What Is It Like Being A Senior Executive In The Startup World And Leading Through An Authentic Personal Branding?

Efrat Fenigson,
CMO of Mindspace, Co-Founder of G-CMO

Working with the fear

At the age of 25 after a bachelor's degree, Efrat, who worked as a programmer at the time, enters another day at work, but something feels different. She must admit to herself that this place doesn’t feel right for her - even if she’s good at programming it’s not the job that suits her. With the desire to make a change, many fears also arose - a very great fear of disappointment, a fear of what people would say and fear of the uncertainty itself.

On the other hand, she also had what she describes as:

“inner calling, a gut feeling that I wanted to study business and didn’t want to go back to university." An opportunity came her way through a friends' jewelry business, and she embarked on a new journey, "learning about business from her own experience, in the academy of life."

Fast forward a few years, and Efrat decides after an intense period of work, to take a year off and leave Airobotics where she worked then.

Even then the same strong fears came to the surface - she doesn’t know what the next thing is, what the plan is, economic fears, whether it’s the right move. All of these spun over and over in her mind and created a fog around her. In therapy, her psychologist told her -

"What's the worst thing that could happen?"

and that resonated with her. She got the outer reinforcement she needed at that point, and gave herself a year to listen inward, to re-understand what makes her feel good, to build a renewed vision.

Efrat shares that with every choice she had later on, the fear didn’t go away - but his role has diminished.

Efrat believes that it’s worth working with our fear -

"not to let this fear stop us, it exists in us and sometimes it’s very powerful. But our choice is whether to stop in his presence, or continue to listen to our intuition and gut and our inner calling of what is right, and choose it even though it’s difficult and even though it’s scary".

After many years of inner listening and working with her fears, Efrat no longer feels it - she has instilled in herself enough confidence to release her self-doubts.

Pave your own way

Efrat shares that her personal way of weaving and planning the future is along the way. Her sight and intentions are not extended too far into the future, what she puts the most emphasis on is reaching short term goals and checking every time - whether it's right for her or not, whether it resonates with her.

Even through the eliminating options we understand our direction - the reduction of possibilities delimits our choices to the most refined dream, even if we don’t yet know exactly what it is. It's okay not to know exactly where we're going.

What helps Efrat maintain this anchor within herself is to make pauses as part of her routine and observe what’s happening and what she’s feeling - to check that she is really present in her life and in her path. As in mindfulness, it’s important to allow this space between inhaling and exhaling.

When we go out into the fast-paced world, exposed to all the voices of social programming, expectations and what’s considered normal, we tend to lose the connection to our psyche, to our dreams.

Efrat shares that in a conversation with a friend who asked her what she wanted to do in life after leaving, she spoke from her gut and said that she didn’t know why and how this would happen, but she had a desire to represent Israel in the world. She had no experience, no direction, and honestly - it sounded delusional in her ears too. But two or three years after that, she started working at the Export Institute and led a delegation to Canada, where she spoke on stage and represented Israel in the world. The dreams that sound delusional to us today, could be our reality in the future.

The prices of being a senior executive

As a senior executive in startups - there are quite a few prices that come with this role:

1- A single function that handles what I do - there are not a lot of people with whom you can consult with

2- Everyone thinks they get it. You need to navigate and fend off in favor of what will be best for the company

3- Personal prices - the burden of the responsibility is great and touches on many areas

4- If there are no clear boundaries, work can spill into our personal life and take over life 

5- To be in the Israeli ecosystem - it can be tiring to maintain this place, with high alertness, to always be busy and receive lots of inquiries

As a single mother, Efrat has decided that she’s not giving up on any role - neither being a mother nor her career. From this decision she realized she needed help, and moved in with her parents.

This "partnership" with our parents when we’re adults is not always easy, but Efrat shares that she asked for the help - so she made a choice. And out of this decision, the difficulties don’t take up much space, because she has chosen her path and thus she doesn’t take a victim position within her own life.

Sometimes we also get signals from the environment that helps us adjust our choices and understand the prices of our choices. Efrat shares that she worked around the clock for two weeks for an article as a part of her job, and when the article was published, her son approached her holding the newspaper with her picture on it, and said -

"Mom, I see you here in the newspaper, even though I didn’t see you yesterday."

This sentence was like an arrow straight to her heart and made her re-weigh her decisions, but also to realize there are peaks to the job and that's fine as long as it's not the routine.

Authentic personal branding

Personal branding has become a somewhat tiring phrase in the way it has been used in recent years.

One of the things I (Gali) say to entrepreneurs is that they promote two things - one is the startup, and the second is themselves as individuals, as a persona. And this is not a bad thing, on the contrary - investors first fall in love with the entrepreneur and the team before the product. It’s a place that many times for entrepreneurs, especially in the beginning - is not easy. Striving and wanting to be a leader or a person with influence comes with a lot of emotional and mental blocks. Part of the success of the venture will come after we are seen as professionals, and I believe that it must come in an authentic way. The key to authentic branding comes from the combination of how I put myself out there, and how I give value. At first it will not feel comfortable - and it’s ok.

"These are exactly the invitations that reality brings and pushes as a mirror to us. These places where the triggers come up, the fears, our inner barriers, of how it will sound to others, of how I don’t become too grandiose, of the impostor's syndrome - they will understand that I don't really know what I’m talking about or that I’m not good enough in my field. All the barriers that arise - are the invitations of the universe to deal with what’s stopping you. Because if you started a startup - you have no small vision, you came to create something new, and you will not succeed in your mission if you don’t allow yourself to learn, to evolve and overcome The obstacles you have. It's never easy."

We didn’t choose this life as entrepreneurs because it’s a comfortable life. But we chose it because there’s something bigger than us that moves us toward the vision of influencing the world, and it needs to be voiced both as a company and as an individual. When you see the purpose from the inside, it radiates out to the company. Efrat clarifies that - when I understand what my mission is, what gives me butterflies in my stomach and there is the bigger thing than me who leads me, the same fear of what they will say about me disappears - because it’s no longer about me, it’s about my mission.

And in that place, we feel whole.

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