After almost 25 years as an entrepreneur and co-founder of five companies with millions of users, I am changing my focus and will advise young companies — or, more precisely, their founders and leadership teams. I have learned from many mistakes and fell into several traps during my time in the field. Some say you only learn from failure. But what’s even better is to learn from the mistakes of others. In this case: me. So why am I changing sides for now?
1. I Would Have Been Happy to Have An Entrepreneur As An Advisor.
I have to say that I have always worked very successfully with coaches and advisors. Often, these advisors specialized in a topic, and I then worked intensively on it for a particular time and helped me develop further in an area. Nevertheless, I always missed someone who had gone through the same challenges and successfully mastered them as a business leader. Think of that sports coach that once was a player. Someone independent, someone on my side, but still always brutally honest. Someone who wanted to make me better. Someone a bit ruthless. Someone who took the time and was able to guide me — at least a bit, since every founder has their own ideas and they should. It just would have saved a lot of time to have someone with experience to discuss and quickly determine the right tools at the right time. Someone without the pressure of having a stake in my company — another entrepreneur, in other words. That’s precisely the advisor I want to be now when I’m working with start and scaleups.
2. I Know What Does Not Work
To put it very clearly: Unfortunately, founders make the same mistakes repeatedly, and I often find that the simplest basics are approached incorrectly or are entirely missing. The predominant opinion is that you might as well do “things” later. And then, of course, there is no time to think about strategy and process later. Once you’re in survival mode, you won’t work on your technique. All the resources are invested in a faulty patchwork constellation that has arisen precisely from the lack of the basics. It’s a vicious circle that I’ve experienced myself and wouldn’t wish on any founder.
There are many more challenges related to the role of the founder. First of all: “Founder” is not a role. You need to fulfill a function in a scaling business and might change your role several times over the years. Secondly: Many founders — especially the first time around — have no experience with business, leadership, or marketing. And now, suddenly, they need to be leaders. This often prevents companies from growing and developing, especially if founders are unaware of it. Thirdly, founders are visionaries and have a clear idea of their product. This, in turn, can lead to not listening to feedback from customers or the team or only listening to what they want to hear.
Not to give false hope: I can’t predict the future (unfortunately), and starting a new company always involves risk. Nevertheless, I can point out what does not work and how you can save yourself a lot of trouble in the future. After all, we can probably agree it would be good to understand who to hire next or how to lead your team towards actual and defined goals.
3. I Have Been in the Operations Trap Myself
Why do founders and leadership teams make such big mistakes? Because they misunderstand and misuse their resources. This is where some oversight and the right tools are needed. Even the best CEO can’t do it alone and sometimes needs to get out of what I call “the operational trap.” I was often caught in the trap and barely made it out. When the shit hits the fan it is terrific to know that someone has a higher-level plan for your high-level plan, something like the framework for building a company. And that’s exactly the role I play when I work with companies. As an advisor, it’s easier to look at things unemotionally, with a helicopter view, and help founders and companies grow — to help them shape an organization and find their place in it, where they really can have a positive impact.
4. Get Consulting Right
I have seen many consultants come and go. I have worked with big consulting firms and with various coaches. My honest conclusion: Most of them have given me little or nothing. Coaching was usually effective, but it only affected parts of my work. This is probably why many founders cringe when they hear the word consultant. They automatically understand infinitely long presentations and even longer invoices.
That’s precisely why I spent a long time thinking about what really added something to my everyday work and business life and what didn’t.
I’ve decided to offer two different types of collaborations. One is an affordable advisory package for startups. For that matter, I have written a manual for successful company-building and guide the startups based on an assessment through an individually adapted program. That means I empower the founders by providing my experience and best practices like frameworks or curated templates and easy-to-understand step-by-step instructions on implementing and using them.
But I also do consult. My way of consulting: I enter a company and work with the leadership team on strategy, product-market fit, or company building, in general, to make the company ready to scale.
5. I Still Want to Have an Impact and Learn Every Day
Eric Schmidt once said that when he arrived at Google, everything he thought he knew about running a company was completely upside down in regards to running a company in the internet era. He had to transform his entire way of thinking. But he has managed to turn Google into one of the most successful companies in the world. He succeeded because he understood how to run a company successfully. That’s what experience brings — the knowledge of how people, how an organization works. But experience doesn’t mean understanding the current state of content, technology, or social change.
It makes me incredibly happy when, on the one hand, I see how entrepreneurs become happier and more effective as a result of my work (and experience), to see how they learn to have more impact, be better leaders, and start to grow their companies faster. On the other hand, it makes me incredibly happy to continue learning and growing personally while working with these fantastic people.
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