Optimatik & Forethought: Building Generative AI Companies In a Rapidly Evolving Market

Episode Overview

On this episode, Mandela Patrick, Co-Founder and CEO of Optimatik, an AI company that harnesses data-driven insights to optimize high-quality creatives for brands, speaks with host Kate Barrett about building something new in an already noisy field, the value of tapping into your own trusted network, and the powerful ways new tools can democratize access to technology. Throughout the conversation Deon Nicholas, Co-Founder and CEO of Forethought, the leading generative AI for customer support, and NEA Partner Vanessa Larco share their thoughts about building a business in a volatile, highly competitive market, cultivating intentional growth through careful prioritization, and the difficult decisions founders have to make during tough times. Tune in to hear what inspired Mandela and Deon to become founders, how they’re leveraging the hype around AI to hire top talent, and how generative AI is empowering people to be more efficient, productive and creative.

“By and large, it is you as a founder, as a CEO, that's gonna set the culture. It's your strengths and weaknesses that are gonna actually blend in and become the strengths and weaknesses of the organization."

Deon Nicholas Co-Founder & CEO, Forethought


  • What led these founders to generative AI long before the hype
  • Company building in a volatile, rapidly evolving market
  • Filtering out the noise to hire for the long term
  • How new tools are democratizing access to technology

On this Episode

Mandela Patrick

Mandela Patrick is Co-Founder and CEO of Optimatik, the creative AI company that leverages data-driven insights to create and optimize high-quality creatives for your brand using AI. On this episode, Mandela chats with host, Kate Barrett, about why starting a company felt like a natural evolution for this first time founder, what it's like to build something new in a very hot space, and the value of a trusted network.

Deon Nicholas

Partner, NEA

Deon Nicholas is Co-Founder and CEO of Forethought, a generative AI company providing customer service automation that helps support teams maximize efficiency and productivity. On this episode, Deon chat's with Forethought board member, Vanessa Larco, about the exploding mainstream adoption of generative AI, how to find investors who will truly have your back, and the importance of knowing your weaknesses.


Kate Barrett (00:06):

This is Founder Forward, the podcast from NEA, where we explore the company building journey with candid commentary from founders and investors, some legendary, some just getting started, all moving forward. I'm Kate Barrett. On this episode of Founder Forward, I spoke to Mandela Patrick, co-founder and CEO of Optimatic, which leverages data-driven insights to create and optimize creatives for brands using generative AI. Mandela talked about why starting a company felt like a natural evolution for this first time founder, what it's like to build something new in a very hot space, and why tapping into your own trusted network has never been more important.

Mandela Patrick (00:56):

Dr. Mandela Patrick originally from the beautiful Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, and I'm currently the CEO and co-founder of Optimatic, and we are a creative AI company that's pushing the boundaries of image and video generation to help brands reach their audience faster, cheaper, and in more effective ways.

Kate Barrett (01:14):

And on every episode of Founder Forward, we like to fast forward to get some insights from a founder and investor who are walking this road together. Today we'll hear from Deon Nicholas, co-founder and CEO of Forethought, the leading generative AI for customer support and NEA partner Vanessa Larco. Deon and Vanessa talked about the exploding mainstream adoption of generative AI, how to find investors who will truly have your back and why knowing your weaknesses as a founder is just as important as leaning into your strengths.

Vanessa Larco (01:45):

I'm Vanessa Larco. I'm a partner at NEA, I focus on early stage investing across enterprise applications and consumer apps. I've been at NEA for six years, and prior to NEA I was in product management across gaming and other consumer companies to dev tools and other enterprise SaaS apps.

Deon Nicholas (02:04):

I'm Deon Nicholas, the CEO and co-founder of Forethought. We are the generative AI for customer support automation. We were launched in 2018 and I've been working with Vanessa and the N E A team pretty much since then. So very excited to be here

Kate Barrett (02:22):

With AI being the topic on everyone's mind, we wanted to hear from two founders who know firsthand what it's like to build a business amidst this whirlwind of both hype and opportunity. Let's dive in. Mandela, you have a fascinating background. I'd love to just hear a little bit about your journey so far prior to founding a company and maybe some thoughts on where you started to develop those entrepreneurial muscles.

