Never Underestimate the Power of Community

June 18, 2024

The name Calm/Storm is no coincidence: Starting a company puts founders in a continuous storm, with gusts slamming you from one side to the other. When we invest in founders, we invest as much in their visions as in their personalities. We invest in strong characters that will stand, learn, and fight the storm. We know we must help our founders to calm the storm. To do so, we started Calm/Storm's Founder Academy. Founders get advice from like-minded entrepreneurs rather than us (the investors). This community approach is what differentiates us from most other venture capital funds. Entrepreneurs who are sailing through their first storms often struggle to accept advice, especially from people who they believe haven't been in a similar situation. They want to learn from other founders, because they feel like they're in the same boat, part of the same crew.

'If you were to embark on a journey sailing across the globe, whose advice would you seek?’

I have a question for you. If you were to embark on a journey sailing across the globe, whose advice would you seek? Would you turn to the financier, the one backing your venture? Or would you seek guidance from the seasoned sailor who has navigated the seven seas, perhaps even multiple times? For most of our founders, the answer to this question is clear: the seasoned sailor.

In order to deliver what founders want, we have built a ‘Founders Fund’ by onboarding more than 60 experienced entrepreneurs from across the globe and many industries. Our so-called ‘Supporting Partners’ have done it all before and are often still in the middle of the startup struggle. They regularly share their experience on how to calm the storm, or even better, embrace it. Being invested into our fund, our ‘Supporting Partners’ do not only share a strong foundation of trust but also have a vested interest in offering support. The guidance from our Supporting Partners — all being experienced entrepreneurs — is arguably our most valued proposition. This approach casts a clear light on our position as investors: we willingly steer ourselves to the side-lines, assuming a role similarly to that of the wind guiding a vessel's sails. Our aim is not dominance, but rather facilitation and connection within this expansive network, ensuring that each participant extracts maximum value. Our philosophy as an investor somewhat uncommon in the world of venture capitalists, is rooted in the firm belief that founders acquire far more valuable insights from their peers than from investors.

‘For founders, it is often about realising that they are not the only ones struggling — everyone is caught up in the storm.’

While most funds have one single annual ‘Founders' Day’, we try to set ourselves apart with our Founder Academy which we have institutionalised through quarterly workshop-like sessions.

What is key to the Academy is that we provide advice that is extraordinary, in formats that you don't see elsewhere. For founders, it is often about realising that they are not the only ones struggling and that, despite fancy pitches and social media posts boasting of success, everyone is caught up in the storm. Exchanging with one's peers is always eye-opening, especially if one is a year or two ahead in their process. In our Academy workshops we discuss the full array of topics: the good, the bad and the ugly. For instance, in our recent session, we delved into how one of our founders successfully secured a significant Series A investment from a top-tier investor despite a challenging market landscape. Following that, we discussed the journey of another venture, which struggled for an entire year to secure funding amidst a founder split situation. Our final presentation featured founders who candidly shared their rollercoaster journey, from scaling up to the difficult decision to shut down operations. At the Founder Academy, no topic is off-limits or taboo. However, please remember, we abide by the Chatham House Rules: what is discussed in the Academy, stays in the Academy.

‘Calm/Storm has built a platform for super-early-stage founders to share, learn and succeed.’

A place where founders can show their character, openly talk about their failures, share what they would have done differently, and what they have learned along the way. A safe place for truth and honesty where founders can stay in ‘no-pitching’ mode while looking for guidance. In a way, Calm/Storm's Founder Academy is a lighthouse for founders embarking on uncertain or unsettling journeys.

Johannes Blaschke