Cindy Jordan is founder and CEO of Pyx Health — the first loneliness solution aimed at helping the most vulnerable populations.
When I think about how perfectly some things work together, I always picture peanut butter and chocolate, a combination that together is so wonderfully powerful. As the founder of a technology company dealing with the treatment of chronic loneliness, our solution has its own complementary ingredients: technology and human connection. And once you’ve experienced that dynamic combination, you won’t want to settle for more. That’s how I think about partnerships.
This is my second startup, so I’ve been through it before. I know that good ideas cannot thrive without support. They need the right support, which means finding investors. But just because the financial terms sound good doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.
The story doesn’t end well if there is a misalignment of strategy and culture between companies and their financial partners. However, you can find the chocolate right down to your peanut butter, even at the shelling table.
Two years after starting my current business, I found an ideal partner when I met a private equity firm and owner-investor in private equity tech, Nancy, who changed the course of my company. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.
Former founders have been in your shoes.
Former founders can be great investment partners, but there was more to it than that. When I first connected with our partner, I knew it was different. For starters, Nancy was on the first call, which was highly unusual, but showed her dedication.
In addition, the investment company was built by founders, and their experience allowed us to rely on them as mentors. Although we didn’t need any money – because we had a Series A financing and a working program – I told my team that I had found our next partner. I knew their infusion of cash would mean faster growth. Still, my intuition said we would get something even more valuable from the collaboration.
And I was right: what we gained has reshaped the company. We participated in the company’s accelerator program, which opened the door for industry consultants to work with us to define our strategy and culture. We were able to rethink culture and strategy and determine whether they are complementary or contradictory.
Culture and strategy must be complementary.
I’ve always said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. You can have a killer strategy, but if your culture is dysfunctional, you have no chance of long-term success. Here’s an example: Before closing our Series B with our new partner, I was asked to take a personality test. There was a question, “Would you let your best salesperson go if they didn’t align with your culture?”
For me the answer was simple. I would let the high performer go regardless of the earnings. Because what happens when the company has to run? That high performer who is hard to work with and not “all in” will not adapt. Culture persists when strategy changes. This highlights how culture eats strategy.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your take on the strategy and culture paradigm, you’ll need to coordinate with the partner you’re considering.
Gaining attunement involves strategy, culture, and tail feathers.
The alignment for my company started with a strategy session held by our accelerator program. We were confident that we had a good foundation and that this was just a formality. We were pleasantly surprised when the smart, serious gentleman leading the session started the conversation with a picture of a peacock.
To explain: Peacocks are known for their beautiful tail feathers which are used to attract mates. Imagine female peacocks walking by and checking the tail feathers of the males. He then tells us to use that as the basis for our strategy. At first that seemed strange.
Then it clicked: Tail feathers are the framework for developing your strategy. Your tail feathers are the achievements and “bragging rights” that you can show off to your next financial partner. You can use these tail feathers as a North Star to set goals for each quarter. Understanding this allowed my team to think more deeply about culture.
Using our tail feathers as a guide, we wanted to break down what culture is. Culture is three things: behavior, beliefs, and outcomes (or “BBOs”). Your beliefs guide your behavior and your behavior determines your results. Your BBOs are the compass of your journey. What I’ve learned from our financial partnership is that culture accelerates or limits success.
We’ve developed three core beliefs that relate to our behavior and enable us to create happier and healthier people, an epic workplace and a revolution in our industry. These organization-changing experiences with our financial partner have changed our approach and enabled us to attract a culturally aligned workforce that will evolve with us. We have reached a number of important milestones ahead of schedule. A lot of that has to do with working with investors that we aligned with and were uniquely positioned to help us evolve.
Regardless of the partnership, the alignment of culture and strategy is vital.
From this experience, I can tell you that if you are considering financing options, you should choose your partners based on more than dollar signs. If you don’t align, the wheels (or springs) will fall off, no matter how innovative the solution is. If your gut tells you it’s not the right fit, listen to it. Stay tuned. I’ve had many meetings with potential investors and heard things that made me think I was on a hidden camera comedy show.
For those seeking advice on financial partners, I say work with people you like and who will help you grow the most beautiful tail feathers.