Founder Things

Interview: Eric Bahn

. 28 min read . Written by Helena Price
Interview: Eric Bahn

On Small Hinges, Founders' Guilt, and Optimistic Nihilism

Eric Bahn is a serial entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of Hustle Fund, an early-stage venture capital fund.

After graduating from Stanford University, Eric created Beat The GMAT, a social network for people preparing for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Founded in 2005, it grew into one of the largest platforms of its kind and was eventually acquired in 2012.

After selling Beat the GMAT, Eric was a product manager at Facebook and Instagram where he worked on various product and monetization teams.

Eventually, recognizing a gap in early-stage funding for startups, Eric co-founded Hustle Fund with Elizabeth Yin and Shiyan Koh. Launched in 2017, Hustle Fund focuses on investing in pre-seed startups, aiming to support hustling entrepreneurs irrespective of their backgrounds.

Eric’s work has been profiled in TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider and more.

Okay. Hello Eric.

Hey, Helena.

I'm looking forward to learning more about your journey today. I often have newer founders approaching me about fundraising, and I'm unsure of what to say given how much the landscape has changed.

What stands out to me about you as a VC is your candidness, particularly on social media. I think you and Elizabeth are among the most honest investors I've come across, especially with the greater founder community. You're so open about the nuances of fundraising and the cultural context we're navigating. And so many of us appreciate that.

Why don't we begin with your story?

Thank you for having me, Helena. It's truly an honor to be here and discuss. Instead of giving a traditional bio, which often becomes lengthy, I'd like to begin with a saying that resonates deeply with me and which we've talked about before: "Small hinges swing wide doors." It's a metaphor for life, indicating that minor things can lead to significant outcomes. The first of my "small hinges" was being born to my Korean immigrant parents who had faced their share of challenges but provided a stable life for me and my sister in Michigan in the early eighties. Growing up near a forest in western Detroit, they instilled in me the capacity to dream big.

Reflecting on our conversations, Helena, I'm in awe of the obstacles you've faced in your formative years. It highlights that we all didn't start from the same place, but your achievements are a testament to your resilience.

Another pivotal moment was in college. I met my wife on the very first day, and though it took her three years and an AOL instant messenger nudge to realize it, we've now been together for 20 years and married for 14, blessed with two children. The same year I met my future Hustle Fund co-founders, Elizabeth and Shiyan. Our relationships transformed over 23 years, from mere acquaintances to co-investors and business partners. We've journeyed through life together, sharing milestones like our children growing up.

Having been a founder for many years with various degrees of success and challenges, I've developed a profound empathy for the entrepreneurial journey. I've faced my fair share of adversities from investors, which informed the foundation of Hustle Fund in 2017. We prioritize kindness and authenticity, striving for perfection even if it remains elusive. The genuine pleasure has been collaborating with inspiring founders like yourself, Helena. It's a privilege to be in the company of such extraordinary individuals.

Currently, I manage the business from my garage, cherishing every moment with my family. I'm content and grateful for where I am in life now.

Thank you for sharing all that. I feel very struck by something. And I'm figuring out how I want to dig into this.

I mean, what makes you curious?

It's interesting to hear you start with only the positive aspects of your life and journey. I’ll be honest here—there was a time when I only wanted to hear stories of struggle. I believed in the value of a challenging journey and often wondered if those who had seemingly smoother upbringings could offer valuable insights or perspectives.

Yeah. Yeah.

Growing up, I had this notion that those from affluent or even stable backgrounds didn't have "real" problems. I also have some deep-seeded issues around money—I had a dad who was well-off, and I was allowed to visit his big house growing up, but he refused to pay child support or financially support us in any way. So needless to say, there’s some anti-wealth baggage there.

Then I married into a family with generational wealth. Not because they were wealthy, but in spite of it. I came into it with a lot of judgments and assumptions. Being a part of that world taught me something: wealth doesn't shield you from problems. Not every issue can be resolved with money. The wealthy grapple with trauma, interpersonal challenges, and emotional struggles just like anyone else. It was a profound lesson in empathy for me.

My point is… in the past I would have heard an intro like that and lost interest. But now, my gut reaction is: don't gloss over the challenges, because I know you have them too.

Yes, Helena, thank you for calling that out. I truly value this context and the chance this platform provides. I hope readers get a chance to learn more about your early days at some point, your hustle in the nightclubs as a teenager, trying to forge connections, all with the goal of trying to get to California. It's such a crazy story. I think it could be a movie someday. I’d watch it.

