am here for the founder.
One of the things I’m most excited about right now is the evolution of the learning space. We are all learning, all the time. Businesses are seeking ways to move beyond traditional models where people sit in classrooms, both real or virtual. We are seeing the emergence of a ‘learning tech stack’ that is integrated into a business, helping people evolve their employees in the best way possible, for the individual and the business. In the same way a company might have ‘sales enablement’ we think of ‘employee enablement’. There is a massive transition underway in every single business right now that is having an impact on processes and business models. Learning is at the heart of this shift.
I agree. For employees or knowledge workers, learning opportunities should exist in any medium you might conceive of. I could self-skill externally. I could self-skill in a company. I could find cohort-based learning. The demand and desire for this learning evolution exists, and we are just at the early innings of making the infrastructure for it to happen a reality. That’s exactly where Workramp plays. The talent war is a huge driver for this focus on employee value and the market shows no sign of slowing down.
On a final note, I think it’s important to say that while my initial connection was with Eugene, and he is certainly the one with the most active role in advising our business, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the breadth of expertise across the firm. Whether it is having access to other Partners who’ve seen companies go through similar challenges as us, or tapping into the functional expertise of the firm’s Operations team, having OV on our side has been a real asset.