The crisis plan

One of the worst things you can do is to try and make important decisions when you’re under great stress. While it can sometimes be necessary, the chances that you get it right are rather slim.

The best way to mitigate the risk of ending in that situation is to always have a contingency plan; a pretty straightforward plan that says what you are going to do if the shit hits the fan, and you need to get into full crisis mode.

Will the contingency plan always fit the crisis situation spot on? Of course not. But it will give you a much better vantage point to deal with the crisis from than – worst case – sheer panic.

A good contingency plan should focus on how you plan to deal with the really tough questions, if you need to:

How do you minimize your burn to the essentials without risking killing your company in the process? How do you deal with your team and let them in on what is happening in the best way possible? And following on from that: How do you scale your organization to the new reality in the best possible way?

These are all super hard decisions that no one are comfortable making. But by at least having given it some thought well in advance, when things are still looking good and going in the right direction, you’re able to address them with much more clear eyes and a sharp mind.

You can always hope and work towards ensuring that you will never get to use the plan. But at least you will have one. And that’s a huge difference.

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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.

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Mindset or skills?

What is most important? Having the right skills or the right mindset?

With all the talk about the need for further specialization to drive competitive advantage, you would think that skills are super important. But in reality it is the other way around:

Mindset wins. Every single time.

Now, why is that?

It is pretty simple really:

A persons mindset says a lot about character, values, tenacity, ambition – and pretty much everything else.

It speaks to the core of the person and how that person operates, and it is precisely those things that will help carry you and your team through thick and thin, when you have onboarded that person.

As for skills, they are important too for sure. But they are much more fleeting, and they can be learned, when you need them.

Mindset cannot.

Thus it is super important that when you recruit, you’re recruiting mostly for mindset and less so for skills. Of course it is a balance, but I am sure you get the point.

After all you would rather want a decent contributor with a great mindset than what looks like a superstar but who is in reality rotten to the core.

The first one will grow into doing great things with you and your company. The second one will poison everything around him.

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Ask strategic questions

Not everybody is a brilliant strategist. And that’s ok. Yet every founder team need a strategy for how to develop and grow their startup, and what do you do, if the very thought of developing a strategy just gives you an uneasy feeling?

The simple answer is that you make it as easy as you can for yourself by ensuring that you have a simple platform from which you can get to work on your strategy.

There are many different platforms, you can use. With platforms, I essentially mean approaches. And there is one approach that is more powerful than most and which will easily help guide you through the process without too much pain:

Start by asking strategic questions.

What is a strategic question?

A strategic question is one that borrows from the “How Might We…”-methodology of the Google Design Sprint process (or maybe it was the other way around, doesn’t really matter) and allows you to frame your goal and aspirations for outcomes as a question.

A couple of examples:

How might we utilize our strength towards Segment A of customers to launch successfully with Segment B?

How might we grow retention in our customer base over 97% month over month?

Get it?

When you asks questions like that, you can start plotting suggested answers to them. You can word these like outcomes, i.e. “Launch 1:1 Customer Success offering for Premium Customers” and then look at which actions you will need to take in order to deliver on that.

When you have that sort of Christmas tree of objectives and actions – essentially an OKR structure – you’re well on your way to formulating a strategy: You will be crystal clear about what you will be doing, what the result is going to be and why you will be doing it.

The rest is – more or less – just a matter of getting it written up in a format that can be shared and discussed with your team and various stakeholders, before it becomes the new strategy to guide your venture towards even more more success.

But remember: It ALWAYS starts with being able to ask the right open-ended questions.

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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.

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Profitable disagreement

I have always found that one of the greatest opportunities to learn something new and valuable is through constructive disagreement.

I find that when there’s disagreement in the air, there is a chance to broaden your own horizon. If you have the ability to breathe deeply, listen in and resist the urge to just shoot back with your own opinions.

I can’t remember a time where I didn’t learn something or at least have a proper reflection, and on the opposite scale I have even had a couple of epiphany moments that made a huge difference to me in my decision making.

Yet, despite of this, I often hear how disagreement lead to people separating and to great team members leaving teams who IMHO really, really need the kind of disagreement, pushback and questions being asked that they are waving goodbye to.

Instead of working out the severance papers these teams and the people involved should be focusing on what they could each learn from each other, and how this new and broader perspective could be brought to bear on the profitable development of the company.

Because there often is a direct correlation between differences of opinion, a respectful learning environment and broadening of ones horizon and the bottom line.

Yes, disagreement can be painful. And of course also sometimes beyond repair. But it also has an immense potential for future profit that’s worth investing some serious peace keeping efforts in.

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Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

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It’s all about People

Yesterday we finally unveiled what we have been working on for months; the launch of our brand new Venture Capital firm, People Ventures.

So why am I so excited about that?

First of all because it is a validation of how we have been operating since 2018; backing great visionary entrepreneurs not only with money but also with resources and people to help them achieve more and move fast forward with their businesses.

It is a very active approach that we have seen very positive results from. So it made a ton of sense to focus even more on that and just double down on helping even more entrepreneurs succeed.

And then it’s just such a cool name that truly captures who we are, and what we’re about: People.

Nobody succeeds without great people.

If you don’t have great people to help you out, even the best of ideas will most likely tank.

Great people can combine to ensure that even something that might not be the biggest thing since the invention of sliced bread can become a spectacular success.

And great people take care of each other when things hit a sour patch – as they will every once in a while – to ensure that emerge even better on the other side. That shouldn’t be neglected at all.

And we won’t do that at People Ventures.

(Photo: Private)