How founders can avoid blind spots and make better decisions with EchoVC’s Eghosa Omoigui

Building and maintaining a successful startup requires founders to see the entire playing field. Without that clear view, founders risk missteps when it comes to hiring, raising funds, launching a product or making an acquisition.

Essentially, any big decision can end in disaster if a founder loses perspective or lacks situational and self-awareness.

Eghosa Omoigui, the founder and managing general partner of EchoVC Partners, a seed and early-stage venture capital firm that serves underrepresented founders and underserved markets, has helped entrepreneurs navigate the first steps of starting a company and laying the right foundation early on.

Omoigui, who was previously director of consumer internet and semantic technologies at Intel Capital, advocates for founders to develop their own All-22 tape — a tool used by professional football coaches that allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time. It improves a coach’s line of sight and, most importantly, helps avoid missing a critical motion or player.

The concept of this tool can — and should — be applied in the startup world as well, Omoigui said during the virtual TC Early Stage event.

Omoigui explained what it means to have an All-22 tape and the steps founders should take to develop a skillset that will allow them to see and understand the playbook from all sides.

The big picture

Before getting into the steps, it’s important to understand what the aim is. The upshot? For founders to have the best and most complete view of their company, team, investors, product and competitors.

For founders, that means being able to zoom out and see each of their employees’ points of view and being inclusive. Without an All-22 tape, founders can mistakenly spend too much on engineering while ignoring the product rollout strategy or forget to communicate with employees outside of their bubble of interest. A company can become fragmented as more blind spots emerge, which can ultimately lead to oversights that damage its reputation, operations or even its ability to raise money from investors.

For operators and investors, what we see is usually very driven by where we stand, or where we sit. And what you have to discover really is: How can I get much better views? And the best view is always the plan view, you’re looking from the top down, you’re watching the movement, and you have line of sight, you know, that’s essentially 360 degrees. (Time stamp: 3:40)

Situational and self-awareness

Sticking with the All-22 tape analogy, Omoigui talked about why camera views matter. In a founder’s everyday life, different camera views — or perspectives — are what allow that full picture to form. But it’s not so simple. Omoigui said founders have to acquire self-awareness and situational awareness to be able to see these different views.

Depending on where you’re sitting, you’re going to see very different things.

What you’re trying to figure out is what skillsets can I acquire, so that I can get better camera views that I can integrate into my decision-making.

So what I like to tell, you know, folks that we support and work with is that life technically is a two-sided coin, as an operator or an investor. And there are two things that you are really constantly focused on burnishing.

The first is your self-awareness, who you are as an individual, at state in motion. The second is your situational awareness, you know how you essentially capture the signals that are being given in every context, how you process those signals, how you now build decision-making frameworks around those signals, and then how you sort of drive and execute outcomes. (Time stamp 4:35)

You are on a constant quest to improve your self-awareness and your situational awareness, and one doesn’t go without the other. And what you really have to focus on constantly is, how do you get better at each? (Time stamp 5:38)

The role of executive coaching

Omoigui suggested that founders consider using an executive coach to help develop self-awareness and focus on the mental health of themselves and their team.

If you haven’t reached out to try to figure out how to get an executive coach, or how to figure out how to get mental health check-ins, you should. It is no sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength because the ability to reach out is, in fact, self-awareness. (Timestamp 7:49)

Finding the right executive coach is a process, Omoigui cautioned, adding that it is similar to the journey from dating to marriage.

It happens where by your first date is like, that’s the person I’m going to marry, and you know it and it happens. And sometimes you have to sort of go through multiple dates and find that person that you want to make a life with. And so it’s very important that if you try with executive coaching and it doesn’t work, don’t give up. It’s a very important element because eventually you want to be able to have that person who’s able to shape you as you evolve as an investor or an operator. (Time stamp 8:46)

Step two: Acquiring situational awareness

Founders will find it difficult to gain situational awareness without being self-aware, Omoigui said. But if founders are open and have gone through that process, the next step is to learn how to read the situation or events occurring around them, whether it’s a negotiation with a potential customer or a disagreement between different departments within the company.

Whatever context you’re in, it’s always very important to say to your team, to your co-founders: What are the assumptions we’re making here? (Time stamp 11:41)

To be able to understand those assumptions, however, Omoigui said founders and their teams have to identify their tendencies or biases. He referred to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, both of whom were known for watching and studying hours of film. They were looking for tendencies, Omoigui said. In the startup world, that “film study” — essentially going back over scenarios and identifying tendencies or biases — can be done with an aid of an executive coach or even within the executive team.

How do you react? In other words, what is Pavlovian about you, as an operator or as a founder? What do you do when you hear the bell ring? And there you can now stop and say, “I am reacting in motion, but now I need to go back into ‘state’ and figure out what it is that I think I have heard and what is it that I think I have seen.” These are tools that you bring into your decision-making process. (Time stamp 13:27)

Diligence and diversity

Founders and investors are required to make dozens of decisions a day of varying importance. Diligence is the key to improving that decision-making capability, Omoigui said.

“In other words, using a sporting metaphor, what does your scouting report look like?” he said.

But diligence is only part of cracking the code to making those decisions. The diversity of your team is also key, Omoigui said.

As much as we think we’re the greatest in the world, we’re always better together. And people see things that everybody else misses. And it doesn’t matter where they sit — it could be your executive assistant, it could be your COO, it could be your product manager, it could be the most junior analyst or engineer you just hired. And that’s what diversity of teams will do for you, is that it improves and it gets you to all 22.

There are only 22 players on the field. But depending on your perspective, you might only see 14, you might see 11, you might see 17, but they are always 22. So this is a very important in-and-out process of making sure that you get to use the 22. Everybody has a role and everybody has value. (Time stamp 18:41)

Using all team members, or in Omoigui’s sports metaphor the “all 22,” allows the founder to protect against their own biases or tendencies and help make better decisions.

What should power every founder and the traps to avoid

Omoigui wrapped up the presentation by laying out four traits that will help and four tendencies that will hurt a founder. Curiosity, humility, openness and flexibility — which is the ability to ingest new information on new data and be flexible enough to change your mind — should be the four traits that a funder embodies. 

But too often, Omoigui has seen founders caught up in four traps: overconfidence, bias, overconviction and calcification.

The traps are the ones that show up a lot. Overconfidence because you know what has carried us, bias, so many different types of biases. Overconviction is another thing that I see in both founders and investors. And the fourth and most important is calcification, because when you get calcified you are almost not just unwilling to change, you’re unable to change. And calcification is an important thing because in our world — venture, startups — we always talk about pattern-matching as a process to speed up decision-making. And one of the biggest kill switches with pattern-matching is calcification because eventually you just figure out, ‘OK, I missed that because I thought X or I thought Y or someone told me that they thought X or they thought Y and I really respect that person,’ which is a concept I call stacked calcification. (Time stamp 28:26)

Omoigui advised that founders and investors remind themselves often about these traps.

Go back and ask yourself, what have I missed in my All 22? Because the funny thing about the All 22 is it’s actually a look back. You only process it after the play is done. But what you’re really doing is taking what you have processed, and inputting that into your decision-making process so you don’t fall for it again. You can make real-time adjustments. (Time stamp 30:34)

You can check out the full transcript here. 

You can also view other sessions from Early Stage here.