Meet Member Netanel Jacobsson: Work - Life - Ride - Balance

Netanel is a venture capitalist and a mountain biker, or, as he says, maybe the other way around! He leads a busy life working and riding all over the world, and lives in Israel with his wife and five kids.

Interview by Coach Elaine Bothe

Hi Netanel, thank you for spending time with us. Is your name pronounced like it's spelled? Is “Net” your nickname? Yes, it’s short for Netanel (Nathaniel). My wife thought it was too long so she cut it in half. Plus it goes well with my business ;)

That makes sense since you are a global businessman. Where did you grow up, and where are you living now? I grew up in Malmo, Sweden but have lived in Helsinki, London and Palo Alto, CA. Now I live in Israel since 2001. 

I enjoyed reading your blog MTBVC.com, especially your adventures and the story of Bill Tai and his kite surfing site, but what does the VC stand for in your website name? VC? It’s short for Venture Capital. So I call it The Mountain Biking Venture Capitalist - but it’s way too long ;) 

Oh, of course! Is that a shop or are all those bikes behind you in that photo of you and your Ibis "beast" yours? No. I wish :) I only have one Ibis Ripley LS.  

Mountain bikers need to fuel up, what’s your favorite cuisine? I'm a sucker for good Mediterranean food. It’s fresh, healthy and beautiful :) (Toscana, Spanish, Greek & Israeli style)

Yum, that sounds delicious. How about, what is your favorite movie? Don't really have any. 

OK, do you listen to music? What type is your favorite? Roots reggae/ jazz/ classical music (I love classic spanning guitar too) and Spanish Flamenco guitar from artists like Paco de Lucia & Tomatito etc. I find flamenco guitar goes very well with trail riding. It’s beautiful melodies with sudden tempo changes and syncopations. Just like a trail :) 

What a beautiful observation about flamenco guitar, I never thought about the rhythms of music to be like rhythms of the trail. What do you do when you’re not riding? I’m an early stage tech startup investor/entrepreneur through my fund Sparklabs Global Ventures, investing in startups around the world. When I’m not working or riding, I hang out with my wife and our five kids. 

Sounds like you have a busy life. How do you balance your work with riding, your family and all that travel? Yes I do travel a lot, but I work out of my home office when I’m not on the road so I am always available to my family.

Luckily, I can just roll out of the door and reach the trails in 15 min from my house. We also have a pump track just 1 min away so I guess I’m a lucky guy. When I'm home I usually start the morning with a 2-3 hr ride alternatively during lunch or late afternoon. I have opted out of a fancy office in Tel Aviv so I can ride more instead of commuting 2 hours a day. In today’s connected world, it does not really matter where I am located so I can even hold conference calls while on the trails :) and people working with me have started to get used to that (thank God! :)

I have also realized that since I started to ride, I am more focused while working and have become more efficient in getting stuff done in shorter time. With mountain biking having become a bigger part of my life, I am now actively seeking out ways of integrating biking and work into each other.  

Does your wife or your kids ride? My oldest son (15) rides and I am just about to buy him his first real mtb so he can join me on the trails. First steps :) 

Nice! This is a great photo of you in Nevada. Do you ever travel with your own bike? I haven’t done that yet. I try to rent or find a guide with a bike when I’m traveling. It does not always work out but unless I’m off for a riding vacation, it’s not worth the hassle to travel with the bike.  

We all have to address balance in our lives, and it’s a little easier when you have trails right out your door. So tell me about riding in Israel! Is the weather nice all year? How hot does it get? Is mountain biking popular? Yes, Israel really is an amazing place to ride. It’s a country the size of New Jersey but we have quite some variations in terms of topography and vegetation from very green and lush in the north bordering to the magical desert in the south. I ride all year but the best season is really October to June before its gets way too hot to ride during the days. It can rain a couple of days during the winter and then we all go riding in the Judean desert around the Dead Sea or somewhere in the desert leading down to Eilat and Egypt where is never rains and its always great weather.

