The corporate talent gift

In the startup environment it is not uncommon to frown upon people with experience from the corporate world. They are either too old, too conservative, to0 expensive or just too corporate to make it in the startup world.

But is this really true? I don’t think so.

In fact I think the right corporate profile is a gift to any startup. Why? Because corporate profiles with an interest in startups often come with two attributes, you could easily slot into the team.

First of all, if they are interested in startups, they’re likely to be more entrepreneurial than most corporate profiles in their approach to getting things done. They will likely have years of experience navigating opposition all around them from the big incumbents and with that also experience in how to get things done despite serious adversity.

That experience is gold for your startup.

Second, they are also likely to know a lot about spotting and managing risk. Everybody knows that in corporate life, the riskiest path to choose is the one challenging the norms. And unless your ambition is a fast forced exit, you will need to manage that and perform in order to stay alive in the organization. That takes some serious risk mitigation and sometimes even almost near death-experiences.

That experience is crucial to your startup.

Having said that there is one type of corporate profile that you should probably be wary off joining your team:

The one whose main motivation is a big personal payday courtesy of your startup.

While they may be willing to work hard at achieving it, having financial compensation as a sole major motivation can backfire. Because corporate profiles with that motivation will tend to do what serves their own needs and career progressions best, and that might not necessarily be what’s in your or your startups best interest.

So be on the lookout for that and be very aware of doing your personal due diligence, when you consider onboarding a profile like that for a specific role.

Other than that, just go for the corporate experience. Look at it this way: Many of these people are talents that big corporates have essentially paid to ‘educate’ to get the experience that your startup will benefit from.

That’s an awesome deal way too good to just keep lying around.

(Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash)

Free your talents

What’s the point in spending a lot of time and effort in getting the best people to join your team, if you’re not prepared to let their talents loose for the good of the company?

It sounds like a stupid question, but in reality it happens all the time; great people are onboarded with promises of exciting challenges and an opportunity to make an impact. And a few months later they leave again, disgruntled, hopes dashed and with a really poor experience of you and your company.

Except in cases of a bad hire, it is rarely the departing team members fault that things didn’t go according to plan. It’s mainly on you for not ensuring that they were provided with the guidance, tools and mandate to do what they were hired to do.

Often this comes down to the fear of losing control as a founder. After all, you and your co-founders built the company to where it is today, and it would be a real disaster for anyone to come and mess that up. It’s super understandable, and I get it. But you can’t think like that if you want your company to continue on its growth trajectory.

Instead you need to realize that you have limits. That there are other and better people out there at doing what needs to get done to get to the next level. And that your task is to persuade them to join your company instead of the competition. And then – basically – get out of their way. Within reason of course.

Personally, I have always found that you generate the best results when you’re brave enough to be ambitious in your recruitment and go for people that are better and smarter than yourself and then do your utmost to provide them with the freedom to operate. Why? Because when they deliver according to expectations – or maybe well beyond that – you and your company deliver as well.

So please, free your talents. Or they will move on to somewhere else, where they can.

(Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash)

Don’t try to be Keith Richards

Whenever you talk of ‘Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’, you have to think of the legendary Rolling Stones. Not only have they made an eternal contribution to great music that will live forever. They have also lived the above myth to the extreme.

Lead guitarist Keith Richards has been chief among those trying everything on the planet and then some. And it has shown, time and time again.

I distinctly remember a concert with them in Copenhagen, where during band introductions somebody had to step up to the ol’ geezer and shout into his ear where on the planet he was playing that particular night:

“Oh yeah…Copenhagen! Pleasure!”

And then a big grin on his face before going full body and spirit into yet another one of their evergreen hits.

While slightly funny in itself, the real interesting thing about Keith Richards is that he was not supposed to have been there at all. Judging from what he has done to himself over the decades, he should have been dead long ago.

Apparently the combination of a very strong immune system (that scientists will want to study when he’s gone) and luck has kept him alive.

That last part is the essential one here.

Luck.

If luck hadn’t played its very significant part, Keith Richards would probably not have been around to tell his countless tales. Luck enabled him to do so.

It wasn’t part of any masterplan on his part. If there ever was one it went up in smoke – literally – in the 70s. Because you can’t plan for luck.

Neither can you.

If luck is a key ingredient to your future success, take a step back and reassess what you’re doing and how you can work to ensure that you’re not so dependent on something as fluffy, fledgling and very little under control as luck is.

Of course successful people are lucky too. But most of them – 99% would be my guess – also made it with more hard work, focus, determination, grit, talent and whatever than sheer luck saving them from stupid decisions.

You should work your way towards success. While Keith Richards is undoubtedly a legend, he is and will remain a terrible, terrible role model.

(Photo by Vale Arellano on Unsplash)

Time your own luck – now

Getting a business off the ground of course has a lot to do with the idea and what pain you’re looking to solve for customers. But it is also about timing and luck.

Some people say that you can make your own luck. And perhaps that is true. To an extend.

What you certainly can do is look around you at what’s going on. And if you look at the world right now, there are at least 3 good reasons, as I see them, why this might be a great moment to time your luck so to say and venture into something new.

