Don’t Die of Heart Disease

During my “hiatus” I’ve been doing research in a variety of different areas that interest me. After a personal experience with basal cell carcinoma that set me on a journey to better understand and take control of my own health, I ended up going deep on heart disease prevention. My father is a cardiologist and his mantra has always been that heart disease is entirely preventable. Nobody needs to die of it, so long as they know how not to.

Heart disease is the world’s biggest health problem. It’s the leading cause of death globally for both men and women.

It’s not just an old-people problem. 25% of heart attacks occur in people younger than 54 years of age. That percentage continues to grow over time as the general population becomes increasingly less healthy (ie sedentary, obese, poor-diet, etc.). For all the damage heart disease inflicts on people’s lives and our health systems, it receives very little attention. Take a look at how frequently population killers are covered by the media:

It’s not sexy, and as a result an overwhelming majority of the population is unaware about how to avoid succumbing to it.

The thing about heart disease is that we have all the tools to make it a nonentity and remove it entirely from the Top 10 leading causes of death. Unfortunately, for a whole host of reason, our primary care physicians are neither equipped or incentivized to lead the charge on fixing the problem. More often than not the first sign that someone has heart disease is they drop dead of a heart attack. And by the time fortunate patients who don’t drop dead approach their doctor about chest pain and are referred to a cardiologist, that cardiologist is going to wish you had visited them five years ago. It’s a disease that slowly builds over decades, so the best way to really avoid dying from it is to start getting educated and taking action in your late 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Over the past several months I’ve spoken with several of the world’s leading cardiologists and lipidologists to better understand the key elements of heart disease prevention. I’ve been compiling notes to get to the lowest common denominator of what is good enough (definitely not perfect!) and affordable so I can arm friends and family with the information and steps to put their heart health in their own hands. I’ve found that the steps/protocol for avoiding death by heart disease are very simple. Go visit your PCP and ask for the following:

  • Test 1: An expanded lipid panel, ideally from the Cleveland Heartlab (owned by Quest). Occasionaly, if you go for a physical, your doctor will do a standard lipid panel which covers basics like LDL-C and HDL. But the biomarkers that are most important are ApoB, Lp(a) (a critical one-time measure), and hsCRP. These are only measured in an expanded lipid panel which costs an incremental $20-90. Every lipidologist I’ve spoken with has stressed the importance of measuring and managing ApoB above all else – it’s a far better predictor of cardiovascular disease than LDL-C. Every standard deviation increase of ApoB raises the risk of myocardial infarction by 38%. Yet because guidelines regularly lag science by 15-20 years, the AHA still recommends LDL-C over ApoB. Test for it regularly (ideally twice a year) and work to get it as low as possible. Many lipidologists will say to focus on this above all else.
  • Test 2: Lipidologists focus on understanding biomarkers and managing them as much as possible. Cardiologists care about understanding the state of disease and treating it. Every cardiologist I’ve spoken with recommends getting your calcium score either through a basic CT scan (which costs roughly $150 out of pocket unless your doctor is savvy enough to navigate insurance) or a CTA scan, ideally one with Cleerly imaging (these cost more – anywhere between $1-1.5k). Your calcium score will tell you how much calcified plaque you have in your arteries. This is heart disease (ie atherosclerosis). Everyone accumulates plaque as they age. You don’t want any more of it. When plaque begins to form it is noncalcified “soft plaque” – this is the stuff that breaks free from your artery walls and creates a clot that leads to a heart attack or stroke. Calcium scores measure calcified or “hard” plaque, the stuff soft plaque turns into. It’s a proxy for how much plaque you’re accumulating. CT scans will tell you this. A CTA will measure both hard and soft plaque and the Cleerly scan will give you a 3D visualization of your arteries, tell you where the plaque exists, and how much and what kind there is. At the bare minimum get a CT scan. Depending on these diagnostic results, you’ll need to repeat this test once every 1-5 years depending on the state of disease. The same way you get a colonoscopy at regular intervals to detect colon cancer and other disease, you should do this, too.