So, yeah, I mean, it's not all strawberries, peaches, and roses, of course, but I do like to start with just recognizing privilege, because this is one of my trigger points. There's a lot of founders I know, especially really notable ones, that give themselves too much credit for their success. Like they don't recognize the fact that they're born very rich or like, you know, like their dad loaned them $8 million or whatever to get started. A lot of this gets glossed over in Silicon Valley and we lionize certain kinds of personalities.

I've done very well, so I almost kind of swing the opposite spectrum, which is just being real. I had a lot of unfair advantages getting started, but you know, even before we started recording today, we talked about how everyone is struggling to survive. But my life isn’t without its problems.

During my twenties, I had a very, very serious lung disease that I picked up while camping in Tucson, Arizona. So between 23 to 30, I was on really, really harmful medications that basically destroyed my liver. I didn't know at a time whether I was going to survive. I had a 15% chance of surviving this rare lung disease. But I made it.

That's coughing up blood every day for seven years. And it was really scary and hard on my wife, too, who was with me along the way. After that, I developed ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammatory bowel disease. I think it's actually related to the fact that I had to destroy my microbiome in order to treat that lung disease. So that was diagnosed in 2014. I’m still dealing with that, but in a good spot generally.

And then with my wife, I unfortunately can't get into real details about this, but she overcame some pretty serious trauma. I'll leave it at that. I'll talk about the consequences of that, which is just that this really woke up our family to caring deeply about social justice. From that experience, I started to realize, wait, if this happened to my wife, how many other women has this happened to? As I talk to my friends, 100% of them have dealt with this. And then it's like, if it's not just my friends, then what about all women in general? And I quickly began to conclude like, if it's not just women, then what about underrepresented people who have less voice? It's like they're all being fucked over.

So that was kind of this crazy awakening that happened in my thirties, where I think it did shape our family into deeply and authentically caring about this kind of stuff. And that's something that I'm really proud of—my kids, my wife and I talk about these issues all the time and try to act in terms of where we volunteer our time and donations towards causes that hopefully make the world a little bit more equitable or at least give people a fair shot. So there is definitely some things along the way, and every human being has that kind of journey, whether they start from privilege or not.

But again, going full circle to my earlier statement, Helena, it does irk me when particularly men who come from pretty insane privilege don't recognize it. I think the starting point of where they are in life matters when we’re looking at success stories. What you can achieve from a position of high privilege is radically different from what you are likely to achieve if you start with nothing. And that's something that deeply attracts me to your story. Like you really, really hustled your way into an incredible career from the most non-obvious starting point. And that will endlessly fascinate me about you.

Well, thank you. And thank you for sharing all of that. You know, I could hear it in your voice, almost like you're just grateful to be alive. I knew there was something else going on there. And I can relate to this.

Indeed, I sense the same in you. My favorite individuals are those who've lived genuine stories, faced challenges head-on, learned from them, and perhaps most importantly, cultivated gratitude. I'm naturally drawn to people like you who've not only learned to love and appreciate themselves for their journeys but also spread that positivity. Spending time with you is such a positive experience, and I believe everyone in your circle would attest to that. There's a simple truth I'm embracing more and more: radiating positivity attracts more of the same. It's a lesson I'm keen on integrating into my life's current chapter.

Yeah, well, I mean, it's so felt and so appreciated. Because you were an investor in Haus, and you know that not every investor thinks of me that way. Like I was having a really hard time this morning, even thinking about having this conversation.


I mean, I have to say it—I lost your money, right? I lost money from your network. Yes, Haus sold, but you guys didn't get your money back. I didn't make a dollar. And like, there's always that part of me that's just like, I can't fucking believe it. I can't believe you guys even talk to me.

Let's talk about this for a second here, and I want to really just release this burden for you, okay? If I could go back in time knowing what I know would happen in the future, would we make the investment again? The answer is absolutely.

Helena, something my colleague often tells me comes to mind: Life can be approached as a single-turn transaction or a multi-turn transaction. If we were, say, haggling over selling a car, we might be trying to outdo each other on price, assuming we'd never cross paths again. That's a single-turn transaction, and it often leaves a residue of negativity because the goal becomes about maximizing one's own gain.

