Learning to trust your gut: A conversation with TeamEQ cofounder and CEO Francesca Gabetti
eamEQ uses winning strategies of sports teams - emotional intelligence, decision-making in real time and open communication to enhance the intelligence of your team. In this interview, TeamEQ’s cofounder Francesca Gabetti gives us her greatest learnings and brings us behind the scenes of her innovative SaaS platform.
Francesca Gabetti is the cofounder and CEO of TeamEQ, an AI-based SaaS team intelligence platform that uses technology to recreate and enhance the winning recipe of sports teams to improve company dynamics. By focusing on emotional intelligence, real-time decision-making and open communication, the platform helps to create engaged teams and healthy corporate cultures.
An entrepreneurial path
Originally from Italy, Francesca spent many years working for leading organizations including Ferrero, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabane and L’Oréal. In 2008, she was contacted by the tech company TheBlogTV, which wanted to start marketing through online communities and web-based formats.
“It was a pioneering project,” says Francesca. “At the time, everyone was still focusing on TV and we were going to have to evangelize the market. I was attracted to that, even though it can be scary.”
While still in this early stage of discussion, Francesca unfortunately experienced health problems. She was hospitalized for an entire year with a complicated back problem that required her to have two surgeries. But this recovery time was a key moment for Francesca.
“I started working on myself more,” she says. “I learned Chinese medicine for three years and dived deep into coaching methods, becoming an organizational and system leadership consultant for leading companies with my own firm.”
Francesca then decided to create her own venture focused on something she really believed in. Every company relies on teams, and she saw that technology could help bigger organizations undergo cultural transformations that could benefit both their individual team members and the organizations as a whole.
Like many entrepreneurs, Francesca encountered some challenges starting her own company. She was in a stable job, and many of her peers were as well. They would ask her if it was the right moment to leave that stability, and she would doubt her resolve to do so. “You have to believe in your idea,” she says. “That’s why you need to be clear to yourself and believe that your idea makes sense.”
This need for confidence became even more apparent when fundraising began. “Fundraising was very interesting,” Francesca says. “We had our first fundraiser and it was mostly, it was my friends who invested. It was unbelievably scary, because it was my friends’ money. I couldn’t sleep at night.”
Francesca had to believe in her idea enough to accept her friends’ investments and their trust. She says that this initial fundraising experience was a key moment.
As an entrepreneur, you see that the world is going somewhere and that people have a need that nobody is tending to, so you choose to make it yourself
Coming up with the idea
“I come from an entrepreneurial family,” Francesca says. Her father managed a basketball team in Milan, and she spent twelve years playing the sport. This foundation in team dynamics turned out to be a formative and useful experience. “Working as a consultant for big companies or family businesses, I saw both sides,” she says.
Francesca reports that in her work, she often saw environments in which people felt very disconnected, and that in many organizations individuals were treated as separate from the team. “The other two founders and I felt like we needed to create something new,” she says. “As an entrepreneur, you see that the world is going somewhere and that people have a need that nobody is tending to, so you choose to make it yourself.”
Overcoming mistakes and trusting your instincts
Every founder has some things they wish they had done differently. Francesca says she made many mistakes in the early years of her business. One was to register the company sooner than she should have. “We did it because we had the need to feel like we were a real company, but we basically had nothing to show yet,” she says. She says that they were still in the beginning research phase of the project, but lots of grants and accelerators rely on the date of creation of the company.
“If you have a date prior to your product launch, people reviewing your application will feel like you have more experience than you do, and it’s not good for your image,” says Francesca. She advises that it’s a better idea to wait until you’re truly ready to launch your product.
Francesca says her best decision was to stick to her gut even though people were telling her not to. When people told her she was dreaming, she still forged ahead. But she acknowledges that you won’t always be right. “If following your gut is sometimes right, it also means you have to sometimes stop and listen,” she says. “Your vision can be wrong.”
One mistake was hiring someone who was really famous in the industry and wanted to join her company. She and her team were so excited that they didn’t think through the culture change and adaptation process of bringing a person from a big corporation into a startup. After only a year, Francesca says that she had to fire this team member.
“It was emotionally taxing and the price for the company was big,” she says. “As a startup, you feel so small that when someone big wants to come over, you’re like, ‘Thank God!’” Although she says it was a mistake to hire the wrong person, it also recognizes that it provided a learning experience.
The founding team
Being a CEO is definitely not easy. In many ways, you are completely alone, even if you have many people supporting you and making themselves available as sounding boards. Ultimately, the final decision rests on your shoulders.
“I wasn’t prepared for this lonely journey,” says Francesca. If she could do it all over again, she says she would likely not start a company with each cofounder in a different city. “The price the company has to pay for that is fine, but the price I have to pay is not,” she says.
She says she would have also liked to have been more aware of how few women there are in CEO roles, and that sometimes, “it’s really good to go to an investor meeting with a man.”
Francesca points to her wealth of experience in big companies and her own startup in explaining this feeling. “You have to face reality if you want to change it,” she says. “If you know that being a woman is going to instill doubt in the person facing you, you have to be clever for your company.”
She also highlights the importance of aligning your vision with those of the people in your founding team and your company in general. “The complementary nature of the founding team is really key,” she says.
It’s crucial to set up a good support system and build a network you can turn to for help when needed. “Think global from day one,” says Francesca. “Don’t be shy or afraid of that. As women, I actually think that is one of our advantages. We don’t care about asking for help, and some people really do want to help.”
The right contacts are vital when facing problems, so it’s important to find people who you can have the difficult conversations with, confide in and ultimately trust.
Francesca recalls someone telling her that choosing cofounders and investors may be more important than choosing a husband or wife. “Before saying yes to an investor, think whether or not you would like to have lunch, a beer or brunch with that person,” she says. “Would this be something that would be nice and fun? If you don’t think that would be the case, don’t ally with them.”
Before saying yes to an investor, think whether or not you would like to have lunch, a beer or brunch with that person
“As women, I actually think that is one of our advantages,” she continues, “we don’t care about asking for help, and some people really do want to help.” The right contacts are vital when facing problems, so it’s important to find people with whom you can share on a deeper level, have the difficult conversations in moments good or bad, and ultimately trust.
It’s important to give and receive one hundred percent trust so that you are able to face all the challenges along the path. Francesca recalls a conversation she had in Stanford where someone told her that the choice of cofounders and investors may be more important than a husband or wife.
“Before saying yes to an investor, think whether or not you would like to have lunch, a beer or brunch with that person,” she says. “Would this be something that would be nice and fun? If you don’t think that would be the case, don’t ally with them.”
When asked about the ecosystem in Barcelona, Francesca expounds on how great the city is for startups. The Mobile World Congress brings tons of investors and technology to town, and new investors are increasingly looking at Barcelona as a “tech city”. It’s a good hub for travel within Europe and internationally, with El Prat airport convenient to the center.
But she also cautions that despite the ecosystem being on the rise, you have to know where in town to base yourself, as “you’re not playing in the big league by default.”
“It’s not like you are in San Francisco,” she says. “You have to prove your credibility as an international startup and push that vision from the beginning.”
Originally written by Ophélie Surcouf
Repackaged by Lester Isaac Simon
To learn more about Barcelona’s startup ecosystem, check out the Startup Guide Barcelona, and enjoy a deep dive into the most interesting startups, programs, schools, investors, industry leaders and experts the Catalan capital has to offer.