You’ll likely need to demand these tests from your PCP. Physicians (and our medical system writ large) are disincentivized from helping you prevent disease. You need to be your own advocate on your health journey and know what to ask for. If they ask you why, just say you have a history of heart disease (you likely do), or just tell them that you want to know your biomarkers better and whether or not you have disease. Take the results of these tests and bring them to your PCP or a cardiologist for interpretation.


  • Between medication and knowledge about how to prevent or mitigate heart disease, we have all the requisite tools at our disposal to beat the thing. Statins or PCSK9 inhibitors help to lower ApoB concentrations and do miracles for lipid management. Some people have adverse reactions to statins, but there are substitutes for them. I’m on a statin. Pretty much everyone should be on one so long as they don’t have adverse side effects. ACE inhibitors will help to manage blood pressure if you have high blood pressure (another thing your PCP will test for). Baby aspirin will help with blood thinning and reduce blood clots. In Europe there is a polypill that combines these three drugs and has had an extremely positive impact. There are also new medications like colchicine to help manage inflammation. Ask your doctor or cardiologist about all of these and whether they’re right for you.
  • We can’t medicate heart disease out of existence yet. Behavioral changes are also required. This means regular exercise (both strength training ideally 3x per week and cardio training that helps to improve V02 max like Zone 2 training). It also means diet. Sticking to a Mediterranean diet that is light on carbs and grains is almost always the safest bet. Most every health diet is some permutation of this. Also, if you smoke, stop yesterday.

These treatments go after the core of what Jeffrey Wessler, Founder and CEO of Heartbeat Health, succinctly summarizes: “Coronary artery disease occurs when circulating fats in the blood (lipids) are pushed by a driving force (blood pressure) into a vessel wall that is vulnerable (endothelial dysfunction).” Both medication and behavioral interventions are not one-time events – they’re for life. But every single lipidologist and cardiologist I’ve spoken with unanimously agree that for almost everyone (unless you are an edge case or severely meaningfully diseased already) this will do the trick – you can die of something else, just not heart disease.

These tests and medications have existed for a long time. They’re tools that are readily available at our disposal, but you have to ask for them. They are not prescribed unless you are sick. And unfortunately, when it comes to heart disease being sick sometimes means being dead. It takes effort to prevent this. Like many things, the biggest hurdles are knowledge and willpower. My hope is that the knowledge becomes pervasive, that accessing these diagnostics and treatments becomes easy, cheap, and ubiquitous (they pretty much already are), and that people are motivated enough to be their own advocates and take their health into their own hands and make the conscious decision to not die of heart disease.

*If you do this, I’d appreciate if you’d share with me your PCP’s reaction. I’d also like to understand why you wouldn’t pursue this course of action. I’m

Early Stage Partnerships

Founders of early stage startups are often deluded into believing that there is a dream partnership that will send their company into the stratosphere. It will be a silver bullet and cheat code that enables them to skip steps and grow faster than ever anticipated. This sentiment is pervasive, particularly in consumer startups. I’ve fallen victim to it many times. It’s dangerous and seldom works. It’s wishful thinking that comes at a real opportunity cost, wasting time and draining emotional energy.

At GroupMe we had a hypothesis that we’d be able to embed our group chats in third-party applications and that would help us monopolize the market and acquire new users through other established brands’ properties. Since we were a “hot startup,” other corporate companies wanted to work with us. We ended up spending a lot of time building custom things for AmEx and ESPN and ultimately launched embeddable group chat in two of their experimental applications. It was a ton of effort that yielded practically zero incremental user growth. I’m sure we got a couple PR pieces out of it, but relative to focusing on and improving our core product it was a total waste of time. We were less than one year old.