But life is more of a multi-turn transaction. It's not about just one interaction or one venture. From our time working together, I've come to see you as a founder with remarkable talent and integrity. So regardless of the outcome of one particular project, I know that you have a promising trajectory ahead. Whether we invest in your next venture or not, just being in each other's sphere assures me that something special is bound to happen.

So, don't let any temporary setbacks weigh you down. It's a part of the game, and any seasoned investor understands that it's simply a part of the entrepreneurial process.

Well, thank you. I'm crying a little bit. Sorry.

Oh boy.

Yeah. Well, you don't realize that your perspective, while you feel like it should be standard, is not always. And I had a really unique experience, right? Like I never had an actual lead investor. I had so many funds and all of these syndicates. Right? Like, I don't know how many investors I had. There were hundreds. And while I had a lot of support from my investor network at the end, you know, I had people that weren't like that. I had people that were angry and people who've never talked to me again. Investors talking tons of shit about me behind my back. People would forward it to me. About me being incompetent or a fraud or whatever. And part of me can be like, well, fuck them. But also, I have to take responsibility.

Do you?

Of course. In retrospect, there are many things I would have done differently.

I mean, what we don't know yet is what the small hinges are in this moment that will lead to something bigger. But for this experience, are we now experiencing an even better version of Helena on her life path or maybe even a founder path again one day? I think the answer is unequivocally yes.

Both of us have young kids, and we don't aim for them to be flawless all the time. In fact, it's during their missteps that the real growth happens. When things don't go their way, I often ask, "What did we learn from this?" It's okay for them to feel hurt or disappointed. Sometimes those moments of pain are more impactful than the times they triumph effortlessly. While scoring 15 goals in a soccer game is impressive, it's the lessons from setbacks that truly resonate.

But so I feel you on this one. And I want to cover one thing here that you mentioned that is the thing that I was hoping to talk about today, which is gaslighting. I'm smiling because I like seeing you, but I'm a bit grumpy, honestly, right now because I have, especially in these down times, been seeing a lot of founders—particularly women—who are on the receiving end of an assload of gaslighting. And when I hear things like “You fucked up, you're a fraud”—first of all, no, that's not true. Okay? It's not.

One blessing is that you see these kinds of characters emerge when times are tough and you end up with a very clear map of whom to avoid. But I'm just noticing that these maps are getting drawn in much more stark, bold colors lately. And it really kind of makes the pendulum swing between being optimistic about the future and being utterly pissed off about the current state of the world, and particularly when it's directed towards women and underrepresented people. They feel the gaslighting the most.

I did just want to call this out because it still seems like you're still overcoming some of that stuff. I'm telling you as your investor and your friend that you didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes it doesn't work out.

Well, thank you. I think the thing I can say and feel confident about is I tried my fucking hardest. I took it as far as it could possibly go.

I know you did. Way, way longer than I even expected, frankly. You know, you could do everything right, and it still doesn't work out. But that's okay, because it's going to swing open another door. This is just another door in your journey. And I can't wait to see what that looks like. And I'm kind of starting to see it, actually. So it's pretty exciting.

You think?

I think so. Because it almost gave you more permission to be vulnerable and talk about these hard things, like to confront it in a more healthy way. Right? And I dig that something special is happening here, in real time.

Thank you. I am not the same person as I was when I started Haus. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on all of it.

I got myself into a really messy situation. One, trying to disrupt the alcohol industry is truly insane. But, you know, my co-founder and I divorced when we were at our peak. My worst nightmare. And I really had to ask myself, like, how the fuck did I get here? Like, how did I get to this place?

And that just kicked off this incredible, horrific journey of self-discovery and unveiled so much about me that I didn't know about myself. Like the quote unquote, “healing journey.” But it was, you know.


I talk a lot about naivete with other founders and how it can be such a useful thing, because you don't know what you’re getting into and it’s important to not know how hard it’s going to be, otherwise you wouldn’t try it.

And so now I'm at this very interesting place where I feel like I know so much more than I did before. Like pre-Haus me was like a little baby compared to who I am now and what I know about the world and what I know about money and power.

I mean, what a gift that I was able to see the inner bowels of some really powerful structures, right? Silicon Valley and even Hollywood and Big Alcohol all these powerful rooms Haus placed me in. But now that I've seen the inside, I don’t know if I can do it again.

You're a builder. You can't stop yourself.

But I really do find myself kind of sitting on the sidelines right now being like… I know too much. I don't know how to go back in. And maybe that's part of why I was really interested to talk to you, because you also know so much and you remain optimistic. To me, that's like a special superpower right now.

