We learn together.
(I wrote this post in Miami. It was around 10 PM and I was sitting on a bench in Margaret Pace Park, a must-visit area. I’d already been in Crypto City for two intense months and I can honestly say, it’s an amazing place!)
Every time I am in the US, I think of my very first visit there. It was in 2018, in Philadelphia, with Milo “King of small talk” Wicinski and Piotr Orzechowski, from the Infermedica team. We were in Philly to attend the DreamIT Health Accelerator, which I recommend to every healthtech founder.
Our entire time there was just one great experience after another. Not only did we work hard, but we also had a lot of fun too (I even saw my first live NBA game there):
My role during this trip was to support the Infermedica team and, most of all, to do this without disturbing them. So, I tried to be as helpful as possible (I even gave the first pitch because one guy’s flight had been canceled), but the Infa team, like a beast, was hard at work, selling, networking, pitching, and planting the Polish startup flag in Pennsylvania.
I learned so much just by watching them, especially Piotr. During our meetings with various investors across the US (I think we had 40 meetings in one week — in Boston, NYC, San Francisco, and Philly), he was always prepared, precise with the answers he gave, knew every detail of his business, and reacted dynamically. He applied the feedback that he got from each meeting to the next one, and achieved better results in each following session.
Despite experiencing a little bit of push back as a Polish company, the team, without any inhibitions, presented the business flawlessly, and it was worth being there just to observe.
My professional perspective changed enormously. When you enter the tiny offices of investors who have billions under their management and billions in exits, you realize how small and unnoticeable your fund (and your role) are. However, this all opens your mind too.
And our minds really needed to be opened.
We became shareholders of Infermedica by buying out a public, early-stage fund (the only one that existed at the time). The fund had a substantial sharea nd many individual rights; we took it all. Just imagine what the shareholder structure and governance looked like then! The company was still pre-revenue and some funds would have even used the words “broken cap table” to describe it. However, there were also funds that still wanted to invest and had even proposed term sheets (a good company always finds a way).
In order for us to accept any new investor, this would have required some concessions from us: relinquishing complete formal control and making extra space in the shareholder structure. At the time, we didn’t really know anything about US shareholder structures, NVCA docs, or even the basic standards of operation, so we didn’t really feel comfortable with this. We had only just gone from being known as Venture Incubator to Venture INC. (And I had just started to learn as much as I possibly could from reading US MBA and law books.)
Long story short, We did not make those concessions so there was no new investor.
The atmosphere was tense. There was little shared trust, and communication was no longer very open. It definitely wasn’t a situation that you want to have with a portfolio company and you do not want to be perceived as one of those investors that hinder your progress. Then, this trip happened.
Spending time with people smarter than you makes you better. Peter, along with all the people we have met along the way, helped us find our way out of petty thinking. We were shown the road and the opportunity to learn and grow was laid out. We handled the crisis together and took a step forward.
With the next round, we moved the company to the US, introduced Peter to another fund and, since then, Infermedica has raised more than USD 40 million.
Why am I writing about this?
Because entrepreneurs grow together with their organizations. This is very true, especially for the best ones. However, Investors learn and grow with every investment they make, and by investment, I mean the privilege of working with great founders and managers.
For the past seven years, we have had the chance to meet and work with great founders who have taught us a lot about perseverance, bravery, open-mindedness, and respect.
Those lessons improved our fund and they have also improved me.
The Venture Incubator started with less than USD 1 million in assets. At one point, I was the entire operational team. Today, we have USD 20 million in assets and five people on our team, along with our new managing partner, Magda. While we understand that there are much bigger funds out there and we might not be able to accommodate every single round of funding, we strive to be supportive investors who are able to learn and grow together with each of the founders of our portfolio companies.
From this week onwards, we are now Unfold.VC. Under a new brand and with expanded leadership, we hope to have a chance to accelerate the lessons that will give us the opportunity to continue learning and growing with each new challenge that we take on.
Author: Rafal Sobczak