An interview with Hiroshi Wald of Austral Capital and cofounder of Geek Camp Chile

by Whitney Sales

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Hiroshi Wald, Managing Director at Austral Capital and co-founder of Geek Camp. Wald specializes in identifying and developing successful entrepreneurs all throughout Latin America. Hiroshi is one of those people you immediately want to work with, not because of his prestige — though Geek Camp has helped over 70 startups raise millions in funding — but because there’s something about him that says “Let’s work together” in a way you don’t come across very often.

Wald is in the business of building partnerships. In a recent interview, he explained what makes his partnerships successful. To Wald, the keys to a successful partnership are growth mindset, low innocence, and mutual respect. After learning more about these concepts, it’s obvious to me why he’s has been so successful running the Silicon Valley arm of Geek Camp for four years — much like the founder who searches for the right customer instead of the first customer.

So, what is a growth mindset? — You might have heard of fixed/growth mindsets before. Created by Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, the idea of a split mindset representing both a static and a dynamic way of approaching situations became popular in psychology and education circles in 2006. It quickly spread outward into other disciplines, like business and entrepreneurship.

A person with a growth mindset feels the amount of effort put in results in a positive outcome. When they encounter challenges, the individual with a growth mindset believes they can find a solution. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,”

On the other hand, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort.”

Entrepreneurship is not a traditional discipline, and the problems that arise demand unorthodox solutions. If your partner has a fixed mindset, when the going gets tough, they’re likely to bail. They’ll default to rules and process, instead of creative solutions. And to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to learn from failure. “One of the best ways to assess someone’s mindset is to ask them about a time that something did not go well,” Wald explains. “Someone with a growth mindset will talk openly about what went wrong, the lessons learned, and how they adapted or improved. Someone with a fixed mindset will talk about others who were at fault, or externalities like frustrating investors and a bad team.” Listening to Hiroshi talk, I identified times in my own life when I felt stuck in a fixed mindset.

I remembered a past job, when I was less than thrilled with my boss. I had the option to leave the position and I didn’t. I felt stuck and blamed others, and I didn’t believe I had control over my life. I mentioned this to Hiroshi: “the very fact that you’re recognizing it now,” he explained, “indicates a growth mindset. It’s never an either/or scenario. It’s totally contextual, and both readily exist in most people….The good news,” he continued, “is that anybody can learn to have a growth mindset. It’s about focusing your attention on growth.” Focusing on growth is easiest when you’re in an environment that encourages that growth, which starts with establishing a space that values and respects each employee.

The second critical factor for successful partnerships Hiroshi identified is Mutual Respect — Mutual respect means valuing people as part of a whole, instead of purely for their skills. Wald uses the ‘brilliant designer’ or the ‘ninja coder’ as examples. “Those are wonderful skills, but the more you identify people as their jobs, the harder it becomes to step away from those identities and view each other as human beings working together.” Without mutual respect, partnerships struggle under the weight of systems that only value skill or results; failures indicate a lack of skill or individual weakness, and there is little analysis into the learning and improvement that can come out of failure for the benefit of the team.

Growth doesn’t happen in these situations because it infringes on the boundaries of the skill-based identity. Mutual respect begins with creating a workplace culture that views individuals as a team, and rewards them for the process as much as the end result. Wald talks about the necessity for “creating an environment where it’s okay to experiment and fail, where you celebrate failure and reward effort.” This dynamic only exists in environments where there is a strong sense of accountability or, as Wald calls it, ‘low innocence.’

Low Innocence, Hiroshi’s third factor to a successful partnership, is that something you really want? — As children, we’re taught to shirk responsibility and evade blame. If something goes wrong, we’re taught to say, “It wasn’t me, it’s not my fault,” because the outcome will be easier to manage than taking blame. “If we’re not careful, it’s easy to carry this behavior into adulthood,” Wald emphasizes. Without accountability and responsibility, you can’t learn. An important part of finding partners with low innocence is having frank conversations about the outcomes of failures. “You’re looking for people who want to collaborate, as opposed to commiserate,” Wald notes. You want to find people who change over time, share information with colleagues, and demonstrate learning from failure.

Hiroshi Wald has put a lot of thought into his philosophy for choosing partners, and it shows in his work and his success. Partnerships are only as valuable as the sum of their parts. Even if your team is made up of rockstars, ninjas, and wizards, if no one learns from their mistakes, and no one takes responsibility when things go wrong, you’ve got a very hard road ahead. If you’re not sure how to apply these concepts to choosing your own partners, trust your instincts. “One of the main things to ask yourself is how you feel around a person,” Wald explains. “Do you feel exhausted or empowered and energized? If you only use that one metric in life, you’ll still end up with a pretty good sorting system.”

You can find more from Hiroshi on Twitter @hiroshiwald; or check out Geek Camp at https://vimeo.com/64774636

Interested in learning more about selling at Seed and Series A companies, follow my blog at https://www.thesalesmethod.com/blog1/ or twitter @thesalesmethod. Upcoming articles include how to figure out the pricing model for your product and what is a target market.

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