I want to touch upon something personal. When I was around 33, I was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis. It escalated rapidly and was incredibly debilitating. I found myself on steroids and even contemplated having my colon removed due to the excruciating pain. Thankfully, a friend introduced me to a holistic nutritionist, Jessica. Initially skeptical, I was astonished to find her approach actually alleviated my symptoms. However, during one of our sessions, as I lamented about my dire situation, she stopped me and said, "You need to reframe this experience. It's a blessing." At that moment, I was taken aback and thought, "What on earth are you talking about?"

Jessica said, "First and foremost, I truly believe we can improve your condition." She then said, "The journey to your recovery will involve re-educating yourself about nutrition and adopting healthier habits, particularly around exercise and diet. Eric, you're in your early thirties. The silver lining here is that if we can navigate through this challenge, you'll be equipped with these beneficial habits for potentially the next 70 years of your life." And Jessica was spot on with her perspective.

Over the past few years, I've been feeling remarkably well, and I attribute much of that wellness to Jessica's guidance. She was right; being diagnosed at a younger age allowed me to learn and adapt beneficial habits early on. Now, as I navigate my forties, I'm not only in good health but also able to be fully present for my family. Not crying on a toilet.

And maybe there's something like this here too, right now, going on for you. You're young enough, you got the hard lessons. Now you have, like, a Ph.D on how to do this stuff, right? So the blessing is like… what are you going to build in the next 50, 60 years? I think it is going to be astounding things, including what you're doing right now. So that may be the blessing.

Yeah. Thank you. I've had this gut feeling throughout this whole process of…. like I’m being trained for something. It's not sitting clear in front of me at this point, but I just have to trust. I know that you mentioned church before we started recording. I'm not a Christian, but I do believe in God because I've done enough psychedelic therapy that it was inevitable. (laughs) And so I do believe that there is a plan. And so I just have to trust that it’s there, and that this has trained me for whatever it's going to be.

One thing I do want to correct—and I so appreciate that we're spending time talking about stuff —I think people like to paint me as a very optimistic person. But I think deep down there is a hateful side to me. I mean, people are complex. Like, no one's just like one thing, right?

Like, on the one hand, I never wanted to be a VC. Ever. I actually really do not like the behavior of many of my peers, actually, in how they treat founders. I also remember being on the other side of this stuff when I was a founder. So, you know, there's a moment every week or I'm just like… Fuck all this stuff. Like, why am I even doing this? Like, maybe I should just call it and then, like, enjoy coaching my son's soccer teams and my daughter's activities— just doing that, right?

There's a very famous graphic novel called The Watchmen. And there's one character called The Comedian. First of all, let me be clear—he's a piece of shit. Like in that he actually sexually assaults one of his colleagues and it's really graphic and horrible. So obviously on the record, I don't condone any of that stuff. But there's something about his attitude that was revealed later or in the course of that book that I found kind of interesting and I sort of adopted. He's the comedian, because in his view, everything's a fucking joke, right? He's in such a jaded spot of life. He's just like, why try? It's all a joke. What impact am I really going to have? And I find myself going to that place a lot, actually. But the way that I try to turn that energy into something positive, it's like… Well, if everything's kind of like a fucking joke here, then why not make myself the butt of the joke?

This is actually how we developed the voice of Hustle Fund. It's very irreverent. We do silly things. We make hippocorn plushies. There's a playful online trolling battle between me and Elizabeth, my co-founder. I like to make fun of her, trolling sibling style. And she does it back to me all the time. And we just don't take ourselves that seriously. Because why would you take yourself so seriously in this industry? There's so much to laugh about, right?

But it's a little bit too mean to make fun of others. I just don't want to do that. So making fun of ourselves is the alternative, right? And that's something I really enjoy, but I think also opens a little bit more vulnerability for founders to participate in the bigger joke here too. It builds a shared language and a trust.

But yeah, I mean, it's hard because every day I put on a big smile and I have a lot to be thankful for. But like, this isn't like my dream job. I don't know if I ever really wanted to be here, but it's okay because it doesn't have to be my dream job. I find incredible purpose in this work every day. Purpose is so damn satisfying and makes me want to stick with this project as long as possible.

