Why Relations are the Foundation of Business Success

We speak with Julius Bachmann - a certified executive coach based in Berlin who has coached, invested in and advised dozens of founders all across Europe and the United States. He’s worked on both sides of the industry as an investor, a startup manager and a CFO. He’s financed businesses and sat on boards - from seed to Series B. He’s run teams, set up processes and raised funds and is on a mission to make the future of entrepreneurship more human. He’s passionate about helping entrepreneurs embrace their company’s journey as a personal growth opportunity. We hear more about his career, goals and mission below.

What prompted your transition to become a coach?

I have been a songwriter, a studio and touring guitarist from my earliest days. A lifelong journey of playing in various formations gave me a sixth sense for what makes a harmonious team. I can tell when an executive team is off tune.

I started my “professional” career much later, helping build innovative venture capital funds in Europe. In only a few years, I had invested in dozens of companies across Europe. Soon, I found myself heavily involved with portfolio CEOs post-investment. One evening, I was sitting in a boardroom with some of the top European venture investors and a team of founders. Strong opinions were flying through the room, and everyone was giving advice freely. At the end of the meeting, I saw the founders leave the room with more questions than answers. I wondered: “Who was going to help them integrate this into a new strategy?” It was just one of the situations that symbolised the need for an unbiased sparring partner for entrepreneurs.

Over these five years, I was struck by two things. First, I cared more about people than I cared about returns. Second, after almost every board meeting, I wondered: “Who could founders open up to without being judged? Who could they call upon to develop their own views?”

Both of these observations led me to develop an interest to roll up my sleeves and work with high-growth technology companies that used innovative ideas to overturn their respective industries in a deeper way. I left my investment role and began helping entrepreneurs as an interim executive in setting up new teams, scaling departments, business planning and fundraising. While the companies I worked with varied in size, my work was always focused on the founders at the heart of these businesses.

During this time, I was able to formulate two major lessons. First, it was not the advisory work that resonated with clients. What really seemed to stir them up was that they had someone there listening to them, without advising at all. The topics of these conversations could span from their personal mental well-being to relationship issues with key executives or board members. It wasn’t the board room discussion about profitability or financing strategy – it was the 10 pm beer on a Thursday night when everyone had long left the office. I received numerous notes from my clients thanking me profusely—simply for being present and talking through their most important challenges without having an agenda.

Second, making coaching successful “from within” an organisation proved to be impossible. The search for a coach that founders can confide in rarely ends with a board member or the head of people. It ends with someone who can dispassionately look at the business from the outside.

Coaching can only work when my clients have a real, deep desire to change and grow.

I identified a dire need for CEO coaching by coaches who had seen both the operator and investor sides. At that point, I had enrolled in a year-long coaching training certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). On a Saturday afternoon, midway through the training, I announced to my network that I would be coaching entrepreneurs as part of my coaching certification. Over the next day, I received more than 25 messages from venture-backed founders, all excited to create a space where they could reflect on their personal growth. I knew I was onto something.

Formal training continues to allow me to integrate my investing and operating experience into a coaching mindset. It forces me through the rigour of supervision, peer feedback and continued education on psychology and neuroscience. It challenges me to clarify my intentions as a coach.

Hoping to inspire others to join me on my mission to create a more human-centric venture community, I began sharing my insights in a monthly newsletter. To this date, more than 5,000 readers have subscribed. I will never stop learning on this journey, and I want to pass that learning on for everyone’ benefit.

Why do you only work with entrepreneurs?

I work with entrepreneurial leaders for two reasons:

First, entrepreneurs often have literally no one to talk to. They sit in the centre of an organisation they have built themselves, and every stakeholder around them has a specific interest. Their investors, employees and co-founders are all in the same tunnel and have their own problems. Their life partners have their own lives—and want to be listened to as well. As for their families, they gave up trying to understand what they’re doing 10 years ago.

Second, my work spans the spheres of personal development, team leadership and business building. Through this holistic approach, I can put my diverse experience to work and help my clients drive results quickly. Founding CEOs and entrepreneurs appreciate this multi-level approach and have the necessary leverage to effect real change at all levels. Over the years, I have learned that there are many shades of “entrepreneurial leaders” out there: I am proud to count political activists and university professors, as well as senior partners at investment and consulting firms, among my clients.

What’s your approach when working with them?

My work happens in sprints – typical engagements last roughly three months, with clients returning after a while to commit to another sprint. Coaching can only work when my clients have a real, deep desire to change and grow. For this reason, I do not commit my clients to a long program but work with them intensively on high-priority issues. I work in weekly or bi-weekly sessions to give my clients the space to integrate what they’ve learned into their lives and businesses.

More recently, I started to do deep dives with my clients, where we meet in person somewhere around Europe for an intense working session. I stay in touch with my clients over weeks and months to integrate their learnings and hold them accountable.

Over the years in my work as an investor and coach, I have developed a concentric model that breaks down my coaching approach into three levels. The model traces the evolution of a company. In the very beginning, the founder is on their own with the idea to build a company. Next, they hire the core team to start the business. Ultimately, they establish an organisation that develops a life of its own.

It is for this reason that I always start coaching the entrepreneurs as an individual rather than developing large-scale organisational change programs. My clients, with all of their strengths, weaknesses, skills and personality traits, have the most leverage on the success or failure of their business.

Relationships are a key to life satisfaction—but they are also the foundation of our business success.

Across these three levels (entrepreneur, team, business), I have noticed common challenges that many of my clients bring up. I refer to them as questions of intention, sustain and relationships.

‘Intention’ is about setting inspiring goals that truly resonate with you, and that require your continuous commitment. It means being mindful about investing your time and energy in the most relevant areas of your life—both within and beyond your business. Most importantly, however, intention is about defining what timeline you are on. Are we talking about the next three years in your personal life but ten years in your business life? How will your plans align for you individually and for your company? Often, it is the dissonance between personal and business priorities that brings CEOs and entrepreneurs to their limits.

‘Sustain & thrive’ is about defining what it means to perform at an optimal level through a leader’s next phase in life and business. Many founders I work with wildly underestimate the years it takes to build a business to fruition – and to also personally thrive at it rather than burning out.When I talk about performance, of course, I am not only speaking about the physical or mental game: Often, I work with clients on generating and executing strategies to make their businesses financially sustainable in the long run.

Lastly, I focus on ‘relationships’. Relationships are a key to life satisfaction—but they are also the foundation of our business success. With my clients, I take stock of their key relationships and what it takes to cultivate them. This includes their relationship with themselves, an area that is hardly ever discussed in business circles. This work is about building their personal support system to ensure their performance (‘sustain’) over the course of their next life phase (‘intention’).

What’s the reason you are still active as an entrepreneur yourself? 

I believe in walking the talk. Most of my clients work with me because they want to partner with a fellow entrepreneurial soul who can help them chart their journey with empathy, clarity and compassion.

Next to my coaching work, I am building a software platform. The company, called JRNY, is a consumer subscription business that helps its users commit to their intentions and align their time with what really matters in life. It is a new take on productivity, focusing on the essence rather than on each individual task. Together with my technical co-founder and our team, we are turning behavioural science and coaching methods into a software suite for mobile, web and desktop that will empower people to transform their lives.

I am also an active investor in tech firms and I work with leading international venture funds. Early on, I realised how this synergy between “building and coaching” helped me stay in touch with the reality my clients face every day. For this reason, I only partner with a limited number of clients at any given time. It helps me to do my best work with them and keeps me rooted in the business world.

Web: www.juliusbachmann.com


Newsletter: blog.juliusbachmann.com

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