First of all, a lot of incumbents in different industries are busy elsewhere handling the fallout from the pandemic with disrupted supply chains, increasing prices on goods, lack of talent etc. They’re way to busy with that to innovate in earnest themselves let alone keep a keen eye on what you’re doing.

Second, there are a lot of change afoot after the pandemic. New trends have emerged, new patterns of behaviour – some of which we still need to see the resilience of after the pandemic eases, mind you – have got on the radar etc. And with that new pains, needs and demand for new, innovative solutions that you might be able to provide.

And third, there is the work-from-home thing. While some people yearn to get back to normal office life, there are also millions of people out there who feel the opposite. They are ready for a change. Maybe even for a move into entrepreneurship. So when I said above that incumbents might have a hard time finding the right talent, it could be an entirely different matter for you.

So what are you waiting for?

(Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash)

Short term joy, long term agony

One of the things that I have been spending a lot of time on these last couple of years is the subject of university research and how to transform the best of it into viable spinouts that can go on to solve real problems in the world.

There is no doubt that the potential within this space is huge. There is a lot of very good research coming out of universities, and there sure are enough big problems to creatively deploy that research towards.

However, there are various pitfalls that make it hard to create spinouts that are truly viable and have the potential to conquer the market and solve the problems that were envisioned at founding.

In a series of posts, I will be trying to address these, based on my experience. And what better way than to start out with one of the real kickers:

Ownership. Now and in the future.

Whenever you start a company, who gets what is always a solid discussion and potential point of contention. And it is no different when it comes to building spinouts.

Often the research team will have a pretty strong idea about what their research is worth, and of course that value assessment is going to skyrocket the more breakthrough the innovation is.

This self-valuation also leads to outsize demands on ownership, and you can argue it is a valid point. I mean, if a team has spent years doing great research, and outsiders only come in to take it to market, shouldn’t the original team get the brunt of the equity?

That depends.

If the goal just is to create a spinout, get it registered and give it a go, sure. But if the goal is to build a viable company that will be here for long term, grow and deliver on the mission, it is by no means a sure thing.

Basically the reason for that is that you need ressources to grow and succeed. Ressources come in two main shapes and forms: People and funding.

People – great people you need to build your spinout and make it successful – will only join if they’re incentivized to do so. Especially if they are to have a key role in the early team. That means for founders – ie researchers – that they need to reallocate up front a sizeable portion of their equity for incentives, ex a warrant programme.

Failure to do so will leave you with a spinout that will have nothing but the original team, lack muscle and knowhow for important tasks and never go anywhere.

The other type of ressource is funding. And it is tied to the talent doing the actual work that will ultimately ensure commercial success and deliver the investors a sizeable return on the risk, they’re taking by investing.

If investors – especially sizable ones who can deliver the size of checks needed to make it big – see that early team members, ie researchers, are insisting on sitting on equity for doing nothing in the day-to-day business, while those who are supposed to do the work either get to little or get nothing at all and thus won’t join, it is a walk-away.

The result?

The spinouts run into a wall. It will be absent of needed talent and absent of funding. And its changes of converting promising, potentially breakthrough, research into market success and ultimate contribute to solving the core problem, the company was founded on, will be slim to none.

And it will be primarily because the founding team – predominantly the researchers – confused short term success with long term success.

The lesson here?

Think about the long term and think about what is needed to get to the success that you envision. Think about the things you will have to do to ensure you get to that point and make a decision:

Am I in this for the long haul to affect a change where my research solves a big problem? Or am I in this purely for myself and my own retirement?

(And yes, I know it can be a combo, but that’s beside the point here).

If the answer is the latter, be aware that you will struggle and – most likely – fail before you get to where you want to be.

If the answer is the former, come to peace with the fact that you have to sacrifice something to get a bigger reward.

Not only will your equity be worth something rather than nothing (in the above example). You will also be far better positioned to achieve success because you enable those factors that are absolutely necessary for you to succeed.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The future of work, postponed

Flextribe, a Danish recruitment startup, wants to connect freelancers with deep subject matter expertise, who doesn’t necessarily want a full time position, with corporations who need said expertise but can struggle in attracting the necessary talent for the before mentioned reason; they don’t want to be employed.

Simple. But the Future of Work?

I am not so sure.

I mean, I like the concept. I really do. I see it very much as a flexible but quite focused low-touch agency; you put up your profile yourself, define your your hourly rates, and then you basically bet that there will either be interesting assignments up for grabs or that some potential client contacts you through the platform, and sweet music arises from the interaction.

If the solution can help the individual consultant sell his or her services, I am all for it. Having been a consultant myself, the constant need to sell your next project and basically make a living from it can be extremely stressful.

But is it the Future of Work?

I still doubt it.

First of all, I don’t think it’s for everybody to be a freelancer. It can sound so nice, easy and flexible, but in reality it is super hard work, and many people are just not cut out from it.

And at the same time I am on the fence about creating a model based on ‘the best of the best’.