Mother Theresa grew up really rich, you know, And then she went to Calcutta as a nun. And at some point someone asked her, “Do you enjoy spending all your day helping people who are in incredible need, like working like 15 hours a day and you're like 88 or something?” She's like, “No, but it is the purpose that God gave me.” By the way, to be extra clear—I am no Mother Theresa, her impact is on another plane of impact.

And I think the cool part of aging—and we’re kind of on that journey together, Helena—is it doesn't have to be stuff that you like to do every day, but if it gives you a ton of purpose, then it is an enormously blessed life, right? So that's where I’ve landed these days, just like I'm sticking with this because I feel so much purpose here.

Amen. Recently, I've found myself thinking a lot about ambivalence, a concept I'd previously thought of as unvirtuous. As long as I can remember, I've been all-or-nothing. Because that’s how I was raised. I believed that true commitment meant being entirely convinced and dedicated to a decision no matter what. This perspective has helped me many times in life—but it also required me to dismiss my doubts and overlook red flags and ignore my intuition sometimes.

But as I heal and think about purpose, I’m not sure being 110% into anything is a healthy way to be. So now I’m approaching everything with a little more ambivalence, and I’ve realized that… that’s healthy.

Hmm. Let me ask you this—have you ever felt this moment where something was happening, either in work or life, and then you just stop for a second? And you think, “this is why the universe put me here right now?” Like, it feels like all the stars are aligned, and I am here to do this thing. Have you felt that kind of moment before?

All the time. My entire life.

I mean, okay, first of all, that's unusual. Because I don't think most people ever achieve that, right? Like, society conditions us in terms of, like… go to school, get a stable job, work until you’re 65, retire. Like, I don't find that many people who are inspired in life like that.

I've maybe felt this once or twice. Like my first company and the current company. Right? But there's like a long hiatus before and during and after. Right? So I mean, I just want to name how special that is that you get to experience that because that's an inspired life. In that regard, I think you're one of the most successful people I have ever met in my life. Because I don't feel that very often from other people.

Well, it's interesting because, again, I'm in this phase where I'm looking back on every moment of my whole life and being like… what of this is healthy? And what of this was a survival mechanism and what was malignant wiring from the way I was raised? So, looking back, I'm not sure if all of that was just, you know, divine alignment or whether or not some of it was me just having to believe that I was in the right place. Because if I didn't, I would just melt into the floor and die, you know?

When did you start feeling this inspiration? Like, damn, I know why I'm on this earth.

As soon as I started feeling some agency over my life.

Was that like your late teenage years when you were hustling to get out?

Yeah. And especially when I got out of North Carolina.

After college.

And that's a great example, right? I moved to California with $40, which was not smart, no matter how you look at it.

But the smartest thing you ever did, actually, ironically.

Not great. But perhaps to compensate for that, I really had to tell myself—and again, that is an inner voice that I have right— it's just what you have to do. Like this is what you're supposed to do.

And I had that inner voice that was like, you need to go to California. You need to go work on the Internet and make photos. Yes, it is not practical, and you have no network and no experience and no money. But you've got a car, you can sell it. You will figure it out. Just go.

And also, I wasn't in a good situation in North Carolina. I really wanted to get out. And I would end up seeing so much of my life be defined by that. I don't know if rebellion is the right word, or escape is the right word, but so much of my life has been defined by… I have to get out of this situation. So like, I'm going to do this radical thing because I don't know what my other options are, and I don’t have a conventional background or resume. So I'm just going to do this crazy thing that I have in my head. And it somehow feels like the right decision. It's not practical. I know other people don't do this, but I'm just going to do it. And I’ve always had a knowing that I was supposed to. I mean, that was Haus. That was my creative career before that, and moving to California before that. And now, who knows?

It's truly inspiring to hear about your journey, especially considering you made such a monumental decision in your early twenties. Perhaps that decision to leave, despite the uncertainties and lack of financial cushion, was your biggest “small hinge” moment. Like, I’m out of here, right? It feels like a significant turning point that set the course for everything that followed in your life. I sincerely hope that this is a chapter in a book you'll write someday. And who knows, maybe I'll even have a hand in turning it into a movie. I'd definitely put money into that.

I want to talk about Socrates for a second. Our modern society tends to champion logical, rational thinking—the kind that can be neatly expressed in formulas, statistics, and hard facts. It's the logos—the realm of the mind, clear and concrete. But Socrates also spoke about another form of understanding, the intuition you mention, called dialectic. This isn't about thoughts or facts; it's about feelings, intuitions, and gut reactions. It's listening to the body's wisdom.