Mandela Patrick (02:53):

Yeah. So when I started looking back and thinking back, I've always been an entrepreneurial hat. Even though I came from a middle class family, my parents taught me to always be very conservative with money. And so even though I was a big tech nerd, wanted to play with the latest gadgets, the latest games, I had to get that money myself. And so to do that, I started this company called MNOP Technologies when I was in primary school into high school, and I would do a bunch of these different services for my friends and classmates to make money on the side. But what drew me particularly to tech entrepreneurship was this TV show called Jimmy Neutron is it's this-

Kate Barrett (03:37):

I remember it well.

Mandela Patrick (03:39):

Yeah, yeah. Massive head, sort of ice cream shaped hair. But I remember a particular episode where he made a computer game for his friend, and I found that super cool. The games that I was playing on my PS2, I was like, "I want to make those games myself." And so I begged my dad to get this book called Game Programming for Teens, and that was my first introduction to programming when I was about 10, 11 years old. I ended up taking a level equivalent, which I think in the US terms would be like AP classes ended up topping the Caribbean in math and computer science. And that brought me to Harvard University where I did a computer science degree. And in that experience got really interested into AI machine learning and wanted to pursue this even deeper.


Was fortunate enough to intern at Instagram in depth sort of machine learning recommendations team, and then sort of applied for the Rhodes Scholarship my senior year, which took me to Oxford where I did a PhD in the VGG Computer Vision group. My experience of AI was that I love research, but I also love putting this cutting edge research in people's hands.

Kate Barrett (04:51):

So I was astonished when you're telling your story, I'm like, "Gosh, there's a lot of parallels between Mandela and Deon here in terms of, not just like you're solving problems and doing very practical things that sort of set you down this entrepreneurial path, but both of you really delved into AI before you even really knew what it was and why you were doing that."

Vanessa Larco (05:17):

What made you jump into the world of entrepreneurship? I know how you landed at the product, but not what made you leap into entrepreneurship to begin with. What was that story?

Deon Nicholas (05:27):

It's interesting. It's kind of long and winding to be honest. So background, I grew up in inner city Toronto to immigrant parents from the Caribbean. We didn't have much, but I luckily I would say learned to code when I was younger. One of my older brother's friends taught me how to code and it was like this superpower that I've held since then. And I would always be building things anytime I came across a problem or an idea or a story. Originally it was around video games, but as I got older, it became around problem solving for me. So I think the first entrepreneurial product idea I ever had actually was in high school. I had this grand idea to build something that could read my notes, read textbooks and all this stuff and help me study. And that was, back then it probably wasn't even called AI, it was all rules based and stuff, but that was how I got into natural language understanding.


But it was also one of those first project ideas I ever had. I went to University of Waterloo, interned and worked out in the Bay Area at places like Facebook and Palantir. Eventually graduated, worked at Pure Storage. But throughout that period, that little entrepreneurial bug, so to speak, never really left me. And again, I didn't realize it was entrepreneurship, but I kept kind of coming back to, for me this idea of using AI, using technology to help people get their questions answered. And it was something that was spurred for me in school, but I started thinking about areas in the enterprise, like customer support and other applications. And quite frankly, once you really get that bug, it never goes away. And so at some point I made the leap, I left Pure Storage at the time, started Forethought. They're actually now a Forethought customer, which is kind of cool. But that was the entrepreneurial itch for me.

Kate Barrett (07:30):

Mandela, I'm curious, what's your reaction to that and why do you think you were drawn to that space in particular, so early on? And then I want to veer from there into why did you end up finding a company in the creative space?

Mandela Patrick (07:43):

Hearing his clip took me back to a particular project I did during the Pandemic actually. We built this thing called the People's Gala. I've always been interested in how AI and technology more broadly could democratize access. And this People's Gala project was actually a consumer generative AI even before it was a thing, we did this thing where I was frustrated that I could have never gone to the Met Gala. And so I was like, "How can I go to the Met Gala without being there?" And so we built this kind of project where you could put your face on any celebrity and be at the Met Gala, and it was this really fun generative AI project two or three years ago before generative AI had its moment. And part of what drew me to this company and why I'm building this company is that I've always wanted to be creative, but that's not been something that's been natural to me. And with sort of generative AI, we've seen this whole new Renaissance moment around AI empowering people to be more creative, to be more fluent visually.

