Silicon Valley still clings to a particular gospel of hard work, where a start-up's success depends on how hard employees "hustle," lunch breaks get replaced with fasting rituals or chugged Soylents and engineers wear their consecutive sleepless nights like a badge of honor.
To do so, it's launching an intensive development program that gives founders a "life board of directors" focused on their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
"The mentality of early stage entrepreneurship is that you've got to earn your stripes, dig yourself out of the trough of sorrow, and do it all on your own. You don't get any resources or structure — you just figure it out," Howie Diamond, one of Alpha Bridge's managing partners told CNBC. "We think that is fundamentally wrong."
So, Diamond and his partner, Jake Chapman, hired a clinical psychologist and expert on organizational behavior named Kari Sulenes to conduct a qualitative study about what a group of founders might want from a development program. From that analysis, "Project Atlas" was born.
Although Chapman slings the slogan, "healthy founders, healthy returns" with a touch of irony, the team thoroughly believes that a founder who eats right, exercises regularly, and talks with a therapist and management coach will be more resilient than someone without that network.
Here's how the program works:
Every participating founder will first work through a comprehensive survey that evaluates their leadership style, approach to relationships, mental health, emotional intelligence, physical well-being and more.
Once that's completed, the founder will meet with Sulenes for at least two hours to talk through the results and their goals. Sulenes will then pull from a network of partners to recruit their own personal "life board of directors," who will form a structured plan of action that the founder will approve. At least once a month, there will be "board meetings" where everyone discusses progress and updated goals.
"If you think about professional athletes, they have teams of people around them, supporting them in all these aspects of their lives," Diamond says. "We view founders as the Olympians of entrepreneurship but they have nothing. Project Atlas does something about that."
Alpha Bridge has yet to make its first investment, but eventually all of its portfolio companies will participate in the program for free (with strict confidentiality agreements separating the coaches and founders from the investors).
The VC firm is already testing the project with start-up founders from companies it has not invested in. These ten inaugural founders will pay $5,000 a pop to partake in the service for three months. Eventually, the team expects that cost to double for outside founders who want to participate.
By opening Project Atlas beyond its portfolio, Alpha Bridge sees the program as a being a way to engage with founders early, and build relationships that could eventually lead to the kind of post-seed funding the firm is interested in.
As Diamond and Champan see it, right now capital is abundant and time is scarce, and Project Atlas will hopefully give them a way to meet new founders early and often.
Ultimately, Alpha Bridge wants to be known for investing in founders and betting on company ideas, an inverse of what they describe as the norm of VCs investing in companies and betting on the founders.
"We're not trying to blunt the sword in any way. We don't want to change that 'win at all costs' mentality that many founders have," Diamond says. "We just want them to do it in a way that doesn't make them compromise their health.'"