We've become conditioned to suppress or ignore these intuitions in favor of more "logical" paths. From a young age, we're funneled into educational systems that prioritize and reward objective, black-and-white thinking, often sidelining the importance of trusting one's gut or following one's heart. And while there's undeniable value in logic and reason, we also risk losing out on the valuable guidance our instincts can offer.

By prioritizing only one mode of understanding and decision-making, we're effectively shutting out a whole realm of wisdom that has guided humans for millennia. After all, before we had complex language or advanced sciences, our ancestors relied on their intuition and instincts for survival. In modern times, finding a balance between the logical and the intuitive can lead to a richer, more holistic understanding of the world and ourselves. And sometimes, as in the case of that leap to California with just $40, it's our gut that sees the potential and the path forward when our logical mind only sees obstacles.

And for whatever reason, I think, like the genius that is you, Helena—you have an unusually developed sense of dialectic. The gut feel. Like if you're in your early twenties when you left, you're still developing your prefrontal cortex. But you honed it so early, I don't see that ever. It took me a long time to even listen to my dialectic. That's like my thirties. Like… How, I guess, is my question. How?

That is a good question. I mean, I spent my entire childhood alone in my own head. I didn't have a whole lot of guidance growing up and I always felt very alone. And so it was just me and my inner voice. I was not taught how the world really works, and I paid for that dearly in a lot of ways the last few years, but I have a strong intuition.

Lot of first principles thinking as a kid by yourself, like training or…?

Yeah I think I trained myself.

Amazing. It's just astounding.

I mean, it has served me. I know that my brain does not work the same as most people, which has helped me in a lot of ways. I am grateful for that, even through it’s lonely sometimes.

Yeah. So, you know, your kid’s getting older now. My older kid is approaching adolescence in the next few years. And there's all these stories of what people go through, that we learn about. Do you ever think about… how do you stop generational trauma like that?

Wow, what a question. I think a lot about this. I actually think about this every day because part of the healing journey I've been on was actually discovering a ton of trauma that I had I blocked from childhood.

Of course.

And realizing how my beliefs about the world and myself were informed by trauma—and that they were not true. And so much of how I navigated the world was based on the belief that the people who raised me were perfect and that I was the problem. Because that’s what I was taught.

Mm hmm.

And I know that is very far from the truth now. But I mean, imagine viewing the world through a lens and someone’s inverted it when you're just a toddler. And so everything's opposite. I didn't know that I was looking at so many things in the world backwards for so long in terms of how people perceived me, in terms of who was a healthy person to be around and who wasn't. I got everything wrong.

And so I think about my kiddo who is just the best, like she's the best thing that's ever happened to me, and she's the easiest part of my life. But she's experienced divorce, right? She has experienced miserable entrepreneur parents. I'm sure she has trauma.

And I see it sometimes. She's super sad that her parents aren't together. And I think about how important it is to me that she knows, as soon as she's cognitively able to handle this, that I am imperfect in so many ways. So that she doesn’t believe that she’s the reason any of this went wrong.

And look, I don't regret my life. My life has been extraordinary. I've seen things and done things and experienced things I could have never imagined. So I am so grateful. But my God, how much pain I would have avoided if I'd known that my parents weren't perfect.


Because she's fucking perfect. She's a child. She is supposed to make mistakes. She’s supposed to have space for that. And that's not what I got growing up. And so that is what I think about.

I'm very long on your kid. I’ve had a therapist, and I once told them, one of my biggest fears is that I'm going to fuck up my kids somehow. And I loved his response. Shout out to you, Chad.

He said, “Well, my my response to you, Eric, is that you're guaranteed to fuck up your child.” It's like there's no way of getting around that. He emphasized the importance of staying present with our children and being transparent about our flaws. This way, they can see our journey of self-improvement and understand that growth is a continuous process. While it was disheartening to hear, it also provided a sense of relief. It reminded me that it's okay to be imperfect, as long as we're striving to be better.

I recall an incident when my son was two and a half years old. In a moment of frustration, I slammed the door in his face. Even now, at eight years old, he occasionally brings it up. While I deeply regret that moment and feel ashamed, it serves as a conversation starter. We discuss how it was an incorrect reaction on my part, and I openly apologize. I admit to him that I might make similar mistakes in the future, underscoring the human aspect of parenting. This reminds me of the concept of ambivalence that we discussed—recognizing and accepting our duality and imperfections.