Kate Barrett (08:50):

What's fascinating about that, the first waves of machine learning and AI and things like that, it was making it easier to do tech, allowing non-technical people or people who weren't developers to be able to create apps to do things like that. Now what's so fascinating is it's all of that other stuff, the creative space, the ability to generate content and art, and it seemed to happen almost overnight. I know that's not really how it unfolded. How did you see that opportunity back then and get in front of it that way?

Mandela Patrick (09:22):

Yeah, it's so crazy back then I, probably similar to Deon, wasn't thinking it of as AI or generative AI. I was just thinking about it as how can we use some of these technologies to impact and increase access if we actually democratize access to it and put it into people's hands. The pace of creativity and expression would just be exponential. What actually drew me to building in this creative AI space is that even some of these new generative AI tools, it still feels inaccessible to me. I feel like I need to be this PhD in literature to prompt these models correctly to get the outputs that I want. And parts of, I think what we're trying to do is how do you use data and recommendations to help you prompt these systems better? And so yeah, I think I've always just been in this space of how do we use technology and AI to democratize access. I think a big part of that is just lowering the barrier to entry, and that's been part of my story and my journey since I could remember.

Kate Barrett (10:27):

I was going to say, you may be a first time founder, but I think you've been training for this particular marathon for a very long time. I want to play a quick clip from Deon and Vanessa's conversation that gets a little bit into that idea of technology being obsolete as soon as it happens and the journey that Forethought has gone through over the last six, 12 months. And then kind of talk about your response to that and how it affects your approach to company building.

Vanessa Larco (10:58):

You had this idea of LLM like functionality where your software could write and respond to some of these things and it could mine knowledge bases formally and informally to figure out what would be the right answer to a customer. So you've been in it for years, and then OpenAI drops their GPT-3 and then slashes the prices to make it super cheap. And you've been working in building a lot of this stuff in house. What's that moment? What was that fork in the road for you? What did that look like?

Deon Nicholas (11:31):

Oh, that's been fun to say the least. So yeah, so just taking us back to 2017 and before our kind of earned secret in this market, I would say has always been to take a general AI based approach to customer support and focus it on your data, use the data, use AI that can understand it to build better systems on top and build better applications on top. And so we have been building for years, which is fun. And then November, 2022, Chat GPT drops and the TLDR is I think we went through five stages of grief or something like that. At first we were super dismissive. We're like, "You know what? Everything we've built is so much better. Don't even worry about OpenAI. It doesn't matter. We'll just keep doing our thing." And then I think three minutes later it was panicked of like, "Oh crap. Does everything we've built suck now?"


Just everyone's freaking out for a good few minutes. And then you go through all of that and then eventually come out with acceptance. And for us, the acceptance was super focusing in so many ways because there were so many pros of what OpenAI launched with GPT-3.5 and Chat GPT. It led to this entire wave where in the past we've been beating down customer's door and telling them, "Guys, you need this AI in your customer support." And they're like, "Yeah, okay." Now customers were beating down our door and saying, "Guys, we need generative AI for our customer support." And so it became this really big shift where demand went through the roof and it became this arms race of like, "Hey, who is going to have AI first?" And first it was in marketing, but then very quickly everyone asked the question, "How can I apply this to customer support?"


But then also because we already had a lot of this stack built in, it was easy for us to swap out the 20 or so percent, 20 to 30% of our stack that was actually obsolete because of GPT 3.5, and that was where the acceptance had to come from. It's like, "Hey," by truly looking ourselves in the mirror and answering that question, we ended up integrating with OpenAI in some cases. We launched SupportGPT, which is the world's first generative AI for customer support automation. And then we were able to make our customers the heroes. So folks like Upwork who have been with us for a couple years, when they launched SupportGPT, which was basically a minor change to the engine, but a big change to the experience. They were now the first probably businesses in the world to be applying generative AI in this form, this modern form to their customer support. And so that was really exciting.

Kate Barrett (14:22):

Mandela, I'm curious, what is your response to that? Being definitely in the earlier stages of company building than Forethought, but probably really experiencing a lot of the similar dynamics. Is it noisy, is it hypey or is it an advantage? Everything that's been kind of bubbling up around generative AI.