During our first year at Fundera we spent an inordinate amount of time chasing down a deal with Staples. They reached out as part of an RFP process to create a co-branded loan center for all of their SMB customers. They said they had millions of SMBs that were “members.” It felt too good to be true. If we could work with one single partner to open up a channel directly to millions of SMBs in a trusted environment, we would overnight become the dominant player. We wasted days modeling out scenarios in spreadsheets to win the deal and put together an elaborate performance-based deal structure loaded with warrants and clauses where they could invest in the company to ultimately get to double digit ownership. We would quickly go from originating millions of dollars in loans a month to billions. This was utterly delusional. We lost the RFP process to one of our biggest competitors. I saw a press clip of their CEO and the leader from Staples in charge of the initiative ringing the NASDAQ bell together to celebrate the partnership launch. I must have rewatched it 100 times like a psychopath. I was fucking livid. The partnership produced approximately jack shit for both parties and was shut down within months.

One lesson learned from this experience and others is that partnering with someone who has an orthogonal value proposition almost always doesn’t work. Just because Staples sells office supplies to companies does not mean that they will be good at helping their customers secure loans. We partnered with FTD which works with most every florist in the country. Helping florists fulfill customer orders does not mean you can help them fulfill their credit needs. The partners that ultimately worked best were the ones that offered nearly identical products (e.g. a bank that declined customers for a loan or credit card and referred them to us to meet their demand) or ones who offered an adjacent product (e.g. Nerdwallet who had an identical value proposition for consumer credit and wanted to enter SMB credit).

Another lesson that I’ve learned repeatedly from both building companies and helping other entrepreneurs is that there is absolutely zero substitute for developing your own audience/network/user base. If you’re early, do not fall into the trap of being starry eyed by doing some BD deal with your dream partner. It likely either won’t happen, or even worse, if it does happen it won’t move the needle. You will waste your time and energy getting your hopes up only to have them completely crushed. That will happen enough times on your entrepreneurial journey, you don’t need to self-inflict it by fantasizing about the magical partner. Would you rather focus on making your product the best it can be and honing your unique strategy within customer acquisition channels? Or do you want to endlessly compile make believe data, presentations, and impossible scenario planning for partners for whom you’re an insignificant -rounding-error-fifth-tier-pet-project? Control your own destiny and don’t be someone else’s bitch.

It’s worth understanding the incentives of these potential partners. A lot of people at these companies search for startups to partner with as part of their “innovation” efforts, but nobody really expects these things to move the needle for them in any meaningful way. There are people whose job it is to hunt down cool new companies and figure out what they’re doing and how they could potentially use them to improve their business. Be wary. While they seem like the golden ticket, their incentive is to just learn as much as they can about you so they can present upwards and look good doing their job. There are plenty of horror stories about corp dev people fishing for information and then going completely radio silent, only to resurface months later announcing a competitive product or feature of their own. You are a source of free information for them that can potentially be used against you down the road. It’s like a VC doing diligence on you when in reality they’re trying to get information about you to decide whether or not they should invest in your competitor. A healthy dose of paranoia doesn’t hurt.

There are times when chasing down partners makes sense. If your GTM motion is primarily going to be driven through channel partners, collecting logos helps. Each partnership makes the next one easier to land. Herd mentality is everywhere, and a corporate sponsor probably won’t get fired if you’ve already partnered with other familiar companies – it’s social validation. Also, most partnerships don’t work, so you’ll need to do a lot of them in order to see the fruits of your labor. And sometimes there are partnerships that can create a new exponential curve. We pursued one at Fundera later on once we knew what actually drove customer demand, but our counterpart wanted a board observer seat, first right of refusal on a sale, the ability to invest at our last-round price, and economics that would have made every transaction unprofitable for us. These were their sticking points which were totally irrational given that they’d be bad for any shareholder of the company, including them. That one was worth chasing down, it just didn’t end well.

Early stage, don’t get distracted by this fool’s errand. Stay focused on how you will help customers and defining what will differentiate you. No partnership will make up for deficiencies here, and it surely will not be a substitute for doing the hard work yourself.

