It was more than a year ago that I embarked on my journey to become an executive coach to founders. Moving from investor, to operator, to coach seemed to confuse everyone I talked to. This is my attempt to clarify and share what I have learnt so far during this unique and thrilling transition.
You can learn more about executive coaching for VC-backed founders on my new website: www.juliusbachmann.com
Why I Love The Founder & Venture Community
Like many I arrived in Berlin as a hopeful intern looking for a job that would allow me to prove my worth. I have been able to do just that because the venture community—the founders, startup employees, and investors—embraced me, and gave me so many opportunities. Over the years, my mentors have nurtured my strengths; asking, “How can you contribute?” rather than dismissing me with, “You’re too young or inexperienced.”
Throughout my almost decade long career in venture, working with entrepreneurs has given my work as an executive coach the biggest leverage possible. While on a human level, what began as work acquaintances have developed into long-lasting friendships.
How Investing Taught Me To Put People First
I started out far from the standard venture fund model by helping build new venture investment practices in Europe. My first venture apprenticeship began in London at AngelList in their early syndicate days.
After moving to Berlin, I worked as an investor for one of Redstone’s early-stage funds, and soon found myself more involved with it’s founders post-investment. Soon after, I helped the US fund family Joyance Partners make the leap over to Europe as their Berlin-based venture partner.
From these experiences I was struck by two things:
- I cared more about the people than I cared about returns.
- Every investor’s tagline included “value-add,” but “value-add” often seemed to equal “being opinionated.” I wondered: Who could founders open up to without being judged? Who could they call upon to develop their own views?
Founders Want To Be Heard Not Judged
After leaving Redstone, I dove deep into a string of interim roles at high-growth companies. I helped in setting up new teams, scaling departments, business planning, and fundraising. While the companies varied in team size from 15 to 150, my work was always focused on the founders at the heart of these businesses.
During this time, I learned two major lessons:
- Firstly, it was not the advisory work that resonated. What really seemed to stir up my clients was simply being there for them and listening without advising at all. I received numerous notes from my clients thanking me profusely—simply for being there without having an agenda.
- Secondly, making founder coaching successful “from within” a startup proved to be impossible. The search for a coach that founders can confide in rarely ends with a board member or the head of people. It ends with someone who can dispassionately look at the business from the outside.
Taking The Leap To Become An Executive Coach
I saw the dire need for founder coaching and tried to hack my way into coaching. Inspired by Henrik Storm, Manuel Hinz, and Jenny Jung, I enrolled in a year-long coaching training. On a Saturday afternoon in 2019, I announced to my network that I would be coaching founders as part of my coaching certification. I received more than 25 messages from venture-backed founders within the next day, all excited to create a space where they could reflect on their personal growth. I was onto something.
In January 2020, sitting on a plane heading towards Mexico City, looking out over the Sierra Madre, I committed to a path as a founder coach. Yes, I had a copy of The Trillion-Dollar Coach in my lap. Yes, I was completely oblivious as to how that journey looked like. Coaching founders is neither a scalable business nor is it a path that many have walked before me. To me, it means combining the best of what investing, and building have in common: Helping founders be their best selves.
Making Venture More Human
This last year has forced me—and many of us—to slow down. I now realize, having time has been the best thing for my coaching. Last year gave me the opportunity to integrate my investor and builder experience into the coaching mindset. It forced me through the rigour of supervision and peer feedback. It gave me the time to clarify my own intentions as a coach.
Heading into 2021, I begin the second phase of this journey: Reflecting on my work as an executive coach through writing. Building products and partnerships that scale my coaching work. Hoping to inspire others to join me on my mission to create a more human-centric venture community that supports founders at every vital stage of their journey in order to achieve their personal and business goals. I will never stop learning on this journey.
I welcome all of you to join me on this ride.