From Founder To Investor, And Why Showing Humanity, Vulnerability, And Empathy Are Crucial Components In Building Companies & Teams

Yuval Ariav,
Founder and Managing Partner at Symbol, Founder and Ex-CTO at Fundbox

Yuval started his career in the army. He grew up abroad and in addition to Hebrew and English, he also knew Portuguese and Spanish, and was recruited to 8200 for a translator position in a technological unit. Shortly after he arrived, he was informed that his position had been canceled, but he could stay. That's how he got involved in computer tech by chance, and he stayed there for ten whole years.

"I live for the learning curve"

- ​​at the end of his service he was already a Major, managing dozens of people directly and another hundred indirectly, and feeling that his learning curve was beginning to moderate. The passion to learn is the beating heart of his work, so he turned to see what else was out there.

He met with Guy Rosen and Roi Tiger and joined Onavo even before fundraising. Unlike the army where he was used to a regimented system of rules which you are bound to, here you’re the one who makes the rules and also the one who breaks them. The experience was amazing and educational for him, and he discovered that building something from scratch brings him the greatest pleasure. That's what really fuels him.

He was there for the first two years, and in the end it was acquired by Facebook for $200M, which at the time was considered an exceptional success in Israel.

Yuval left to start Fundbox, which he believed would be even bigger than Onavo. Yuval shares that every experience of leaving is bittersweet - it's hard, but in the end you want to know that the business is in good hands. Before Yuval left, he was very concerned about who would replace him - he was determined to check that whoever would take his place could take care of the company. In the end, we want to work with people we like, that we care about, and when we already have strong relationships, we also want to make sure that after we leave they are in good hands. For Yuval personally, it was very important.

Luck plays a role

Yuval mentions the well-known phrase - "Luck favors the prepared".

Many people interpret the sentence as a need for being thorough - the only way for success is to prepare a lot, but Yuval actually sees it the other way around -

"You should never get confused when you’re not very lucky."

As a person who invests in many companies and is involved in companies in the early stages, he has learned to appreciate how much luck plays a role -

"It gives you a lot of perspective - yes, you can be very good and bet on a great market, but in the end luck plays a lot in the outcome. Speaking of mental health and how we perceive ourselves in such situations, what we don't often talk about is entrepreneurs who see similar companies, competitors, friends, who raise a lot of money even though they’re not really in a good place. It makes you look inside and get confused. It should be recognized that there’s a lot of luck in this equation, it can help us contain it."

An element that is woven into the entrepreneurial culture is the performative angle through which we are used to looking at and measuring other entrepreneurs. This plays a big role in the evaluation of our performance and that of others, and in addition to this, and perhaps also from this, there is a discourse in which 'everything is always fine, excellent, successful', and in a world where everything changes in a second, there’s no such thing. And yet, we cling to this appearance, afraid to tell the truth, to show vulnerability. Yuval experienced this both from the angle of an entrepreneur and later as an investor, and wanted to create a more open, more genuine dialogue with the entrepreneurs with whom he works.

The roller coaster is a fact that cannot be changed in the journey of the entrepreneur, and Yuval believes that it should be respected, given the space it deserves as a large part of the package when you choose to be an entrepreneur. As someone who was also an entrepreneur, he understands how a painful gap can arise between entrepreneurs and investors -

"I think it's this thing that, if you haven't experienced it, it's very difficult to develop empathy for. In the end, to create strong relationships over time, ones that give value and that people can use as leverage To succeed - you must have empathy. It’s very difficult to develop empathy if you haven’t walked this journey."

The transition from an entrepreneur to investor

He sees his place as an investor from the human angle - when he invests - he commits to someone's journey. There’s no expiration date for this road, it means a lot to him.

"This is exactly what separates generic investors from investors I would like to work with - this commitment to the 'lows'. Everyone knows how to be committed to the 'highs'."

The transition to being an investor was very gradual. After Fundbox, Yuval wanted to start another company and turned to LionBird, the VC that led their seed round at Fundbox. Many of those who work there were entrepreneurs and operators themselves - Yuval points out that much of what makes them great is that they went through this journey themselves. He joined them as an EIR, and after a few months they offered him to be a GP for their second fund.

Yuval then didn't know if he wanted the position - he had never done anything like this before. He communicated this with them, and with complete understanding they offered him to try the job for two or three years, and if after that he’ll still want to start a company, he’ll have a check open from them. They really saw him, and that expression of trust was what he needed to take that risk and dive into the unknown.

"I really enjoyed being an investor. From the analytical work of understanding what trends and entrepreneurs to bet on and developing what I call co-founder conviction - to invest with the knowledge that if you weren't an investor now, you would want to join these guys as a co-founder. It always guides me."

Things don't go according to plan

"Things usually don't go according to plan. This is another guiding principle in my career - 'in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice it’s not true.' In the end there’s a plan, and the plan is great for understanding how people think, but it will probably change."

Yuval has personally experienced this law of life. This is a significant part of his career perspective, which helped him to understand and adjust his expectations to reality, and act from this coordination.

And just like in the phrase, life drops bombs out of nowhere, and don’t miss the personal aspects either. On one seemingly regular morning, on the way to work, Yuval found out one of his best friends had committed suicide. This loss shocked him to the chore and made him ask the questions - what’s life for you? Is it really ‘the life’  when the people who are closest to you are not as close to you as you thought? Do you really know them as much as you think?

Dealing with the loss took him years, and from it two things in particular were enacted in him - to respect how temporary things are, and how important it is to talk. 

At first he didn't share, sealed everything inside him and tried to carry it all alone. 

"There’s always something in me that is afraid to bring up such things, not because of the thought that it will paint me as weak, but because in some part of me, I feel that I’m taking a space that is not mine to take. These are my thinking patterns that I need to work on." 

Many entrepreneurs who I (Gali) talked to who have experienced loss or difficulty describe this thing - even though I want to share something, I have a cynical judgmental voice towards myself. Who am I to talk about it?

This is what Yuval believed, and the internalization of this belief led to a difficult period in his life, in which he shares that he made destructive and unhealthy decisions, both in his personal and professional life. Only after he learned to share, something was released in him. Despite the great pain that will always remain, after coming out of this dark period, he shares that he lives a happier life.

And this is exactly what we can do in the face of the chaos of life - to take the things we go through as an engine for growth, to see how we become more precise, wiser, with a joy that is not naive - it knows that painful things have happened and will happen, but precisely because of that understanding, every beautiful moment becomes whole by itself and appreciated much more.

Contact Me

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.