Optimising founders’ performance in an uncertain market

Investors are increasingly looking to deploy professional performance optimisation support to maximise the success of founders. Real Deals' Simon Thompson talks to Natalia Ramsden, managing director at SOFOS Associates, to find out more.

Could you explain performance enhancement programs, how they are being deployed in start-ups, and how they exist in the venture capital market more broadly?

Natalia Ramsden: For founders, performance demands increase exponentially as VCs invest in them. If you compare it to the more staggered fashion it unfold in a corporate career, every one or two years, you might get promoted. That is a gradual, incremental increase. Whereas if you’re a founder, it is huge bursts of demands and activity. A founder’s business size may go from them and a co-founder, to 200 people in the span of two years. That is massive, it is hard to acclimatise. Without it being managed or supported, it can be too much growth, too quickly. In VC and PE investments, there is already a lot of operational support and leadership guidance, but far less support around the actual founder’s capability and professional performance. Yet the professional success of founders and management teams are very much linked to their intelligence and capability. When a start-up pursue rapid growth and demand everything from founders, what we see is that less immediate priorities fall by the wayside. Founders’ health, well being and capacity of intellectual development suffers, and diminished performance soon follows. Building programs for optimisation maximisation and sustainable performance becomes pretty key for maintaining pace of learning for optimised intelligence or further development. Some professional development focusing on enhancing their cognitive ability means that the founder isn’t just keeping up, but that they are actually one or two steps ahead.

Can you actually increase someone’s intelligence? And what do start-up founder focused optimisation programs actually involve?

Yes, I believe you can increase your intelligence and the research is pointing in that direction. It is a huge diversion from what we once thought about the brain being static and intelligence being set in early adulthood. The understanding of neuroplasticity (the brain is malleable/plastic) only started to gain traction in the 50’s and it has only been since then that researchers have begun to shift some of their focus to brain enhancement strategies.

In terms of the work we do, the SOFOS approach is highly customised for the individual. Often, we start with addressing the detrimental aspects, those niggling bad habits that are impacting cognition. For instance if someone drinks many glasses of wine most nights, works long hours, and doesn’t sleep well, that is understandably going to have a negative impact on their brain focus and will impact their overall performance and productivity. We have to start with correcting this before we can progress to the optimisation and enhancement work which is of major importance to the founder. Ultimately our focus is on enhancing their cognitive ability – the speed at which they learn, their ability to think strategically, increasing attention, concentration, focus. Obviously it depends on what the business or start-up does as to what is most important to them performance wise. This is a rapidly growing area and innovative developments are constantly coming on to the market. Cognitive enhancement programs include a broad range of interventions starting with sleep, diet and exercise advise through to various types of brain wave training applications, nootropics (supplements that have been shown to boost cognitive power), hyperbaric oxygen therapy which have all shown positive effects on cognition.

The SOFOS approach is data driven. All programs start with an in depth testing phase where we look at everything that impacts how the brain functions as an organ, We take brain maps, bloodwork, saliva samples etc so we can exactly what’s going on and create a bespoke programme run by an expert cognitive clinical team for that individual. We take into account the amount of time the client has to commit, their lifestyle factors and professional demands are and then manage the complete program beginning to end for the client to ensure we achieve the very best results for them.

In terms of uptake and implementation in the VC and PE industry, how common place is this in the market?

I think people are starting to look outside of the same traditional (and sometimes antiquated) development approaches. People are connecting how much their intelligence determines their success. If you are bright and have mental stamina, clarity and can think strategically, there’s a pretty strong correlation between those attributes and success. VCs and investors in the EU and UK already focus on developing almost everything else; leadership capability, financial skills, but haven’t always supported founders with developing their intelligence and performance capability even though that is what a huge part of founder success is relying on. When you look at Silicon Valley, when you look at Wall Street, these sorts of practices have been in place for some time. The UK has been slower to adopt innovative practices, but the shift is happening towards more progressive approaches.

This article was originally published on Real Deals. Click here to read the full version.