Straight From the Hearth: Founder Insight

April 8, 2021

“Be a nerd.”

That’s one of the bits of advice Abe Heifets, co-founder and CEO of Atomwise, offered as my guest at March’s FORGE Ask-Me-Anything. [Don’t miss the next one on April 21, RSVP here] Abe would know: from his bio, he “researched high-performance data processing at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center and contributed to the artificial intelligence system of the world-champion robotic soccer team at Cornell University.” He then went on to become a Massey Fellow at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Brain Institute, where his doctoral work used machine learning to help plan organic syntheses. When we spoke, it was clear that Abe relishes diving into the science just as much as balance sheets and financial forecasts. And that’s the mark of a good founder, equally curious about understanding the inner workings of the business he or she is running. In effect, being a nerd.


“Get through the first 100 noes as fast as possible.”

That was another bit of advice from Abe. Many early founders shy away from making the ask to potential investors because they’re afraid of hearing no. The thing is, if you’re a founder and you plan to raise capital, then you should also plan to hear no. A lot. And, as Abe puts it, that’s not a bad thing. Of course, the goal isn’t to be told no, it’s to get a concern that you can act upon, a change you can make, a future objection you can overcome. Trying to land that person with skillset you need? Even if you have no plans to raise capital, you can’t expect everyone to buy into your idea, or even agree with it. No is a possibility. No, it’s a certainty.


“Put investors to work.”

That was Abe’s final message. We had just talked about the challenges of getting in front of serious and meaningful investors – Atomwise has raised over $170 million in venture capital from some of the biggest names like Khosla, Draper, Dolby, B Capital, Tencent, and Baidu – and I asked what advice he could offer to founders out looking for those first checks. His point is that money doesn’t create value by itself. The real value of those early investors is in the doors they can open, experts they can introduce, and guidance they can provide. Someone willing to invest $10,000 or $25,000 in your completely unproven business idea has at least that many reasons to want to see you succeed. Put them to work.

What’s next?

My guest at April’s FORGE #AMA will be Allie Burns, CEO of Village Capital, a venture capital firm that “finds, trains, and invests in early-stage ventures solving major global problems in agriculture, education, energy, financial inclusion, and health.” VilCap is the largest organization in the world supporting impact-driven, seed-stage startups. I’m looking forward to chatting with her about supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the founder ranks, and developing that capability in the entrepreneurial support organizations. Please join me on April 21st and bring your questions!


Register Here!

And stay tuned to hear who is coming up next in our exciting lineup of Ask-Me-Anything gatherings with thought leaders from around the world, including our own backyard.