At FUEL, we invest in people, not companies.
That’s not a talking point, it’s a real commitment to putting founders first and supporting the kind of sustainable habits that will produce successful outcomes over the long term. We’ve seen and experienced firsthand how Silicon Valley's culture of hustle runs people into the ground, and we’re here to punch back by truly investing in the well-being of those building the companies that will change the future.
Two Days on the Ranch.
Earlier this month, we invited the founders within the FUEL Capital family to the stunning Skywalker Ranch for our very first ReFUEL Retreat. The idea for this retreat, which we plan to host annually, was born out of our genuine belief that founders who care for themselves can better care for their businesses.
We asked attendees to slow down, be present, and focus on their own health and wellness during this unique summit. We invited today’s leading minds in movement, meditation, nutrition, and mental conditioning to join us and share their knowledge. We carved out plenty of time for movement, plenty of time outdoors, and plenty of time away from our devices. George Lucas envisioned Skywalker Ranch as a place where creators could come to do deep work. Since shaping a company is an act of creation, we thought the ranch was the ideal place for ReFUEL.
After the founders got settled into their private suites and mingled over breakfast, we gathered for our first session with renowned mental conditioning expert Trevor Moawad.
On a mission to “motivate the motivated,” Trevor serves as a strategic advisor to some of today’s top athletes. He reminded us about the power of neutral thinking, that saying negative thoughts out loud can have a severe impact on one’s performance (and on the performance of those around us). He reminded us that pressure is a privilege, and that we shouldn’t take the difficult moments for granted because we’ve worked hard to get to them.
Our first day also included a talk from Kelly McGonigal, who helped us understand how to boost the psychological benefits we get from movement. Armed with heaps of research and scientific evidence, Kelly showed us how to use movement to boost mood, resist stress, forge stronger social connections, and even expand joy. We then put her ideas to the test by going out for a hike led by the Skywalker Ranch fire team and testing our balance with Paddle Board Tabata (spoiler: a lot of us fell into the pool).
As soon as you do a movement that has any quality to it - like grace or power - your brain doesn’t experience that as a fleeting feeling. Your brain thinks “I’m graceful! I’m powerful!” You can choose a movement based on the qualities you want to develop.
We wrapped up the day with a tour of the winery, a big family meal, a private tour of George Lucas’ art collection, and a screening of (what else?) Return of the Jedi.
Two ideas from the first day of ReFUEL really stuck with us:
1. Success leaves clues. Trevor has had visibility into the habits and mindsets of some of the most elite athletes on the planet, and they all share one thing in common - they see pressure as a privilege. Pressure is not a negative thing - it’s neutral. Nothing good has ever happened in its absence. It is a force pushing you into the unknown.
2. The research Kelly shared all points strongly toward the same thing: People who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives. They have a stronger sense of purpose, feel more connected to others, and suffer less from anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
The biology of belonging: Our neurochemistry has evolved not just to help us do difficult things, but to help us connect with other people. Movement puts us in a better state for connecting with family, employees, or friends.
Just remodeling our rewards systems at the ranch's highest point (cows not pictured).
Some opted to start day two with an energizing yoga session led by Shelby Clark (founder of Turo), some headed out for a vigorous morning hike and run with Skywalker’s fire team, and others joined Anthony Sneed for his sweat-inducing ASCEND cardio class.
By mid-morning, we reassembled in the ranch’s expansive living room for a mindfulness workshop with Will Kabat-Zinn. Will guided us through several meditations while relaying lessons about our psychological relationship with time, the power of just sitting with tension and stress, and the fact that presence is palpable. The three hours flew by.
The more we observe, the deeper we get, the more we will realize that our whole reality - everything we experience - is being shaped by the stories in our head.
That afternoon, our very own Jamie Viggiano interviewed wellness expert and celebrity health coach Kelly LeVeque about her actionable, sustainable approach to nutrition. Kelly showed us how to “put the positive on the plate” and explained how consistency will outpace any fad diet or food hack. The remainder of the afternoon was filled with opportunities for founders to share their own experiences with wellness, from a fiery poolside panel discussion about the culture of hustle in the startup world to a candid fireside chat with former Pinterest President and Moment Founder Tim Kendall on being present.
Our biggest learnings from the second day of ReFUEL?
1. Presence is palpable. Will’s workshop demonstrated one of the most powerful things about being present: you notice what’s actually happening. When you notice what your mind is doing - you are changing your mind. It’s like strengthening a muscle.
2. Convenience usually wins. If you travel a lot, make sure your freezer and pantry is stocked with protein, fat, fiber, and greens so you have feel-good ingredients at the ready when you get home. Pre-select healthy options from your favorite takeout and delivery places (literally write them down in notes on your phone). Set yourself up to avoid making decisions in the moment.
There were a number of themes that bubbled up over the two days, and one of the most persistent was the importance of balance. When you let yourself consider things over a longer time horizon, the truth is plain as day: a model that burns out founders and early employees is not a sustainable one. Startups are only as healthy as their people.
If we can give founders permission to put their wellness first, that behavior can carry through the company cultures they build. We believe that healthier founders build healthier companies. This translates directly to better returns for our investors in the long run. It’s smart business.
After seeing how the attendees have already started to take the ReFUEL experience back to their teams, we’re more committed than ever to spearheading this change. One attendee likened the ReFUEL experience to the Wright Brothers’ use of wind tunnels while developing the airplane. This resonates with us. A two-day retreat at a gorgeous full-service ranch isn’t reality; it’s a vacuum. It’s easier to unplug and be present while there. It’s the learnings, the muscle memory, the small pieces of this experience that founders take back to their teams that will help grow this movement. To our founders we make this promise: Keep taking those bits and pieces back to your companies, and we'll keep building you wind tunnels.
We believe in supporting the wellness of every founder. Even if you aren’t in the FUEL portfolio yet, feel free to reach out. We'd love to hear your story, learn more about what you're building, and share our learnings from ReFUEL with you.
- Leah & Chris