Lee Jacobs is an entrepreneur, investor, and cofounder of Edelweiss. Based out of San Francisco, his personal mission is to help entrepreneurs be the best versions of themselves and believes that fully self expressed entrepreneurs can have a tremendous positive impact on the world. Lee provides capital and coaching to entrepreneurs through his venture capital fund Edelweiss, where he is responsible for business development, recruiting, and sales. The fund is focused on investing in early-stage tech companies with a history of resilience. Lee founded Edelweiss with a group of other angel investors Brian Balfour, Elaine Wherry, and Todd Masonis. Together, they have supported great companies like Blue Bottle, Whistle, Kettle and Fire, Gametime, Pipefy, Dandelion Chocolate, among others. For a view of their portfolio go here.
Work With Edelweiss
To Lee Jacobs, Edelweiss is unique because of its emphasis on empathy. Lee and Edelweiss want to see founders with a deep understanding of the challenges consumers face and a willingness to help solve them. Founders should not just be motivated by money, but by their mission—the desire to do business while doing good in the world. Many of the startups that Lee Jacobs takes an interest in are helmed by driven individuals who have experimented in the startup sphere for several years and have persisted. Even if these founders have faced challenges, Edelweiss looks for passionate people who are scrappy and willing to do anything to reach their goals. Many of the fund’s investments have been in people who they have been watching and working with for several years; entrepreneurs that have proven themselves as sharp and determined. Edelweiss looks forward to more future investments over the next few years, including in itself.
Lee Jacobs also places a heavy emphasis on supporting immigrant founders. A large proportion of successful companies have originated from foreign entrepreneurs with the drive to succeed in the American startup ecology. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is the spirit of entrepreneurship, and these determined individuals have worked hard to make their mark in a new country.
Before coming to Silicon Valley, Lee Jacobs attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied sociology. Ultimately, when building businesses, it is important to understand how those businesses fit together, and sociology is the key to knowing how people function in such a space. Consumer trends are fueled by the nuances of human behavior, and Lee keeps an eye out for new innovation opportunities based on the cultural ebb and flow.
Around two years ago, I spoke with a portfolio CEO who started his company at the same time I started Colingo. Though eight years had passed, he told me that his business wasn’t yet working. This conversation made me reflect on how seemingly so many of our peers have had incredible financial success. Feeling a bit bad for myself, I expected him to share my sentiment.
Instead, he looked at me and said with a straight face, “I don’t worry about that at all. I know I am going to succeed.”
He meant it. I left the conversation wondering how he could work on this business for eight years with no success and still believe in himself. Today, he is one of our most successful founders.
I recently met Ajay Ramachandran from Happiness Ventures and I was struck by his business model. At Happiness Ventures, Ajay aims to invest in happy entrepreneurs, as he believes that they have historically been the most successful. Five years into early-stage investing at Edelweiss, I reflected on what I have learned and found that Ajay really crystallized an idea that had been a foundation of my investing to date. I share Ajay’s basic philosophy, but rather than happiness, I have decided to call it optimism.
I never really believed dramatic stories of companies on their last legs saved by a miracle from the founder. But this scenario can happen! I can think of two situations where companies were literally weeks away from death and somehow a founder has pulled a rabbit out of a hat and sold the business for great outcomes.
I do believe the best companies are started by people that have a generally optimistic outlook. As a mentor of mine constantly reminds me, quoting Ben Horowitz from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “There is always a move.”
Obviously, it is insanely hard to start a business, and most companies do fail. Of course you aren’t going to be always be cheerful, but I think it takes a belief that there is always a move even when there may not be.
The number of immigrants that make up the leadership of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has been well-documented. Based on my experience with foreign founders, I am not surprised. At Edelweiss we have invested in a number of immigrant founders and have been consistently impressed by them. I thought I’d share a few of their stories in a series of posts to illustrate why our attention is always piqued by folks coming from abroad.
Alessio Alionco- Pipefy
When I first met Alessio, I came into our meeting a bit skeptical. I hadn’t done any enterprise software investments and workflow wasn’t something I woke up dreaming about. Five or so minutes into our conversation, I was pretty sure Alessio had made a mistake with his English when he told me that 60k companies were using his software. After realizing he was not, I perked up. It wouldn’t be the last time Alessio surprised me.
In the three years that I have known him, Alessio continues to impress me with his sheer determination and grit as he takes on challenge after challenge. His spirit is inspiring and has created a company culture that others want to be a part of. Last year, Alessio decided to go surfing with a very important executive candidate. He ended up severely injuring his leg, leaving it very badly broken. Apparently, Alessio was extremely calm and composed on their way to the hospital and a few hours later (pre-surgery) he was back on Slack issuing commands. It was this resolve and bravery alongside his considerable experience that landed Alessio the hotly contested candidate position for Pipefy.
Often, I think how impressive it is that Alessio just showed up in Silicon Valley from Brazil’s 8th largest city without a strong command of English and is now on his path to building a big company (read more about Pipefy’s Series A). Alessio’s journey to SF makes my trip from my relocation from Philadelphia in 2010 to SF look like nothing.
Our view at Edelweiss is that immigrants make particularly savvy entrepreneurs because they take little for granted. Moving to the United States is a risk and starting a business an even bigger one. Entrepreneurship requires that founders constantly confront their comfort zones and I can think of no better way to do that than by starting a company in a foreign land.
“Tell everyone you are in sales”
These were some of the final words that were told to me from a trusted advisor when I left Philadelphia for Silicon Valley in 2010. The idea was that everyone needs sales, so tell people that is what you do.
My advisor telling me this surprised me. Thinking about sales conjures up images of seedy car salesmen or telemarketers. The perception of salespeople as people willing to do everything to make a quick buck, dodging questions and wheedling their way toward the bottom line kept circling through my head.
In short, it sounded like something that I thought was beneath me.
My image of salespeople didn’t get much better when I arrived in San Francisco. I hired movers to lug my furniture across country. Joe, the salesperson who sold me the service promised that everything would cost a certain amount and arrive in good condition. When my things got to SF, the delivery man asked for twice as much and I noticed that there was a tear in my favorite couch. Over the next week I must have called Joe 20 times— no answer.
Eight years into my career in Silicon Valley- I can say definitely that I am in sales and proud of it. With a plethora of financing options for great companies, it’s my job to show entrepreneurs what else comes with the capital we provide companies. As an investor I sell money; if you’d like to buy some, get in touch.
What I have learned is that sales doesn’t have to be slimy. If you have a long term orientation and focus on the needs of your customer (other your own) that you will build a strong reputation which will cascade into more sales. Two key principles that I have learned:
- Conviction. You must believe in what you are selling. If you don’t, how you can expect others to?
- Eyes Wide Open. Make sure that the customer knows what they are buying—including the advantages and disadvantages of your product. While you may hurt yourself in the short run by telling them everything that is wrong with your product, it’s best if the customer goes into the purchase with their eyes wide open. If a customer feels like they were tricked at the point of sale, it will only lead to problems done the line (and certainly no referrals!)
So, to sum up, are you willing to pick up the phone when the customer calls after the sale? Or will you avoid their calls—like Joe the mover?