Mandela Patrick (14:39):

A lot of the work I did in my PhD was based on this concept called contrastive learning. It's how a lot of these AI models are trained, and it's very simple. So you have one sample, you compare it to another data sample, and these two samples are usually kind of similar, and then you compare it to a set of noise samples. With that approach, it's easier for these models to compare versus say, just predict off of just one data sample. And I think it's a very similar thing for us, I'm excited about is that it's probably easier for us to stand out with noise because it's easier for you to see what's good and what's not. And I think having so much interest in this space, for me, it's pretty exciting because I think if you're able to build differentiated technology, you can sort of really set your path and it's going to be quite evident based on the revenue you're generating, the customers you're able to attract, the content you're able to generate. And so I think noise is actually really good for differentiation.

Kate Barrett (15:44):

How does that play into the company building process in terms of, we'll talk about fundraising for sure, but in terms of hiring.

Mandela Patrick (15:52):

I've been extremely fortunate to have attended some of the best schools and institutions, and I've worked at some of the top companies. So having that network to tap into and having built relationship and credibility into this space, I think makes it a lot easier for me to attract talent. So that's been, I think a big part of how we've been taught about recruiting is how do we tap into the networks that we've built. The other one is, and has been pretty successful for us, is how do you tap into markets and communities that have been overlooked or isn't as represented? And so we've been able to tap into the international market because there this amazing talent everywhere. I talk about talent is distributed, opportunity is not. So we think about that very strategically from a hiring standpoint.

Kate Barrett (16:41):

Mandela, I think you're so fortunate that you had a really good network to tap into already in terms of people you could recruit. One of the things that Deon was talking about was that if they post a job right now, they get thousands of applicants right away.

Vanessa Larco (17:02):

So Dan, now that generative AI has a ton of hype, has recruiting changed? Have you changed how you approach recruiting? What does talent and attracting talent look like these days?

Deon Nicholas (17:13):

In many ways, our recruiting process hasn't changed. What has changed is, again, generative AI hype is really good for us right now. And so when we go and we post a new role, we're getting thousands of applicants and it's actually crazy. We're looking at each other like, "Wait, what? What's going on here?" Ironically, we should actually be slower on hiring in the sense of taking the time to weed out, "Hey, is it just candidates who are here for the ride?" And really understanding what people are looking for and are people truly here for the long term mission, right? Because this is a 10 year journey if you're successful. And so yeah, things have definitely changed. So it's gone from trying to source more to trying to assess more.

Vanessa Larco (17:55):

That makes a ton of sense. But you also just recruited incredible AI technical talent from the very early days. What was the secret to that?

Deon Nicholas (18:05):

Mostly my co-founder, Sammy, so shout out to him. He graduated top of his class at Harvard in computer science and was probably the youngest member of the machine learning team at LinkedIn before starting Forethought with me. So it helps to have a genius co-founder. And then also one of the kind of hacks we had was, so I had come from a competitive programming background and I had built a great network of folks who were hacker, problem solver types from that world, but also just great humans, great people. And I still remember our first four engineering hires we made were two were from Sammy's network, two were from my network, and all four of those OG engineering hires are now the managers, directors, kind of engineering leaders here at Forethought. And so it's so cool to just see that. And so all of that were probably our secrets to landing great technical talent.

Vanessa Larco (19:05):

So if any students are listening to this podcast, we would say don't skip class and get really good grades and build a really great relationship with your professors, especially your AI professors.

Deon Nicholas (19:18):

And your peers. Those are the ones you're going to either hire or work for or work with or co-found a company with, focus on the technical stuff, but also just build serendipitous relationships because sometimes that just matters a ton in the future.

Kate Barrett (19:37):

Is that something you're thinking about too, Mandela?

Mandela Patrick (19:39):

Yeah, no. In terms of assessment and evaluation, we've been fortunate enough to mostly tap into our network, and that's been a lot easier because you have so much priors on who that person is, what they value and what they're looking for. Everyone's trying to work in the AI field right now, and I think particularly if I haven't worked with that person, doing that extra mile on references directly from the candidate, but also doing your back channel references to make sure that you're hiring the right people.

Kate Barrett (20:14):

So Mandela, you would be operating in a very different environment had you started this company say two years ago than today for a whole lot of reasons. Everything from pandemic to market correction to rising interest rates, you name it. I want to play a short clip from Deon and Vanessa's conversation about this, and then I want to talk about your experience in the environment that we're in today and sort of what that has meant to you in terms of company building.

