Three personal realizations from my bout with COVID-19

Since starting Group 11 eight years ago, I made sure my time was spent sourcing, backing, and supporting the best founders in Silicon Valley. The last few years have been exceptionally busy having raised about $200MM. With the help of my dedicated team, we invested in early stage FinTech startups that, with time, have grown to become ‘category-defining’ (for example: SunBit, Tipalti, Papaya Global, Next Insurance, HomeLight, and TripActions to name a few).

In hindsight, the past decade seems to have been a crazy marathon up until October 2019 when my wife and I greeted our newborn son, who brought proportion and additional meaning to my life.

Much like many of you, I spent the past few months sheltering in place, barely meeting any friends or family members, and was alarmed by any random sound of cough or sneeze in the neighborhood. While I was very vocal on social media about the need to remain resilient, and get back to work to provide for our families, I continued to abide by the social-distancing rules implemented by our local and state governments.

Two months ago, my wife and I decided that we had to take our son to visit our parents and aging grandparents in our hometown of Tel Aviv. While taking an international flight with an infant seemed like a bad idea during these times, my ailing 92 year-old grandmother wanted to see her great-grandson for the first time and I decided to honor her request. It was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t done so.

We took a direct flight to Tel Aviv, and after a government-mandated 14-day quarantine, spent quality time with our families and a handful of close friends. At this time, Israel was experiencing very low daily numbers in new cases and had largely reopened.

It was at a Shabbat dinner in early June where I contracted COVID-19. There were nine of us at dinner, which was hosted by family friends. Six of the guests ended up becoming infected that evening. COVID-19 decided to spare my son and my wife.

We were notified by our hosts on Monday afternoon that the two of them experienced symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, I can only imagine how terrible they felt because I too had to contact a few business partners and family members whom I met after the dinner, to notify them that they had been exposed to a potential COVID-19 carrier.

My wife, son, and I took the test on Tuesday morning and the following day I received my positive result. By Wednesday night, I was already isolated from everyone including my wife and my son.

That same night, my symptoms started to manifest. I began to experience fatigue, headache, very strong lower back pain, and a fever. I admit that during the following 72 hours, as my body was battling with COVID-19, I wasn’t quite sure where things were headed. Every few hours, a new symptom emerged and intensified, and having all symptoms together at the same time. This was not a ‘flu’, this was not a ‘kung-flu’, it felt unlike anything I had experienced before. It was truly as if some sort of an alien virus had just hit me.

Dealing with COVID-19 was challenging physically, but even more so mentally and emotionally. While I recovered from most of my symptoms after seven days, I ended up staying in isolation for a total of twenty-one days until I had two consecutive, negative swab test results as was required by the Israeli Health Ministry.

During my 21 days in isolation, while I was unable to see any of my family members or hug my son and wife, I had the time to contemplate, hope, and plan how I want my future and Group 11’s future to look.

I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but I do want to acknowledge the gravity of what I experienced. We all fear the unknown, and when COVID-19 paid me a visit, it wasn’t clear in the first few days of the illness how my condition would evolve. I had time to reflect on the life I have lived over the past 41 years and how I would like to continue living my remaining years here on this planet.

All of my realizations had one common thread: I want to DOUBLE DOWN. I want to further invest and spend my time on the parts of life that matter most to me. I want to DOUBLE DOWN on my health, my family, and my business.

  1. Doubling down on my health — I believe my bout with COVID-19 was easier than it could have been because I maintained a healthy lifestyle which includes daily runs and yoga. This turned out to be crucial and extremely helpful when fighting the illness thanks to strong breathing and healthy lungs. I have decided to take things up a notch and enhance my physical and mental health by working out 1.5 hours a day, improving my nutrition, and meditating every morning (which I failed to do in recent years as I always rushed to the office).
  2. Doubling down on my family — This trip to Israel was an overdue reunion for me, my parents, and my siblings. After spending the past fifteen years in the United States, I was finally able to spend quality time with my immediate family, and my son was able to meet his great-grandparents, grandparents, and uncles. It uplifted my spirit as I am sure it uplifted theirs. I vowed to spend more time with my family, call more, and travel to meet them more often for as long as all of us are still around.
  3. Double down on my business — In the VC industry, many talk a big game and I guess I too have done my share of touting my successes and drinking my own kool-aid. It’s alright. There is nothing wrong with believing in yourself to the extent you calculate a NAV of your future successes, but I now know that I have yet to reach the pinnacle of my career as a venture capitalist. I also know that I will get there over the next couple of decades. I have set my mind on a clear, tangible goal: I want my firm, Group 11, to be known and recognized as the best FinTech investor in the world.

I know that these three realizations are intertwined. Building a legacy as a top investor is nothing without character and being a good family man. You can’t be either of those if you are not mentally and physically prepared.

One last comment around managing one’s psyche during these turbulent times — it is ok to fear the unknown. It is not ok to let fear control you. Prolonged exposure to fear is debilitating. It compromises our health, our families’ health and stability, our businesses, our economy, and our future.

Absenteeism and fear will forever remain detrimental to human progress. During these unprecedented times, I encourage you to choose hope instead of fear and try to set some clear and tangible goals for the foreseeable future.

I am certain there is a bright future ahead of us.

Dovi Frances.

(This post was part of our first Group 11 official email newsletter. If you love FinTech, enjoy reading contrarian views, and want to remain apprised on the things the Group 11 team and I are working on, subscribe to our newsletter HERE.)

Dovi Frances is a financial services entrepreneur and founding partner of Group 11, a venture capital firm based in Los Angeles, California.

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