During the summer season you have to hit the trails 6-8 AM, in the evening or do night rides as the average temperature during the day goes up to 95-100 F! Then add high humidity to that! But during the winter season when North America and Europe is freezing, Israel has perfect biking weather. If you’re looking for a great biking destination mixed with biblical history, archeology, great beaches and wonderful food, Israel is the place!

Mountain biking is quite popular here. I live just around the corner to the most popular trail areas between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Active riders usually meet up around 6.00 in the morning and hit the trails until 8.30 before they continue to work.

I did not realize Israel was humid, or is such a mountain bike destination! I saw pictures of your rides outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, where the terrain looks similar to your photos at home. Are the Nevada trails similar to your home tracks? In terms of heat, yes very similar although it’s much more humid here. Having said that, I think we have a rougher and rockier environment. Lots of technical climbs and descends. I loved riding in Vegas. Actually the best thing I've ever done there :)

Usually, what type of riding do you do mostly? Enduro and or AM (all mountain) style the most I guess mixed with some XC (cross country). We have quite varied trails here in Israel but many rocky sections and technical climbs. 

And who do you usually ride with? Are you part of a club? I’m riding with a group called Yesodot, led by Ben Kedmy, a leading Enduro racer and Tom “Trial” Bar, a local trials star. We train twice a week focusing on particular skills but as of lately working more on Enduro race segments around the country. I also ride with a bunch of others from past clubs but those rides are typically longer weekend rides. Also, since I work out of home, and close to many trails, I ride a lot alone as well. On average 4-5 times a week. 

How long have you ridden, and what got you started riding a mountain bike? 5 years, so started quite late. The past 3 years with a group and with private coaching. Got sucked in by a friend and since then mountain biking started to take over my life totally :)

Ha, that happens! What is your biggest challenge with your riding in general -- mentally or physically, or both? Hard to point out a particular challenge. I guess it would be long technical rides (70-100 km) when it is hot.  That is when you really need to make sure that you stay hydrated, eat when you should and stay mentally strong when you want to quit. Another challenge is finding the right balance between technical training and endurance training. Especially when you travel so much internationally as I do. 

Another challenge is just to overcome a drop or jump where I previously have fallen and hurt myself. To mentally erase that experience and to be able to do it again sometime takes a lot of time. 

Can you expand on how you mentally erase a less than optimal experience? What I've realized is that the more you think about a specific obstacle, like a drop that went wrong, the strong the resistance and hesitation to go back and try it again. Meaning, time does not play in my favor. Best thing is to hit it directly again and get it out of the system (obviously only works if it wasn't a serious fall). It seems that what many times puts us in trouble is the mental reservation we have when we approach a certain obstacle and it this inhibits our capability or executing the movement or technique correctly. It never stops amazing me how much the mental machinery is a factor in riding (or anything else for that matter :) I mean, you might be good enough technically but then your mind plays games with you and suddenly you abort or fail to pass the obstacle. Practicing to be more deliberate, determined and committed is key, but that is easier said than done.

When it concerns drops, what I have found working for me, is to take pictures from various angles of the drop and then get more familiar with the drop while home or traveling. Then I mentally "approach" the drop with these pictures in my mind so next time I'm on the trail, I feel very familiar with it and most of the fear/doubt are gone. 

Visualization is a very powerful skill indeed. How long have you been a RLC member, how did you hear about it and what inspired you to join? For around 6 months. I think I came across RLC on Facebook via some MTB article. 

What are your goals for the course? Learning new technical skills to add to the bag and in general improving others.

What was the first skills course you started, and why? Wheelies! I’ve always wanted to do wheelies but never invested enough time. That, plus the fact that I have been riding exclusively on clipless pedals, have prevented me from really trying lean back out of fear of falling backwards. 

What is your biggest breakthrough thus far in the course? Physically? Mentally? I guess it to have started to do wheelies, progressed with manuals and bunny hops on the technical side. I’ve also developed a taste for trial techniques and grown an appetite for how to integrate them into trail riding.