Vanessa Larco (20:46):

Dan, you've had to navigate as a founder through all kinds of things, multiple black swan events. You tell me if this is one of the biggest challenges, was the shift from you're supposed to run your company in growth at all costs, right? Three x, go as fast as you can. Don't worry about burn. Capital is cheap. Interest rates were near zero, so capital is cheap and easy. And then it felt almost overnight it flipped on its head. And I feel like that switch in how to operate has been a much more interesting challenge than navigating the COVID, the bank runs, the meltdowns, all the things. I feel like that shift in how you build and operate a business, that's the foundation. How have you found techniques or how are you thinking about that switch and how have you navigated it? I think you've done an extraordinary job for what it's worth.

Deon Nicholas (21:37):

Thank you. Yeah, it's been one of the toughest shifts to make because growth at all costs has been the predominant mindset for all companies for as long as I think Forethought has been around. And so the shift has been a major exercise in one, making hard calls, making hard decisions, but also getting better at discipline and disciplined growth. And I think that's actually the newest part and probably the hardest, but also the funnest thing to learn is just like how do you build discipline and consistency into your business as you're growing? I think recognizing, hey, okay, what do we need to optimize for? We need to make sure that we have runway through X, making sure that we're growing and being really pragmatic about turning those dials, so from burn multiple to growth to all those things. So I think that's been super helpful. And then part, I think the muscle we're building now, and we're still in the thick of it, is definitely that consistency muscle, putting in controls, making sure that you don't slightly overspend in one area because then it starts to cascade and everything kind of rolls from there.


And then the last thing, obviously that's been really hard, I think for every founder in this market is having to make the cut decisions, things like layoffs and stuff like that. It definitely hurts from a moral perspective, it hurts from a leadership having to make these decisions when it's people you've hired, people you've potentially worked with for years. It's a really, really tough market out there. So being able to make those decisions, be very transparent about them with the company, with those who are remaining, with those who are leaving, and really walking through the why and why this matters and how we're trying to build a lasting company has been probably the crucial crux of the learning curve, I would say over the last year for sure.

Vanessa Larco (23:22):

Yeah, I saw you in action through all of those steps to take, but I would say one of the things that I was most impressed by that the biggest shift I saw in mode of operating from you and your team was how focused and how disciplined you all became at prioritization. You had priorities before, but they weren't constrained, there was a lot of priorities, and as you shifted to running the business more and efficiently, you were able to really distill down what are the absolute must have priorities for us this year and how does that set us up for next year? But we're only going to do these things, and I don't think I've told you this, but I haven't seen many people that were able to go from, "I can have 15 priorities and everything's fine, and these big teams to go run on them," to "We're going to have these three priorities and everyone's going to be focused on making sure we really deliver on these, and this is why we pick these three." And have your whole team articulate it, believe it, drive towards it, and it happens rather quickly.

Deon Nicholas (24:33):

I don't think I can take a lot of credit for that, but I think a lot of it in many ways was our team. So things I can take credit for is the transparency and the focus from the top of here's why we need to do these things. Here's what necessity is kind of dictating. But on the flip side, I think a lot of my teammates were able to adapt really quickly. We have such a great team who are selfless, humble, gritty, and that's from the executive team all the way to individual contributors across the company, and everyone really stepped up. I don't feel qualified to say that we have "done it" yet. I think we're in the transition, but I think I'm just super impressed with our team and everything that we're kind of learning and pivoting and growing together and growing, and that's something that I'm just really grateful for.

Vanessa Larco (25:20):

Yeah, I think your team has been so impressive in coalescing around the, we like to talk about this, the hard truths of today and not losing hope for tomorrow, and I think your team really embodies that. It's also, I think the culture, Sammy and you live and breathe by, and therefore the rest of the team does as well. You guys hire people who act like owners, and you can see this in every interaction, every presentation, every conversation. It just comes through that they are there for the greater good of the company and the customers versus themselves and their careers or titles or LinkedIn profiles or whatever. It's been amazing to watch you build that team around you as well. And that culture in the company.

Kate Barrett (26:05):

Mandela, you've raised some money now to fund your new business, and I would love to hear what that experience has been like in terms of looking for investors in terms of getting them to want to be on the cap table, be on the board, what has that been like?