Two questions immediately come to mind: One, how do you really vet it, so your promise to your clients holds true. And two – and most importantly – who are going to make the purchase decision?

The last thing is key. Because let’s look at a couple of archetypes that we normally find in corporations, and who are perhaps more skilled than most:

There are the ones who have the skills and experience and wants to achieve things by doing the right things that can really move the organization forward. Those are the ones who start out with huge ambition, gets disillusioned by corporate BS and end up leaving to join something like Flextribe instead.

And then there are the ones who have the skills and experience but more than anything else wants to climb the corporate ladder – fast. These are the ones who will most often be in a middle management position and thus buying the services of Flextribe.

Now it becomes interesting.

Will this latter group be inclined to buy into a value proposition claiming that all the best people are outside your organization? Which camp does this put this career ambitious middle manager in? The next best group, or what?

If that career minded person has already climbed the ladder a bit, he will know that the last thing he wants to do is to look stupid or out of his depth. He can choose to be brave, hire freelancers to help him accomplish the KPIs he himself has promised to deliver to upper management. Or he can choose to try to find some way of wiggling himself out of it using some typical corporate bureaucracy related excuse.

Most often he will chose the latter, as it is the least risky part. And talking himself out of potential trouble by framing the conversation to suit his own agenda is a key skill anyway for really skillful corporate climbers.

So what are we left with if this is the new Future of Work?

First of all an abundance of freelancers where ultimately it will be hard to find the best fit for the projects that will no doubt be there and require assistance. The opportunity for overpromising and underdelivering for these freelancers is huge.

Second, you will have corporations that will potentially be even more void of the required talent and expertise, and where more time will be spent reframing the conversation and casting blame rather than actually ensure that big, important projects gets decided, funded and done.

Of course this is not going to be sustainable and at some point there will be a backlash, and we will find a better way, aka the Future of Work, which is based on our experience of how not to go about organizing these things.

I am just not confident we have reached that point yet.

But I wish Flextribe and all other services like it the best of success in their endeavors.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

6 principles for a great team

The other day I was discussing philosophies for building and maintaining a great team with a good friend of mine.

I thought I wanted to share my philosophy here because great people and developing great people are essential to any hope of success whether it being in a startup or anywhere else. So here goes:

First of all, always look to hire someone better or smarter at what they do than yourself. We should not even discuss this point, but still I see too many “I want to be the brightest one in the room”-people recruiting essentially minions, and I think it is just detrimental to their future success.

Second, sell the vision or “the why” of what you’re doing. If people don’t get turned on by that or at the very least seem above and beyond interested in it, they will most likely be the first ones at the door if something more exciting comes along. This is not to say that people should never leave – they should (see later) – but they shouldn’t because they’re disengaged from day one.

Third, give people mandate. If you have great people around you, they will be looking to have the maximum influence on their own jobs and prospects for future success. Let them run with it.

Fourth, don’t be shy to set expectations and be transparent about hardships. If the great people want the mandate, you also have an obligation to include them on the tougher decisions and get their input. And those who really aspire to great things need to show they can step up and also take on the tougher challenges. In the end it adds to their personal development.

Fifth, always focus on developing people and help them go ‘from good to great’. Recognize their contributions and how much you appreciate them but also keep a tight focus on their development points. Not because they’re lacking, but because they have the potential to be even better and be more successful.

And finally, and sixth, always let them know that you appreciate what they’re doing, the contributions they make and how much they mean to you on a personal level. First of all, you should genuinely feel that way, so it will just be an exercise in transparency. And second of all, it is perhaps the strongest glue that will keep you together as a team and set you off towards accomplishing great things together.

That’s pretty much it, as I see it. Agree? Disagree? Why? I would love to hear your thoughts on this essential topic.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The new media mixtape

As a former insider turned outsider it continues to be interesting to follow the innovative developments within the media space.

Over a short period of years we have gone from monoliths over new entrants with ambitions to become digital monoliths to individual talents and a plethora of ambitious (monoliths-in-spe?) platforms aggressively hawking their capabilities towards said individual talents.

Name me just one other industry, where the atomization of the business model and its opportunities have been more distributed among those who have the talent to take it on and make something out of it?

Thought not.

The individualization of media is an interesting concept. You don’t subscribe to the omnibus model anymore. You subscribe to a variety of subjects and voices and you’re the editor-in-chief who pieces your own worldview together, independent of media channel(s) and content type(s).

It’s all a big mixtape. But it’s your mixtape.

On the flip side it of course puts into question what happens with the leading common narrative and the common agenda – something we can all relate to and discuss and – by extension – subject our opinions on, ultimately at the ballot box (if we’re so fortunate to live in a society where that is a real and unrestricted civil right for us).

Two points on that:

First of all, media monoliths have by and large done a less than stellar job at guarding that unique role and brought into serious question why it should continue to be theirs to steward.

Second, it is always infinitely better that the opportunities for talent and voices are out there – and more abundantly so than ever – than to have everything on relatively few hands. Like water all the news that remain fit to print will find a way.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)