How the pandemic jumpstarted this CTO’s lifelong entrepreneurial dream

4 October, 2021
Two men smiling

“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”

If there was a sentence that could describe Ethan Sherbondy’s journey as a founder so far, this stoic quote from Jerzy Gregorek, an Olympian weightlifter, sums it up well.

It wasn’t that he didn’t have the skills to start his venture, or he had no desire. 

Quite the contrary, he has always been displaying entrepreneurial tendencies and was constantly encouraged as a kid to push boundaries and explore the unknown. 

“My father himself was an entrepreneur, and my mother displayed more grit than most people I’ve ever met,” reflects Ethan, “They were my first personal inspirations and role models on branching out on my own.”

Growing up, he began experimenting with a broad range of projects from trying to “empirically” evaluate the readability of different fonts on the web, creating a tool that could generate different passages of text at a wide variety of sizes, spaces, and typefaces, to designing themes on Tumblr. 

At university, he secured internships at technology companies like Apple, Bump Technologies, and Formlabs. He also co-founded Spokes America, a non-profit group of college students who biked across the country to deliver interactive lessons to help middle-and-high-school students with their STEM subjects. 

Yet when it came to making that ambitious decision, to take that leap of faith to start his startup, to live life on his terms, there was always that imaginary, unspoken inertia from within, something that held him back.

“I have to complete that reputable degree. I need to pay off my hefty student loans. I’m already working in a fast-growth technology company,” he would have a list of reasonable and seemingly responsible excuses.

He was making the easy decisions but was never truly fulfilled. 

Unexpected toll from lockdowns

It was only when the coronavirus pandemic hit when things started to change. 

“Finding myself stuck in my one-bedroom apartment, so abruptly, for every minute, every day proved too heavy for me. To cope with the debilitating effects of the lockdowns, I volunteered for multiple responsibilities at Stripe, going into overdrive, desperately trying to keep my mind away from the unfolding COVID-19 situation.”

He eventually burned out and quit his software engineer job. Finally, he had time to pause and contemplate his next step. 

“It was like the lights came on,” recalls Ethan, “I thought to myself, since when has anyone, ever, given me permission to do anything?”

He was determined to explore entrepreneurship now but still couldn’t shake off that ‘daunted’ feeling – after all, the first time doing anything is always the hardest.

When he heard about Entrepreneur First, he was impressed by its track record of building notable companies like Transcelestial, Origin Health, and See-mode; it added that ‘legitimacy’ to his decision to go full-time on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a chance at building his own company, and he was elated. 

Ethan applied, and the rest is history.


Solutions for the Design Tool Space

At Entrepreneur First, Ethan learned about key mental models – novel approaches to become more self-aware and appreciative of his talents and shortcomings.

It was surreal for him to be applying these theories in his search for his co-founder almost immediately.

Then, he met Arjun Arora, who shared his exact, strong belief that the endgame for many technology companies is to create appealing user experiences that unlock value, and his passion for helping product teams. It was the moment when things clicked for Ethan. 

He was glad to find that they complemented each other subtly in many ways. Arjun was the big picture guy and would go broad, keeping his eyes on the runway and realities of running a fast-paced startup. Ethan, meanwhile, was great at going deep to focus on the finer, nitty-gritty details. 

Ethan was totally in sync with Arjun, as they riffed off each other’s ideas in a fluid, natural, and aligned manner. 

Both of them are advocates of the “Yes, and” principle, which aims to improve the brainstorming process, foster effective communication, and encourage the free sharing of ideas. This improvisational mindset liberated them, keeping them optimistic as they spoke with hundreds of different stakeholders in the space, genuinely looking to find out and try to ease the most pressing pressures and challenges product teams face. 

Through extensive conversations, they nailed down the most recurring unmet needs, dived deep for greater clarity before amalgamating their findings into a product roadmap. This culminated in the birth of Betafi’s unified research platform to serve scrappy startups and prominent enterprises alike in a seamless way. 

Over the next few months, the team will continue their accelerating trajectory, executing and iterating on the core kernel of Betafi, working towards an upcoming product launch for their early adopters. 

“I can’t believe it’s already been a year since embarking on this entrepreneurial journey starting with EF,” says Ethan, “We look forward to launching our integrated toolkit to make this often-intimidating research process a fun and engaging core pillar of product development that puts the voice of the user front-and-centre.”


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