But man, you even acknowledging that is amazing. I never had that. Talk about gaslighting. I mean, there's a lot of millennials who were raised the same way by the same traumatized boomer parents, right?

Oh, yeah.

Lots of parents claiming that they were perfect, and the kids were the problem. Lots of narcissism. And it's not their fault because that generation’s parents were literally beating them, you know? It's like the generational trauma is endless. But the fact that we are, as millennials, doing some work, going to therapy, having some level of self-awareness, we're starting to catch it while our kids are young. It's a miracle.

Yeah, it is. I think our babies are going to do well. They got some at least self-aware parents and that's a good start.


I mean, I don't know. I have a big fear. Of course every parent does. That we do something and then, you know, it swings a different kind of hinge that isn't great.

Or even what happened to you. You remember your childhood fondly, and then you almost died. That could happen to our kids.

It's interesting because, to go back to my introduction, what I appreciate about my childhood was that my parents were amazing. They're kind of strict and all that stuff. But they taught me a lot and I gained a lot from the discipline.

But growing up in Michigan, I was one of very few non-white people in my area, and I definitely felt persistent racism. So that inspires me in a tiny sense of empathy with your journey of just like… I got to get the hell out of here. There's nothing here for me right now. Pretty early on, I recognized that I needed to leave, but it was not nearly as acute as the situation that you were in. But somehow we both got out, and we ended up in the same place right now.

What a journey.


Well, we got 5 minutes, sadly. What is on your mind? Maybe we have some readers who hoped we’d actually talk about venture capital. What do you have to say to the founder community right now, given the state of the markets and the world?

One concept that seems prevalent, especially now, is the idea of the 'brilliant jerk.' We see these figures like Steve Jobs, who while undoubtedly a visionary, was an asshole. Yet, we often celebrate these personalities, justifying their behaviors by saying, 'That's just how you achieve greatness.'

There's a saying at Hustle Fund that is very cheeky, which is “Be Kind, Make Billions.” I think that we're not celebrating enough that you can be a great human being. Care hardest, serve people as well as you can and then we can all be successful. And I want to celebrate those archetypes more.

The person who really personified that for me early in my career was a guy named Brad Smith. He was at the time the CEO of Intuit, which is like a boring tech company making tax software and things like that. It was not the most exciting place, to be honest with you, but full of great people. Brad grew up very, very poor in West Virginia, and had this wonderful, lovely Southern accent that was so charming. Had really weird sayings, too. Like one time I was in a meeting with him and then, like, we're about to launch something. He's like, “Listen, Eric, we're going to make more noise about this than two skeletons fuckin’ on tin roof.” And I was like, Wow, I'm never going to forget this. That's pretty good. But he was lovely, just like a great dude and inspired people through his kindness. Great public speaker. So much of what I tried to model about myself was actually from his mental model.

So I want people to look up to you. I want people to look up to other great leaders who have high EQ. And then I want that to be the norm of what we strive towards. And this is what kind of pulls me down sometimes is when, like we get a little bit to idolize an asshole who does well. Because if you dig into that, the way they got there was actually harming and stepping on a lot of people along the way. I don’t think we have to do it that way.

So yeah, I guess my final remark on this, is it's never too late to just choose to be kind. That’s the way that I did it. I don't think I even started off as kind. I just pretended to be kind. I faked it in my twenties and after that, certain things became natural. Just pretend if you can't do it naturally, and then it will feel more natural over time, and you'll like yourself better at the end of it. And eventually, you will be an authentically kind human.

Yeah. The world is big, you don't have to work with assholes. You really don't have to.

Yeah, for sure.

There are good investors. Like you! There are good people out there. The world is bigger than you think. Don’t settle. I wish I could have told myself that.

Well, now you're telling a generation of young founders, and then when you build your next thing, Helena, it's going to be damn good because you got the battle scars right to do it right in the way that is true to you. So this is amazing.

First of all, thank you for the conversation and thank you for the opportunity. And more importantly, thank you for doing this service because I think it's going to be a meaningful place for founders. And I do hope that many people get to read all these kinds of interviews that you're conducting. And the fact that you can get people so vulnerable is your gift, too, right? Because you lead with it. And it's just making, I think, this ecosystem better as a result. So we’re always your biggest fan, Helena, and when you're ready to raise again, give us a call.