1. Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Valentina and today I’ll be able to “expose” a bit of myself in this interview in the hopes that something sparks your interest.
From a professional perspective, I am a psychologist, specializing in working with the so-called “high performers” – ambitious, driven, and always looking for the next level of development people, as well as organizations.
Through my company, ILC International, my team and I combine social psychology, performance coaching (which is a branch of positive and cognitive psychology), and organizational psychology solutions to support and elevate those we work with.
Also, and just like yourself, I am a bundle of super-diverse past experience that you can easily check on Google, I am a daughter, sister, aunt, partner, friend… and yes, I guess an entrepreneur.
2. How can coaching make entrepreneurs more successful?
“Coaching” is basically an easy, single term that describes “evidence-based psychology”. In other words, lots and lots of approaches around performance have been tested on people. From what motivates them, to how to make them set goals they don’t give up on, and how to overcome fears – the field of psychology has proven that certain things work and others don’t. Coaching essentially packages all that we know to work and delivers it to clients in order to help them achieve particular results they consider important.
Unlike therapy, the focus on coaching is on building a better future rather than unpacking your past. For entrepreneurs in particular it helps through first enabling them to crystalize exactly what they want and why; second through reducing the ambiguity and the overwhelming feeling of “there is so much I need to think about and do” and, above all, to aligning their endeavours to the internal needs of the person him/herself.
Bottom line is, it makes us more resilient, more motivated, and more aware of what it is that we need to address at any stage of the entrepreneurial journey.
3. At what point should a startup get a coach?
Deciding to work with a professional, with the conscious intention that one needs to develop themselves, is an individual choice and it does depend on multiple factors, so entrepreneurs tend to look for coaching when they begin hitting a glass ceiling of some sort or when their business(es) is taking an obvious toll on how they feel on a daily basis.
However, my professional advice would be – start perceiving coaching as a strategic tool rather than a “fix it tool”. Hire a coach the moment the idea that you’d like to start your own thing arises or when you want to get to the next level. Why? Because it will help you build a much stronger foundation for every single aspect of your business-mindset. Something that I guarantee you pays off in the long-term.
The second best moment is when you’ve found a team and are beginning to have the first conversations around structure, responsibilities, and expectations. Get this process done right. Every experienced entrepreneur or a business angel would tell you that even if you think you are best buds you’d have to get your communication much more on point, your visions absolutely aligned and your joint hunger fuelled for the long-haul.
Specialists like myself can not only help you with this, but teach you skills that you’d use going forward. On top of that – it’s a process that’s unfortunately not an “off the shelf” thing, and you can’t apply the same textbook approach as someone else in the past has. In other words, you need fast and influential tailoring for your specific team. That’s where coaching comes in super useful.
Overall - the sooner, the better.
4. What are the most common reasons for conflict between the members of a startup team?
I’ll answer this only from my first-hand experience of working with our clients. I won’t dwell on the research or other sources of information around this. I know people want to see a list of 1.2.3… but the reality is a bit more complex than that. What’s more, don’t imagine “conflict” as shouting, open arguments, or slamming doors… it manifests much more often as “simply” frustration, anxiety, and numerous failed attempts to feel better.
So, back to the question, what I do see as the number 1 SYMPTOM of conflict is when members of a team start feeling overworked and begin to express dissatisfaction with the way things are set up.
Entrepreneurs, who come to us with conflicts usually verbalize it as either as an inability to align their roles and responsibilities or they portray a story of a mismatch in the levels of enthusiasm - someone is keen on pushing things forward and sees no issue with that, while others think the focus should be elsewhere.
These are indeed symptoms and what seems to be the most common reasons for conflict but underneath what comes to the surface are missing fundamentals which are different for each startup team.
A none exhaustive list of the true reasons includes a lack of shared vision; differences in values; underdeveloped emotional intelligence/ ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; different communication styles, personal issues that get triggered in a business context.
There isn’t a single most prevalent one that pops up in all startups, but any, or all of the 5 above are present in our sessions because they have been unknowingly compromised at some point down the line – that’s what usually surfaces as “conflict”.
5. You are an entrepreneur yourself, can you please tell us more about the startup you're working on?
I am currently working on a couple of startups where I either am a co-founder or a strategic advisor. The good news that all of them are somewhat related and psychology is the foundational element in all that I am doing.
One of those startups for which I am quite excited is called Dream Team Factory and while it’s in its infancy I am super keen to see it go live and improve with time. It’s a platform that allows entrepreneurs to match with each-other based on personality traits that are key to successful interaction in the context of a startup. In other words, it streamlines the team-creation process and adds a unique enhancer to the probability of success.
The team and I have developed a unique testing algorithm that builds an avatar for each person who has registered on the platform and then calculates who you’d match best with. It’s fun, it’s innovative and above all – I really hope it will both increase the percentage of successful “entrepreneurial couplings” while also allowing us all to gain a perspective on where we might need to develop further and know what some of our strong characteristics are.
The psychologists out there would know how difficult it is to narrow down personality traits to those which are key to entrepreneurship, let alone to develop testing that is both user-friendly and accurate – so I think we’ve done an amazing job from that perspective – striking an excellent balance that aims to really add value.
6. Can anyone become a startup founder from the perspective of psychology?
I love this question and I would try to be short. You can develop all the skills and abilities that are required for the entrepreneurial journey. You can also boost the motivation or even manipulate someone into wanting to be an entrepreneur. From those two perspectives, I’d say yes – anyone can become an entrepreneur. However, not everyone truly, deeply wants to be one or has the values and desires that would push him/her to want to be one, and that’s the major differentiating factor between those who become entrepreneurs and those who don’t. Being an entrepreneur is no better or “more right” than being anything else. Psychology can make you become crystal clear on what you truly want to do – and it can be entrepreneurship or not.
That’s where I’d say – anyone can become an entrepreneur but it’s not for everyone.
7. How did you decide to become a part of the BattlePass team?
BattlePass was one of the very few entrepreneurial groups that recognized the potential psychological solutions hold in business and I was privileged enough to be approached by the BattlePass CEO back at the beginning of our conversations. Our decision to collaborate was joint after a significant time of brainstorming and alignment on business ideas. In a nutshell, I don’t say “no” to individuals who have shown their pure willingness to go outside of their comfort zones and are ready to explore opportunities, which BP definitely did and I am glad we are working together as a team nowadays.