Helpful Boards

I was extremely lucky to have had an excellent Board of Directors at Fundera. I generally believe that most boards are relatively useless, which is at least better than boards that are harmful. So when I found myself surrounded by people who genuinely cared about our business and its people, even while knowing that the company was not a power-law-fund-returner, I knew I was one of the lucky entrepreneurs. Here are some things that our board did (and some other examples that I’ve seen other boards do) that I’ll always be grateful for and have helped me learn what being a supportive and excellent director looks like:

Good board members are truth-tellers. They are not trying to win popularity contests or pander to a founder/CEO/exec team’s emotions. They aren’t trying to impress other board members either. They tell it how they see it. A good example of this was when Scott Feldman embarked on a difficult journey to teach me how to properly manage the finances of a company. I came from the world of the consumer internet where I was trained to grow a service, burn cash, raise more money, and defer figuring out how to monetize and build something profitable. Scott came from Susquehanna group which primarily invests in software businesses based on their fundamentals. He and Frank Rotman (another Fundera director) were also on the board of Credit Karma, so they knew exactly how businesses like Fundera would ultimately be valued. I was being a poor steward of capital, ramping burn faster than revenue thinking we would always be able to raise capital to stay afloat. Scott told me during a board meeting that I was going to run the business into the ground and bankrupt it, and that it’s value was approximately jack shit. I hated him for it, but he was just providing honesty and tough love. I learned a lot from that experience, and finally familiarized myself with terms like trailing twelve months revenue and ebitda margins. He had the courage to tell the truth and that changed the trajectory of the business.

Good board members understand how to incentivize a team (especially during a crisis and even if it comes at their own short-term expense). When the pandemic began in March 2020, Fundera lost roughly 80% of its revenue overnight. We had to do a 25% RIF and immediately ensure we took care of the remaining team, helping them feel secure and motivated. One of the first things our board recommended was to conduct a new 409a and reprice every grant we had made to employees that was above our new 409a. Nobody would be underwater. Then we topped off everyone with a new and meaningful grant. Every single person. Incentives drive behavior, and if people were going to make it to the other side we needed to make sure the team was rewarded for doing so. Every step of the way, our board optimized for the Fundera team. While it may seem obvious that this was the right thing to do, most professional investors are not this friendly and greed gets the best of them. Most would view repricing options as a sign of weakness and bad optics, and many would oppose being unnecessarily diluted by tapping almost the entirety of an option pool in a time of crisis.

Good board members play the long game and derive joy from everyone winning. When Fundera was acquired by Nerdwallet a piece of the deal consideration was tied to achieving specific performance metrics. We had been through a lot getting the company to solid footing after weathering the pandemic-induced SMB credit meltdown, and Frank Rotman and Scott Feldman mutually proposed something that to this day I still find bafflingly kind. They suggested to the board and our investor base that a meaningful piece of the performance-based earn out go directly to common shareholders at the expense of preferred shareholders. Their logic was that since we were the ones doing the work to produce the results, we should be compensated for it. Every single preferred investors agreed to it and for that I remain forever grateful. In the grand scheme of things, that component of the payout would have been somewhat of a rounding error to our investors’ respective funds, but to common shareholders it meaningfully increased the size of the transaction. It was an unnecessary gesture that made a massive difference and energized the team to buckle down and keep going.

Good board members support founders and companies without needing peer-validation. More often than not things go wrong at startups. At the very least things never go as planned. Oftentimes teams don’t make the progress they need to make and require bridge financing or some type of internal round to come together. On many occasions I’ve seen an investor board member offer to put a round together, but only if others around the table contribute. Or they’ll make it contingent on finding an external investor to come in and match them as a validation point. I understand the logic here, but what really stands out is when someone stands up and offers to do it unconditionally. It’s an action that lacks external validation, but one that enables the company to stay focused in tough times. It’s also always nice when a board member doesn’t drag their feet when it comes to doing pro-rata. Compare and contrast these two scenarios: 1) I had to pull the teeth of one board member/investor to do just a small portion of their pro-rata as a show of support when we were raising an external round after receiving a lecture about how proud they were that they had a history of being able to avoid doing their pro-rata, versus 2) an investor I know proudly proclaimed that they were always there for portfolio companies and always did their pro-rata when an external firm or founder requested it to get the deal done – no questions asked. Scenario 1 is the norm. Scenario 2 is a truly special abnormality and welcome glitch in the system. I am always surprised and appreciative when I see someone behave this way, and I know other founders are, too.

