If you’re not spending 50% of your time as a founder on team building and recruitment, you’re doing it wrong.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Gura.
Ron Gura is the Co-Founder & CEO of Empathy and a tech entrepreneur who has brought his love for developing empowering products to startups and major international corporations alike. As SVP at WeWork, Ron started and oversaw a global R&D center of 250 team members, responsible for the tools and systems that helped the company scale operationally. Previously, Ron served as Entrepreneur in Residence at Aleph, a $550M early-stage venture capital fund. Prior to that, Ron served as a Product Director and GM at eBay, leading a business incubation organization. Ron joined eBay as a result of the 2011 acquisition of The Gifts Project, a social-commerce startup where he served as Co-Founder & CEO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Entrepreneurship is not a career path for me, but rather a way of life that allows me to keep my personal and work identities aligned. I grew up in a household where entrepreneurship was the default and only choice. I saw firsthand the pros and cons of making your customers a priority, working long hours, and harnessing unlimited purpose and fulfillment. The focus was on finding a problem domain that is unanswered, and dedicating several years, if not your entire career, obsessing over a solution domain. This was my mindset when creating Empathy. I had seen the ways in which the loss of a loved one can be demanding not only emotionally but also logistically, and yet no system existed to walk bereaved families through the processes that come after they lose someone close. We needed a solution, and so I became determined to find one.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
A decade ago, together with close friends and family, I co-founded “The Gifts Project,” a small social-commerce startup focused on “group gifting.” A year in, we struck a major deal with eBay — they wanted us to make our platform available on their homepage just in time for the holiday season, so people could chip in together to purchase a bigger, better gift for Christmas. Needless to say, the increase in traffic to our service was immense. All of a sudden, a few 26-year-old kids in Tel Aviv were dealing with literally millions of users a day, sleeping in the office in shifts to make sure nothing broke. It was an exhilarating adventure, and it completely changed our business. eBay ended up acquiring the company a few months later.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Resilience and empathy are key principles for me.
When it comes to resilience, I view Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” as perhaps the greatest rhetorical moment in history, as it distilled the understanding that taking action is what matters the most. While it’s important to hear the voice of the naysayer, we shouldn’t listen or accept the critics who don’t try to change reality themselves. Founders fight and push, day in and day out, to make sure they’re testing their thesis fully and trying to create a new reality.
Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; it has the potential to radically transform society. I try to personally follow that value and principle in everything I do, whether it’s product management, sales, talent acquisition, or everyday family life. The act of trying to feel or identify with someone else’s feelings changes your relationship with them entirely. It brings you to where they are; you are no longer asking someone “what can I do to help?” instead, you’re asking “what can we do so we can both overcome these challenges together?”
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
My team and I developed a platform called Empathy that we are confident will change the world, or at the very least make grief just a little bit more manageable. It’s an app designed to help families navigate the journey they face after losing a loved one.
Loss doesn’t skip anyone. What most people don’t think about when discussing loss are the additional burdens that come with it: the logistics. On average, there are 500 hours of tasks, paperwork, and bureaucracy to manage in the days, months, and even years following a loss.
Due to the inherent optimism of human nature, there is a tendency to avoid uncomfortable topics like death, and as a result the industry has been left largely untouched by the kind of innovation that could immensely ease the burden placed on the shoulders of grieving families. Empathy is changing that; my co-founder and friend Yonatan Bergman and I decided to face the issue head-on and build an app that streamlines the logistics following loss, guiding families through all of these challenges, and taking on some of the burden for them.
How do you think this will change the world?
Death is undoubtedly a taboo subject, and utilizing technology to address such a sensitive topic compounds this effect. We utilize technology to minimize logistics, and so enable more family time, and more care and attention to the emotional side of grieving and coping. We don’t strive to replace human connection — we strive to make more room for it.
With that in mind, we know that Empathy can make a positive contribution to the larger conversation about loss in our society. It’s not just about grief, it’s also about the day-to-day, the coping, and the practical work. Wrapping up a loved one’s affairs and carrying out their final wishes will never be easy for those grieving a loss. 500+ hours of paperwork and practicalities are like another whole job, one that no one accounts for. Our friends and acquaintances, our colleagues and workplaces — expectations need to be adjusted in our society around what loss entails, so that we can all be better at supporting people coping with it. That includes bereavement leave (which currently is not mandated by law in the US) and resources from your workplace, it includes continuity of care from senior living and hospice care, and it includes updated expectations around what grief looks like and how we as individuals can better support each other.
One of the laws of unintended consequences includes unexpected benefits. The negative effects of the taboo around death are evident. When people don’t discuss death, they are left unprepared and vulnerable. The philosopher Martin Heidegger claimed that in order to lead a meaningful and authentic life, we need to overcome our inherent nature of avoiding thinking about death and face the idea that life is temporary. While there may be some hard truths to face when thinking about death, the potential benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
As an entrepreneur, I look for sectors that are ripe for disruption. The lack of tech available to help those dealing with end-of-life issues was a problem domain I had kept coming back to for years, and I decided to properly research it. It’s that research that ultimately led to Empathy.
I was no stranger to loss in my own life, and it’s also vividly present in some of my closest circles, but when I started actively learning about grief, loss, and bereavement, my eyes were opened. When you really look at families experiencing loss, the idea that what they need is “disruption” starts to seem too small, limited, even trivial.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We have already launched Empathy across the US. We have brought in a team of leading experts in grief, software engineering, and estate law in order to ensure that the fruition of this idea is as all-encompassing as possible in order to ease as much of the burden on bereaved families as we can. In order to spread the idea widely, we aim to push for meaningful change in US policy, be that in bereavement leave, death care, or bereavement standards, with the goal of raising awareness about the issues brought on by death, and the extreme logistical burdens that come with the loss of a loved one.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Schedule everything that matters to you. If it’s not on your calendar, you’ll never get to it..
- If you’re not spending 50% of your time as a founder on team building and recruitment, you’re doing it wrong.
- Be decisive in cutting toxicity. It will pay dividends.
- Naivety can be your most powerful asset — embrace that naivety as the hidden blessing it is.
- Don’t work on weekends.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Never stop being curious, and never fear asking the “stupid question.” You miss out on a lot of opportunities if you never ask questions.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’ll keep it simple — my pitch or ask would be to keep up the amazing global momentum of mission-driven companies that are aiming to solve real, meaningful, complex problems for humanity.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.