Mandela Patrick (26:19):

Because of the different spaces I've been a part of and relationships I've built along the way I've been, I was sort of fortunate enough to raise the entire arm mostly from people in my network.

Kate Barrett (26:29):

That is very fortunate. Saved you a lot of hassle right there.

Mandela Patrick (26:33):

Yeah, one of my advice I think for founders is just like your network is your network in some sense. And I saw extremely firsthand in this experience where as in I was able to secure a really good funding round, just being able to tap into my network and these relationships I've built over the last few years.


And people think of networking as this very much sleazy thing. I think at the end of the day build relationships that people in a very authentic way and people respond to that I think. And so I think fundraising is for me is less of this structure. I want to start now and finish then. It's sort of like how do I bring in people who have been this champions of me and what I've been up to and have them experience this extremely magical journey along with me as well. And so for me, a big part of even how I chose my investors was do I trust you? I want people around me who I trust 100%. And that was a big part of how we ended up picking our main investors as well as our angel investors.

Kate Barrett (27:37):

They say that it's like getting married or it's pick somebody that you want to be with for a decade or more. Mandela, what is most important to you in terms of the qualities of people that you bring with you on that journey?

Mandela Patrick (27:51):

Yeah. One tree that keeps standing out to me are just those folks who they're just so selfless and humble. They want to help you if you want their help. One of the best investors that we have on our cap table we meet with, and then the first question he asks is, "How can I be helpful?" And then touching on their earlier point is how do you build trust with that person? So with any sort of relationship, if there is no mutual trust on both sides, it's never going to be successful. All money is not good money, and so you got to be extremely diligent.

Kate Barrett (28:26):

Reminds me of a quote from an earlier guest, Nyakio Grieco, who she's founder of Thirteen Lune, and she said, "Don't take dumb money." She's like, "Trust your gut." And you have to have that rapport, that sense of trust, all of that.

Vanessa Larco (28:42):

All right, so Deon, I remember when we met up at your Series A, you were coming into NEA to the really big room. It was a few months after launch, so very early for Series A back at that time, which I like to remind you all the time about it, but what was that like coming into a room full of a ton of people?

Deon Nicholas (29:01):

I think the experience of fundraising in general is just it's pretty daunting. The one thing though, I will say that I enjoyed, I think it was Scott, Scott Sandel, but in general with the NEA team. The quality of questions was actually disarming in a way. What I mean by that was I could tell that the investing team was actually leaning in, trying to understand, trying to ask great questions and actually digging in on the product and on the vision rather than trying to trip us up for whatever reason. And so it almost felt like the whole NEA team was bought in and trying to understand, okay, how far can this thing go? And so that's something I'm super grateful about. It was definitely fun.

Vanessa Larco (29:42):

Yeah, my memories of negotiating the term sheet with you, I learned a lot about negotiation, negotiating with you. You have such a great poker face and I couldn't tell if we had a good offer, a bad offer, if you were excited or offended, and I was looking for clues into every word and every emoji in your text message. So I was a ball of nerves after we gave you the first term sheet, was that part of the plan or was that just you being analytical and weighing your options?

Deon Nicholas (30:18):

I remember in hindsight thinking it was a great offer and our goal wasn't to have the highest valuation or anything like that. In the end, our goal was to pick great partners. I really appreciated the relationship that we were building over that period of time. Obviously, fundraising rounds go quickly, but you get to see and understand how people think and how you're going to work together throughout this long journey.

Vanessa Larco (30:48):

So speaking of lessons, is there any advice or lessons learned you wish someone had shared with you in the early days of founding the company or growing the company?

Deon Nicholas (30:57):

Oh, so many. Where to start. Probably the first is it's a personal journey, being a founder, being a CEO, and what I mean by personal is, I mean you need to know and get to know your own strengths and weaknesses, your own quirks like, "Hey, I happen to have a poker face and don't give feedback well," or whatever it is. You should actually get to know all of that because by and large, it is you as a founder, as a CEO that's going to set the culture. It's your strengths and weaknesses that are going to actually blend in and become the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. It's kind of uncanny how that happens, and it's those same strengths and weaknesses that you need to hire for or around or to compensate for or to amplify when you think about bringing on people around you as executives or as other teammates.