Good board members are hands-on during inflection points. They shine when it comes to fundraising and M&A. Every round we raised after our seed at Fundera happened because Frank Rotman introduced us to someone who trusted him and he knew would be interested in what we were building. Ron Conway and SV Angel were instrumental in helping groupme raise our Series B from Khosla (he practically dragged David Weiden by the earlobe onto our board) and made the introduction to Skype that ultimately led to our acquisition. They were engaged every step of the way through these processes, pushing the ball forward alongside us.

Good board members, particularly independents, spend time with your team regularly. This may seem obvious, but a lot of board members don’t do this. The good ones form personal relationships with the people that are integral to your company’s success. They actively help recruit them, and they advise them on their biggest issues. They also know that not everyone stays at a company forever, and that helping them with your company may very well help them land a position as an advisor or executive at another one of their companies down the road. They’re not just there for the CEO, they’re there for the leadership team. I loved when people on our team would meet with our board members independently without my knowledge. Phillip Riese and Molly Graham were invaluable resources for so many people at Fundera, not just myself, and they always made themselves available to people at their beck and call.

Good board members teach you how to manage a board and run a good board meeting. When we started doing board meetings at Fundera they were useless. We ran through long decks that directors with very little context would ask questions about. It took hours and by the time we got to meaty issues the time was done. Phillip and Frank helped me and Cody Forrester learn how to conduct an effective board meeting which was almost identical to what Tom Loverro explains in this post (bonus accompanying video here). Board meetings are for discussion and debate, not presenting and updating. On a dime, board meetings flipped from something that felt like a tedious chore to a constructive and important time everyone looked forward to.

Good board members listen first, then talk. At tumblr there was a board member who would say virtually nothing for a majority of the meeting. They’d sit there and diligently listen. Then they would speak and the whole room would turn completely silent. They’d say approximately 3-4 sentences and it would be the most profound and impactful statement of the entire meeting. This doesn’t mean that everyone should do this. Most people can’t. Sometimes the conversation and debate helps you get to the root of an issue and you want everyone participating. But it does illustrate that loud and frequent voices (which are usually characteristic of the most junior board members who feel like they have to prove themselves) are not necessarily the most helpful ones.

This is a small sample of some of the characteristics of helpful boards. There are many more, and infinitely more examples of what makes for a bad director. But these are some of the ones that stand out most to me. Good boards can seldom make a company, but bad ones can definitely break a company. Helpful boards are a blessing and can truly help a leadership team level up to do their best work.

When It’s Over

I’m a fan of trusting your gut. It has served me well over the years. I sometimes have a tendency to overthink things, and the way I overcome decision paralysis is by following my instincts. One of the most challenging times I’ve done this has been when deciding to sell GroupMe and Fundera.

Selling a company is an incredibly emotional process. The thing you’ve spent years dedicating your life to is going to end up in someone else’s hands, and the team you’ve grown to love and build things with has an impending timeline to disband. It’s hard for things to feel perfectly right.

With GroupMe, the decision to sell was a relatively easy and organic one. Steve and I never had a successful exit under our belt. The NYC tech ecosystem was just beginning to emerge and $50-100m acquisitions were far and few between and a Big Deal. We were also hemorrhaging money as we covered the cost of every text message sent (not all messaging was done in app) and our growth was bankrupting us. We were also young, the price was life changing, and we knew we had enough energy to build more companies. Skype made a compelling offer and we jumped on it.

