Moving aside

The other day I met a startup founder, who had been struggling getting his business of the ground as a business for the past couple of years. Despite claiming the ambition of millions of users worldwide, he had only reached a couple of thousand within the first couple of years.

While there is always reason to celebrate great knowledgable people for taking the plunge to pursue their passion and their dreams and turn both into a startup, there are also times when you need to step back and take a more sombre look;

This particular startup was in reality nowhere. In order to have any prospects of success, they needed to step back, look at their core assets and find ways to build a revenue stream around those. Not out of curiosity. But out of necessity.

And yet the founder resisted. While claiming to be open to change, he was still very much set around the same set of assumptions that had brought him and his colleagues so little over the past couple of years. When I asked him what in their performance so far he thought mandated to continue approaching things the same way, he didn’t really give an answer, and I totally understand why: There was no real good answer.

The founder was faced with a ton of challenges, but what also become apparent to me is that he was at the center of a lot of them. And that maybe the best prospects of success for him and his startup was for him to find someone with a pair of fresh eyes and the right capabilities in terms of building the business, and then step back to another more product related role for himself.

He sort of agreed. Until he didn’t the next second. And we could have continued that way for ages.

While I completely understand that it can feel totally wrong to think in terms of finding someone better to replace you in a key role – and especially in a startup you founded – I think there are times, where it’s truly the best solution for all parties concerned. If you believe that the most important thing is to build a thriving business, personal considerations should matter less.

For myself I have always believed that building winning teams is about looking at the challenges facing you and then go about trying to recruit someone much better than yourself to help you overcome those challenges and move on to the next level with the business.

For that reason I have always tried to recruit the best and brightest and get someone who could not only challenge me and my thinking but also contribute to some vastly improved results within their areas of expertise. I think it’s wise for founders to think in those terms too.

The last thing anybody needs in any company whether it being a corporate and a startup is someone at the top with the ambition of always being the smartest person in the room, no matter what. Yes, that person might be brilliant and truly the smartest person, but in most instances – and my experience – there are quite a few even smarter people out there, we should instead be looking to recruit, onboard, get to work and start generating successes with.

Having this unbiased view of your own role can help you build the team that builds the great business together with you. If your too stuck on your own ego to realize that, you risk ending up becoming a founder who will look back and reflect on what potentially could have been but never materialized because you failed to make the right decision and move over to provide room for other great people.

(Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash)

Let’s nail the Future of Work

Covid-19 fatigue is really settling in everywhere. Not least in the workplace where people are starting to really feel the effects of being remote working-from-home.

To many it is just not as fun and/or efficient as it was in the beginning, and the sense of belonging to a team or the employer as such is starting to erode.

It is a crucial point, I believe.

When we talk about the Future-of-Work and working from home, we almost always talk about the practical stuff; how do we facilitate virtual meetings, which platforms do we choose and how do we stay efficient, so we can tick off our to do-lists.

All very tangible stuff.

But we also need to address the intangible stuff. And treat it as a priority. Because not only are these ‘touchy feely’ elements critical to focus and performance, they are also super hard to manage through technology.

For that very reason I would like to see someone giving that part a go and come up with a new Employee Experience Platform.

But not like the new Microsoft Viva (which actually does look rather cool, if your company is big enough for it), which is focused a lot around classic productivity.

No, it should be more nĂ­mble. More soft. And address all the little intangibles that makes a team a team, a culture a culture. And most importantly; ensure that people feel a sense of belonging and stay engaged to do their best work.

It is a huge opportunity for those who can pull it off, and I honestly don’t think there are any really great offerings out there. So I would be super excited to see someone picking up the mantle and perhaps even help them along doing it.

So, hit me!

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

What’s in a co-founder?

Not so long ago I met for the second time with a potential co-founder for our MedTech startup. It was a really good and interesting meeting, and the conversation was really good.

One of the things we talked about was what it means to be a co-founder of a startup.

“What does being a co-founder mean to you?”, he asked me. So of course I had to give him my best shot with an answer.

Here goes:

There are very big differences between being a co-founder and being a key employee in my book. And while in the following it may seem so, I wish no disrespect to key employees at all, and their contributions should be deeply valued. They’re just not co-founders.

Back to how I see a co-founder compared to a key employee:

While key employees may be some of the first to head for the lifeboats when your startup ship takes in water and set off for the safety of dry land, a co-founder goes down the ladder to the very bottom of the hull to man the pumps and start pumping away.

In the same way when the shit hits the fan, and the house is on fire, a key employee may try to call for the fire brigade. The co-founder grabs the nearest fire extinguisher, heads into the flames and starts putting the fire out.

You get my drift.

While the key employee may get excited about the professional challenge for a period of time, the co-founder falls in love with the problem and pictures herself digging in until the problem is either solved (or at the very least seeing good traction) or the startup has run out of steam and is beyond any salvation.

