Editor’s note: This profile is part of Something Ventured, an ongoing series by Crunchbase News examining diversity and access to capital in the venture-backed startup ecosystem. As part of this project, we’re following seven seed-stage entrepreneurs over the course of several months as they build their businesses. Read our previous profile of Josh Fabian and his unconventional path to founding Metafy here, here, here and here, and access the full project here.
Shifting from just the person who started a company to the actual leader of it can be one of the hardest transitions for any founder of a startup—especially a first-time founder.
While Metafy’s founder and CEO Josh Fabian has talked openly about having to shift his mindset to be a better leader of a growing company—having to step away from smaller issues to deal with the company as a whole—he also admits he continues to struggle with the transformation and some of the communication and culture issues therein.
“It’s weird,” he said. “You do things like hire a leadership team so you can be better as a CEO, but there are also issues that brings. You now have to manage the leadership (level) and handle differences there.”
Fabian said handling those differences better is another aspect he has to grow into as CEO—and something as a founder that can’t be ignored.
“Some CEOs think, ‘that doesn’t happen at my company.’” Fabian said dismissively. “OK, right, I’m sure it doesn’t. Listen, show me three people and I’ll show you a situation that has conflict.”
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In general, Fabian still finds himself struggling to be the communicator he wants to be as a CEO, especially in a remote-first world. While he knows not every employee will get to know him—the 36-person startup expects to double this calendar year—he does feel he is now viewed differently as the company grows.
“It kills me that some people just see me as the guy they talked to during their (job) interview,” he said with a laugh. “They don’t see me as the guy goofing around, being immature, throwing things around the office. People see me as the CEO and that’s weird.
“I do think the culture would be different if we weren’t remote,” he adds. “It just makes it hard.”
How he relates and communicates is something he is spending more time thinking about, especially as he pushes the company forward with new ideas and strategy.
“I always have these ideas, but we just aren’t in an office to talk about them and I don’t write them down,” he said. “It’s different, so I always have to think about, ‘how I am doing as a communicator?’”
As Fabian works to be a better CEO, his company—an online coaching platform for gamers—continues to chug along even though December brought a 17 percent dip in lessons and bookings, mainly due to some seasonality and Cyber Monday sales.
Metafy closed November with more than $200,000 in lessons and bookings combined, its best month ever, but that number fell to about $180,000 for the last month of the year. For 2021, the company cleared $1 million in gross merchandise volume (GMV) and expects that will increase to between $5 million and $10 million this year.
The company is currently tracking to beat December’s numbers this month, but Fabian tries not to overly concern himself with monthly sales numbers.
“I feel there are better uses of my time,” he said.
Instead, he points to other numbers to illustrate the health of the startup, such as more coaches making more money on the site. Early on in the company’s life, a large proportion of the platform’s money went to just a small number of coaches, but that has now changed—likely helping expand the coach retention and hiring.
Fabian also said student retention has increased by about 10 percent, something that speaks to the sustainability of the business.
Although Fabian feels the numbers are pointed in the right direction, the holidays brought on other struggles that many founders also face.
Fabian now spends most of his time away in New York, more than 300 miles away from his four children in Pittsburgh. While the holidays provide a respite from work and an opportunity for family normalcy, it also can cause feelings Fabian must grapple with.
“It was hard … not good,” Fabian said of the holidays. “Fundamentally, I don’t optimize for happiness.”
Instead, Fabian said he strives for making an impact, something he feels Metafy and its community-building aspects do.
“That makes me feel alive,” he said. “I claw at this pseudo-immortality, but there is a pain associated with that because it does not (help with) the work-family balance.”
The holidays bring that pain to the forefront.
“Building this makes me feel alive like nothing else does,” he said. “And that means I’ll never be the father I wished I would be.
“It makes it hard,” he said “I’m wracked with this guilt and part of that makes me sad.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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