People ask me all the time if I regret selling. GroupMe is exponentially more valuable today than it was when we sold. It’s arguably Microsoft’s most compelling mobile asset. But when we were acquired we had something like 1m total users (we had been around for roughly one year) and we weren’t growing as fast as we wanted. I don’t regret it. Of course it would have been nice to have sold for more money, but it was the right thing for all of our constituents: investors, the team, and us individually as founders.

Fundera was a more complex story. We built the business to a profitable $30m annual revenue company with decent ebitda margins while growing 75% a year (and ultimately grew to over $100m in annual revenue with excellent ebitda margins post-acquisition). There were many times when I was absolutely certain that if we kept plugging away we would have built many hundreds of millions of dollars of enterprise value strictly based on the fundamentals of the business. Maybe even a unicorn one day. But we got absolutely wrecked by Covid (all small businesses and smb lending temporarily shut down). We managed to survive and come out the other side in a strong position, but it was a taxing and exhausting experience for the team (as it was for many companies whose businesses were adversely impacted by the pandemic).

Our team was facing what was effectively a total reset, both in market conditions for our industry and our own collective energy as leaders. Did we have it in us to buckle down again for another 5+ years and commit to seeing the business through to its potential? In my gut, I knew my answer was No. I simply didn’t want to. It was time to close a chapter and move onto my next adventure, and after a grueling year I no longer has the same fire and passion within. I had a series of hard and honest conversations with the leadership team and it became clear that we were all on the same page. It was time to find a new home.

In some ways I felt like a coward – it is a founder’s job to inspire people and see things through. Was this abandoning ship and a dereliction of duty? We always read and are told that whenever we take money from investors we are signing up for what is a decade-plus long commitment. That it’s a roller coaster and it’s on us to have the grit to ride it to the very end, wherever and whenever that may be. After selling groupme I once had a VC tell me he didn’t know if I had the courage to build a great company since we sold so quickly. These stories and interactions compound and create an illusion of the characteristics we are supposed to have and the iconic people we are supposed to emulate.

But fuck that. My take is so long as you always value and treat your team, investors and customers well, you’re okay. And if you can make everyone money along the way all the better. When you know you know. And sometimes it’s just over and you’re ready to move on and that’s perfectly okay. No excuses necessary. So when I hear founders say they are ready to sell their company or move on as CEO, there’s no judgment, only support, so long as they’re doing it the right way. No shame in building something while being honest with yourself. Only pride.

Deal Feelings

In my experience building and selling companies, the time between signing an LOI and closing the deal were some of the most emotionally turbulent moments of my life. It’s an extraordinarily stressful period. One of the things Emil Michael taught me early in my career is that time kills all deals, and that you need to diligently compress the time between signing a term sheet and closing as much as humanly possible. One of the reasons is that as more time elapses you increase the likelihood that things can fall apart. In my opinion an equally important reason is that you need to minimize the mental anguish the process imposes on yourself and the team.

Pre-LOI you experience a honeymoon period. You fall in absolute love with your counterpart. Your shared vision is going to take over the world. You’ll manifest your mission in a way you never dreamed of before. Teammates you care about deeply are going to make life-changing amounts of money (including yourself and your family). And all of the hard work everyone has put in over the previous years is going to be rewarded.

Then you sign a term sheet and everything changes on a dime. As they always do, incentives explain part of the story. As a seller, you want to make sure you quickly realize the terms in the LOI you happily signed. But as a buyer, you need to make sure you know precisely what you are getting and that you’re mitigating any unnecessary risk. Even though both parties want to close, their respective priorities are inherently in conflict with one another. This creates a tremendous amount of emotional volatility. In many instances, things that seem impossibly small and insignificant in retrospect come dangerously close to blowing up a deal. Esoteric indemnity clauses that protect against .001% catastrophic scenarios feel completely insurmountable.

The feelings of love, respect, and excitement that emerge between buyer and seller in the pre-LOI process are promptly thrown to the wayside and things can become an irrational zero-sum game. It becomes difficult to differentiate between what is subjectively desirable versus what is objectively important. Ideally, you have a relationship with the counterparty CEO, but you can’t escalate everything because it erodes goodwill and time kills all deals, so you choose your battles wisely (hopefully!) in belief that both sides can compromise along the way.