However, I think that the big take away is starting to ride with flats. Something that is mentally challenging especially when you ride with in a group and it sometimes sets you back. Jumps and drops become more challenging.  One the other hand, it offers a greater sense of freedom and it actually more enjoyable. Flats lets me explore the limits in cornering as well as going up on objects as I am no longer afraid of not being able to bail out last second.

Still, I feel a bit ambivalent about it and have not yet decided to go all in yet. Clipless are a bit like “golden handcuffs.” On the one hand they let you fake jumps/back wheel lifts/bunny hops and ride faster. One the other hand, they prevent you from the feeling total freedom, holding back technical development and body movement.  

Excellent observation about the flat pedals, I love your “golden handcuffs” reference. It’s great that you are giving flat pedals a try! In other ways have you become more aware of the mind/mental aspect of your riding? In a way, yes. I have started to slow down my pace on trails in order to work more on flow, body movements and “feel” the trail, rather than just racing it though (and then check on Strava ;). I’ve realized that by working on correcting movement and technique you might go slower, but somehow you end up being faster in the end. I find this especially true for cornering.  

Yes, going slow really can help you go fast. Tell us about a memorable experience while on a ride. Riding the famous “Sugar trail” outside of Jerusalem in the Judean Desert down towards the  Dead Sea. Getting up early before first sunlight, starting to climb the first mountains, seeing the first sun rays rise against the backdrop of the Dead Sea and Jordan on the other side. Magic! Then after riding for hours crossing camels and wild life run into a Bedouin boy selling freshly squeezed Pomegranate Juice! 

That is a very wonderful story! How do you contribute to the mountain bike community in your area? By showing up at local events as much as I can and supporting different activities, helping new riders get involved and clean up obstacles on the trails. I’ve also been involved in “Wheels of Love” a wonderful once a year 5 day ride across north or south of Israel with people from all over the world to raise money for severely disabled children of the Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem. 

Another great experience was last year when I was on a business trip to Lisbon, Portugal. I hooked up with the leading local MTB guides WeRide.pt and explored the magical Sintra National Park outside of Lisbon. Long beautiful climbs in mist covered forest by the sea. Half-ways through the trails we had a fresh grilled fish lunch at one of the small villages and some local table wine before we hit the rest of the trails and the amazing decent to the beach. A fantastic experience. 

Describe your dream trip! I’d love to ride across Iceland and I’d love to ride in Whistler or Canada in general! Too very different environment compared to Israel. But, hey, I’d be happy to explore trails anywhere. It is for this reason I also set up my blog mtbvc.com to try to get out more and meet entrepreneurs from around the world and ride together on their favorite trails and discussing entrepreneurship & mtb and anything in between. 

I have no doubt you’ll get to those amazing places. Whistler is fun! Anything else you’d like to share or have questions for us? I almost feel like Ryan is a trusted friend and coach that I always can get back to whenever I need some inspiration, or tips in improving my riding. Nothing can really replace training actively with a coach in person, however he complements my own coach very well in so many ways. Everyone have their style of teaching, but Ryan has a way of breaking down movements and techniques in a way that I have not seen anywhere else.

There a tons of videos on how-to bunny jump, wheelie and manual. However, many of them fail to break down the techniques in a meaningful way that enable true knowledge transfer. Ryan does that very well and then provides step by step progression in a safe manner. I think this is very important, as it is easy to get frustrated when you are learning something new and you don't get it right, and you don't even understand why. It is easy to go all in when learning a new technique, and when it doesn't work - just give it up. 

I also think that the mental training & yoga lessons are very helpful as a holistic approach to riding. Keep up the good work! Can't wait to see what other courses will go online!

Net, it's been very nice chatting and getting to know you a little better. Thank you for your time and sharing your story. We can't wait to hear about your next adventures - bike or business - and how your son enjoys mountain biking, keep us posted!

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