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Why Emil Michael Says He Chooses a Founder Before He Chooses a Start-Up

Why Emil Michael Says He Chooses a Founder Before He Chooses a Start-Up

Emil Michael, the chairman and CEO of DPCM Capital, Inc., discusses the reasons why he’ll never join a non-founder-driven company.

Emil Michael is the chairman and CEO of DPCM Capital, Inc. Here, the tech magnate shares the wisdom and lessons he’s learned about connecting with a business. Michael says, “Because I have joined a bunch of founder-led companies, the consistent thing I am looking for when joining a business that I am going to help drive is the relationship I have with the founder.”

Michael stresses the importance of doing due diligence in the form of researching the business and individuals involved before joining a company. “I’ve always worked with good founders,” he says. “I do a lot of work before joining a company, whether it is referencing them or the people. Some would say I take a long time to decide.”

The Importance of Connecting With Founders

“If you have been inside these companies, there is mad respect for the people who go through the hard work of starting them. And they do have an aura around them,” explains Emil Michael. “But ultimately, the thing that makes that model work much of the time is they have a long-term perspective. This is their invention. It is the thing that they have been thinking about how it extends and extends and extends for multiple decades.”

According to Michael, “And that ‘stick-to-itiveness,’ that long-term perspective — which is ‘I am building something to last. I am not just being hired to financially engineer an outcome’ —  is what resonates with me. It is mission driven by definition. So that is really important. Now, are there bad founders? Of course. Are there founders who have bad ideas? Yes.”

Emil Michael says the best way to find the right business is to “spend your time finding the founders who have the vision that you share, have the values that you share, and have the business ideas that you share. That has been the theme for me.”

Emil Michael says he asks himself the following questions when he’s looking to join a business: Is this a good business? Is this going to be productive? Am I going to enjoy it? Am I going to learn? Are we on the same page ambition-wise? Are we complementary from a skills standpoint?

Ensuring Michael feels highly compatible with a company “has been the most important thing for me,” he notes. “I’ll never, at this point, join a non-founder-driven company.”

Emil Michael: ‘There Is a Dearth of CFOs’

“I’m a business guy,” says Michael. “What that has evolved [into] over time includes fundraising for private companies, M&A [mergers and acquisitions], strategic partnerships, and then sometimes I am incubating businesses within the businesses. I call it the venture capital arm of companies, which is investing in new ideas, being on the cutting edge of partnerships that are driving value creation in the business, and raising money, which I have done a lot of now.”

Emil Michael points out there is a lack of chief financial officers relative to the demand these days. “The interesting thing that is happening in the world is the dearth of CFOs,” he says. “It is a huge dearth because all these SPACs, all the IPOs that have happened in the last few years where you finally have some of the biggest IPO years in the last decade. So all the CFOs have been sucked out into these companies.”

As for the future of CFOs, Michael says, “I think private companies might look at chief business officers again as like, ‘OK well maybe that’s it’ because I can have a VP of finance or SVP of finance cover the controller, treasury, and accounting functions and have the M&A fundraising and strategic partnership functions handled by a chief business officer.”

As for the tradeoffs of such a system, Emil Michael explains, “You have someone with my skill set out in the world. I am meeting investors all the time. And my job is outside the company. It is out of the office, so you get some synergy with that. Or maybe I am doing a strategic partnership, and they want to add some money to financing, so you add some efficiency on that and some skin in the game on these deep partnerships.”

Emil Michael On Blazing New Trails In Business

“I get a lot of calls saying, ‘Hey, I want the next Emil Michael from five to 10 years ago [when he was innovating at Uber]. Can you help me find that person?’” Michael shares. “So it is still a newish thing. And I sometimes think what they are looking for is not necessarily a partner to do what I did, but someone who is in the trenches with them. Someone who has a broad perspective and broad responsibility across the company.”

It’s a rather new concept to have the CFOs and founders working so closely together, notes Michael. “It is true that culturally CFOs and founder, product and tech-oriented founders are not culturally or personality-wise in the trenches together,” he says. “They are not natural partners, so they are looking for a partner that they actually want to spend time with and share a similar point of view.”

That is important since, as Michael points out, “No one wants to believe this, but 50% of exec hires at a high growth company fail. No matter how hard you work at it, no matter how much you interview, that is just how it is.”




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