And so just understanding yourself, how you make decisions, what are your superpowers, what are your weaknesses, and the same goes for your co-founders. I think that can never stop. Knowing that, whether it means doing executive coaching therapy, peer groups, whatever that is, finding your path to becoming an excellent CEO is that never ending journey and recognizing that it is a journey. I am who I am and I'm going to work on my weaknesses, amplify my strengths, and continue to build the team around me that can help turn this into the next big thing.

Mandela Patrick (32:29):

I think the last thing, and it's been the team of, I think a lot of the conversations we've had, which is just like surround yourself with amazing people that you trust and you want to work with from your investors, to your legal counsel, to your co-founders and people you hire. I'm a big fan of just the people. As in invest in bringing and working with amazing people, and I think at the end of the, it will all be all right, according to Bob Marley, everything's going to be all right.

Kate Barrett (32:57):

I think you're so right, Mandela. It is all about the people, and I have loved hearing your story today and getting to know a little bit about Optimatic, and so excited to see where you go with that. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mandela Patrick (33:11):

Thanks so much, Kate. I really appreciate it.

Vanessa Larco (33:15):

Deon, thank you so much for spending the time with us and our listeners to chat through the journey you've been on and the relationship we've built and everything in between.

Deon Nicholas (33:24):

Likewise, Vanessa, it is always a pleasure. I am your biggest fan, as you always know that. So excited to be on this journey together and hope our story helps other founders, so I'm really excited about that.

Kate Barrett (33:42):

It's always inspiring to hear a founder share their journey. It's inspiring and instructive to hear how those founders adapt when their journey is shaped by circumstances they couldn't have predicted, pushing them to grow faster than they could have imagined. Understanding how to seize opportunity while staying focused and diligent offers a lot to any founder that they can take away and apply in their own journey. I'd like to thank Mandela, Deon, and Vanessa for sharing their stories with us. It's been a pleasure to hear about their journeys and learn from their experiences. Thank you for joining us.


Founder Forward is a production from NEA made in partnership with FRQNCY Media. From NEA I'm your host and executive producer, Kate Barrett with support from Ashley Mitchell, Erica Sunkin, and Shanna Hendriks. From FRQNCY Media, Michelle Khouri is our executive producer. Enna Garkusha is our supervising producer. Jordan Rizzieri is our producer, and Catherine Devine and Emily Krumberger are our associate producers. Our mixer and sound designer is Claire Bidigare-Curtis with dialogue editing by Sydnee Evans. For more on NEA, visit nea.com. You can subscribe to Founder Forward on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

The information provided in this podcast is for educational and illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be an offer of securities, investments, investment advice or recommendations. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, nothing in this communication should be interpreted to suggest that the SEC has endorsed or approved the contents of the podcast. Any offering of securities by NEA is restricted to qualified investors and is made pursuant to offering documents that contain important disclosures concerning risk, fees, conflicts, and other important information. The company founders or other executives featured in the podcast are not compensated, directly or indirectly, by NEA but may be founders or executives of portfolio companies NEA has invested in through funds managed by NEA and its affiliates. The host of the podcast is an employee of NEA and is compensated in her role as a NEA employee. NEA has paid to optimize the placement of this podcast on certain online search platforms.

NEA makes no assurance that investment results obtained historically can be obtained in the future, or that any investments managed by NEA will be profitable. The statements made by the founders, investors and the presenters in the podcast are their own, and are not intended to be an endorsement of the investment advisory services offered by NEA. NEA has no obligation to update, modify, or amend the contents of the podcast nor to notify the listeners in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate or outdated. To the extent the founders and investors featured in the podcast discuss hypotheticals, projections, or forecasts to illustrate their views, such views are their own and are not verified or adopted by NEA, nor has NEA tested the validity of the assumptions that underlie these opinions. The companies featured in the podcast are not a representative sample of all current or former NEA portfolio companies. Listeners of the information contained in the podcast should consult their own legal, tax, and financial advisers because the contents are not intended by NEA to be used as part of the investment decision making process related to any investment managed by NEA.

About Founder Forward

Founder Forward is a new podcast from NEA that explores the company building journey with candid commentary and useful insights from entrepreneurs and investors at every stage of growth.

View All Episodes