3 founder lessons from gene at sila

11.03.22

currently, appreciating the hard earned lessons of a scaling journey.


at mit's The Engine tough tech summit, one of my favorite founder perspectives came from Gene, co-founder and ceo of Sila Nanotechnologies Inc.. he mentioned these 3 counter intuitive insights from his 🚀 journey starting in 2011 where he has since: - hired a team of 350 - launched the first product in 2021 (silicon anode material replacing graphite and can be found in whoop 4.0!) - and raising $925M in the process he mentioned: 1️⃣ building is less about the technology and more about the process of self discovery. it challenges who you are, who you can become, and what you stand for when things get hard. ^ counterintuitve because with his ms in engineering from stanford paired with early hire at tesla, he had the initia catalyst to build new materials in engineering better batteries. it was only over time, it revealed the process is also about character development as a founder to keep up with exponential growth and demands of a scaling organization. 2️⃣ the market problem isn't everything, it's the only thing. it's about the right problem with the right framing. as they began working on anode materials, they knew they wouldn't compete with tesla or samsung for making batteries, but instead their solution could work in any device yielding higher returns. given the current growth curve in batteries, it was a big bet that has since gotten bigger. 3️⃣ each stage of fundraising requires a new north star to get investors excited about what's next. no one wants to fill in money to finish a job previously started. each stage of investors want to understand how the company and product will evolve to hit a more ambitious vision. moving beyond initial goals requires the founder to level up and not stay too attached, which is harder when the goals are always fully reached when starting discussions for the next round. the bigger the ambition clearly articulated the better for each stage of capital. ^ this was also a shared insight among early tough tech founders. their mental models for financing from r+d in research labs was not the milestone planning needed to make bigger market bets. one more thing he mentioned was the harsh reality of the team having to evolve over time. not everyone will grow as the company does nor will they always fit. while easy in thought, it's hard in practice, especially with close relationships along the way. the founders on the last panel all agreed it's hard to practice, but always better off for the whole team (unfair to have someone unfit for the role) and the individual (they end up finding a better fit for them).


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