While the key employee may choose to focus more on his job at hand and personal goals and KPIs, the co-founder is always ready to step in and help the team, where the need arises.

And so on.

The biggest overall difference between a co-founder and a key employee is a mental one. It’s about WANTING it and being willing do back up that desire by running the extra miles needed for the team and startup to succeed.

Often, when you meet people, you can tell whether they are co-founder material or not.

Some are naturals. Some may grow into it over time. Some will never get there.

Nothing wrong with that. Just be able to spot the difference.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

When love becomes fatal

One of the things we’re constantly looking for, when we’re talking to potential co-founders, is the ability to fall in love with the problem, we’re looking to solve. Either straight off the bat – much preferred but rare – or as something to grow easily into.

But is love of the problem always that great? Or does it need to be balanced out in some way?

The questions are valid insofar as one of the key contributing factors to startup failure remains building something nobody wants. And doing precisely that is what you’re very much in risk of, when you have fallen in love with the problem.

Why?

Because you want to solve it so bad that you jump for your first idea, give it your all, get it released and then…nothing.

When you have fallen in love with the problem, the hardest part is to remain true to a good and thorough discovery process.

You need to always think that even if you think you have already figured everything out, you know essentially nothing. And the path to that knowledge runs through lots of hypothesis, experiments and iterations while working into your offering what you learn along the way.

While it is easy to say, it is super hard to do in real life. I know; I struggle daily. But nonetheless I still try to be fully aware that the best way to ultimately help solve the problem, you have fallen in love with is to do it the right way.

And not fall of a cliff due to pure love and passion.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Falling in love

One of the things I have learned when working to build a startup team is that if you run a recruitment process trying to find the right co-founders, there is a huge risk you will eventually get to talk to people basically looking for a job.

Like in a normal recruitment process? Duuh!

Saying this I mean absolutely no disrespect to the great people, I have met and talked to. Far from it. They are truly great.

What I do mean though is that when you’re trying to find the right candidate with co-founder potential for a startup in a very short period of time, the odds that you will run into the person, who is just deeply in love with the problem, you’re looking to solve – like yourself should be – is really really poor.

That – to me – is a lot of what separates a co-founder from a key hire but nonetheless a hire.

Meeting the potential co-founder during a recruitment process is most likely down to sheer luck. And it’s totally awesome if it happens. Absolutely.

But should you count on getting lucky?

What I have found you most likely will get instead are great people

(1) looking to buy into a very convincing pitch,

(2) comparing what you’re offering with the job they already have,

(3) looking for an economic incentive on the short term that looks like the one they already have in their present role and

(4) have a deep feeling of uncertainty about risking the jump from something they know well and which feels safe into something they know nothing about and just seems fraught with risk and pitfalls.

And it is super natural. Because they don’t know any better yet. And because they haven’t had time to fall in love with the problem, yet.

The learning?

Start super early getting in touch with people, networking, sharing ideas and building that sense of needing to do something to fix a shared understanding of a problem.

In fact, you can probably not start early enough.

Don’t put expectations too high. Don’t demand anything of the people you connect with in the process. Let it grow on them and keep notes of those who look like they’re really getting to the place, where they need to be in order to make the perfect potential co-founder for your startup.

Share the love. Feel it. As deeply as possible.

Why is falling in love with the problem so important?

For a couple of reasons:

First of all, I have a deep sense that falling in love with the problem and – by extension – those who are experiencing the problem is fundamental towards developing and going to market with a killer solution for it.

Second – and this is perhaps the most important part for the individual – is that as times do get tough and not everything is easy, it is the love for the problem and potentially being on a course to solve it that will play a big role carrying you through the hardship – and help you and your team ultimately prevail.

Without it, you instead risk ending up deeply lost.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

3 big goals for 2020

Hello 2020! It’s a new year and with that comes fresh opportunity including the opportunity to set really ambitious goals for the coming 12 monts. So naturally, I have done that on behalf of my work as Head of Studio at inQvation.

In 2020 I want us to co-found at least one startup taking on a really big problem that affects +100M people worldwide.

I want us to develop a project from idea to startup with an experienced entrepreneur-in-residence, where we use our combined strenghts and experience to make a mark. Maybe we could even combine it with the above goal?

And finally, I want us to create “A Path To Success” for great talent within the startup space in Denmark, where inQvation becomes the ‘go to’-place for those looking to unleash their potential to bring great tech solutions to people who have the problems and pains to match.

Ambitious? Yes. Doable? A stretch but if all things align right, why not? Realistic? Not if we don’t try.

(And then of course there are all the other things that comes with being part of a great team that pulls together when needed :-))

(Photo: Pixabay.com)