This is where counsel is important. Normally, your lawyer won’t ruin your company unless they are flat-out dumb and do something egregious along the way. But in M&A the difference between good and bad counsel can make or break a deal. I’ve worked with people I consider to be good, and some I will never work with again. Every deal has its own dynamics, and sometimes outside counsel is not sensitive to your unique context. Sometimes they’re sharks, other times they may be trying new techniques and tactics with you unwillingly volunteering as their first case study. Reference the living hell out of whomever you select because the last thing you need is a shitty lawyer derailing something special and driving you crazy. Choose wisely.

If you’re not working with a banker, the other counsel you have is your board. Most entrepreneurs are not in tune with the incentives and experience of individual board members. For some, your company may be their first exit and they’re super eager to put a point up on the board. For others, your acquisition may be a rounding error for their fund and your process is met with abject indifference. Some board members have been part of countless acquisitions on both sides, and others have done zero. You’ll get conflicting advice. Some may say some terms are “off market” and that your counterparts corp dev team are a bunch of idiots. But they might be totally wrong because they don’t have enough data points to actually pull from. As much as you may want to treat every board member the same, their respective sets of experience are not all equal. Consult them appropriately and hone in on whose advice actually holds the most credence. If not, conflicting advice across the table can spin you up into a tornado of confusion.

Another source of emotional tranquility or discontent comes from the acquirers corp dev team. I’ve sat across from people that I trust completely who know exactly how to run a good and fair process. They know what’s important and what is bullshit and they’ll explain to you why it’s important in a respectful and objective way while thoughtfully listening to your reaction. I’ve also worked with people who are just not good at this role. Once again experience and incentives matter here. If the acquirer is early in their M&A journey, they likely have no idea what they are doing. Their corp dev person is probably junior, or its their first time in the lead seat, and their personal incentive is to make themselves look good. You are their training ground and they don’t really care about you or your relationship. They’re likely optimizing for making it appear like the company got a good deal and aren’t giving much thought to the fact that you will have to constructively work together to make the deal successful over the upcoming years. Being treated disrespectfully by these people will make you downright livid. You will want to lash out but the only thing you can really do is complain to your colleagues. You have to play the shitty hand your dealt to the best of your ability and not let it get to you. I have profound appreciation for great corp dev people after having worked with some not great ones. They are unique in their ability to understand why people feel and react the way they do while not letting their own emotions impact their ability to get things done effectively for all parties.

The source of the most feelings, both overwhelmingly wonderful and not wonderful, is how your teammates react along the way. Some other important advice I got from Emil early on is to keep the circle of who knows about a deal as small as possible. Seldom does anything good happen when word gets around that a company is being bought or sold. The more people that are involved and aware of the process just means more avenues for things to leak. People grow excited. And concerned. The last thing you want is a company were everyone is super excited about an acquisition that subsequently unravels and you’re left with a despondent employee base. Morale takes a long time to build, and it can take a day to evaporate. This reality in and of itself is a heavy anchor of stress.

Unless an acquisition is a life changing home-run for everyone involved (it seldom is), people start thinking about themselves. This is totally understandable and appropriate. Teammates spend years of energy investing in your company. They chose to join it and they chose to stay there. An acquisition is something that they do not choose, but you likely want them to continue along for the ride. I’ve seen a spectrum of reactions ranging from absolute euphoria to people lawyering up and insinuating or threatening to hold up a deal. Emotions run high for everyone involved and people process things their own way. David Weiden once told me that every team gets the jitters at the final yard line, and if you fail to make the play the game always unravels. Some of my strongest emotions in company building have taken place at these junctures. I’ve been both blown away by selflessness and astounded by selfishness. It’s an experience that illuminates who you want to work with forever.

You learn (and feel) a lot at the finish line.