Sometimes I don’t speak about startup culture.
Enjoyed introducing FLIO to the broader audience of airports, retailers and travel brands.
Sometimes I don’t speak about startup culture.
Most of us suffer from too many messages, too many notifications, too many news we can’t do anything about. I’m in an every lasting struggle to tame this barrage of information.
As a CEO, you constantly get feature ideas from the team and your customers, people trying to sell to you. Coworkers asking you to sign off on things. There is no limit of new messages to deal with.
But: Often the most important messages are those that are not being sent.
In running a startup I ask myself every single day:
Which is the message I didn’t get today?
– The “mission accomplished” from our developers to fix a crucial bug.
– The “Yes, I’ll join the team” from a potential star hire.
– The “Sure, we’re interested” after an investor meeting.
– The “Hey, we’d like to work with you” from an obvious client.
– “Hey we’ve discovered a crucial bug” from the same developers.
I constantly need to sell. To chase. And as a team I encourage everyone to work on the hard stuff. It is easy to react to the non-important. It is hard to stay focused on the important. In building a team, there are many people who want to be hired. Nobody sends you a message that he should rather be let go.
Real masters manage in some areas to build “Pull” instead of “Push”. Create a brand, so the right people follow you. Build a clear positioning so the right customers chase you. Create the right rules within the team, so those messages start to come.
Should you take advice from a guy who draws cartoons for a living? Generally not. Scott Adams, who does the Dilbert comics, is the exception to this rule. His book ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’ is one of the best books about life and happiness that I’ve ever read. It has triggered this piece.
As entrepreneurs, most of us are goal achieving machines. At least those entrepreneurs who are successful. A lot of my close entrepreneurial friends are fantastic in achieving their goals. In our organizations, it is much easier for people to work together if there is a common goal.
I am by all accounts good at achieving goals. Get a great university degree, become an entrepreneur; study abroad, buy first apartment, build a company, get funded, sell company, raise a family, to do only things that have a meaning – whatever I set out to do I’ve achieved- with the exception of achieving some ideal weight.
If goals are so great, then what is wrong with goals?
After each goal I achieved, I fell into a hole until I would find a new goal that I could go and achieve. Worse: During all that time, few people would have called me content. In order to be good at achieving goals I probably needed to not be happy with the status quo. In my experience that you can generalize this:
Most overachievers pay a high price for their achievements – they are never happy for a long term.
Over time I did improve. In the past couple of years I changed. I started to define a great day as a day when I spend time with my wife, my kids and do some great exercise. A good day is also defined by having meaningful intellectual exchange with people I respect. So a good day really doesn’t have anything to do with achieving more, or having more.
What does this have to do with Scott Adams’ book? Adams provides many more examples and a framework of goals versus systems:
“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in a sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good at every time they apply their system.”
In personal life, going back to dieting: losing 20 pounds is a goal that is usually always doomed, while focusing to change your habits for a different diet is a system that will last.
As a serial entrepreneur, I have evolved my system of identifying a market niche which fullfils a genuine user need, using an intact reputation to get the best possible people on board, acquire capital without over promising and executing fast. But I don’t have a goal of “x million in y years”. And I am certainly more happy for it.
In investing, I trained for years to identify companies that have evolved a great system. A company an idiot can run, to paraphrase Warren Buffet. Buffet has built one of the best systems himself with building a company that automatically increases earnings over time. Regus plc has built a system to constantly increase their office space without taking on the risk involved. In Germany, Rocket Internet is a system that can churn out companies at a bigger scale than anyone else.
Speaking of Buffet: As I attended Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting for the 5th time this year, I realised something in the way Warren Buffet spoke about a recent acquisition in Germany and potential future acquisitions.
I had foolishly assumed that there was some kind of big plan for what he does. But: There is no big plan: They made decisions to acquire companies within less than a day. Buffet just happens to have a system of capital allocation and a certain pattern for companies that fit into BRK. And he communicates which companies might fit, wanting to become the preferred buyer for certain sellers. – A system without goals.
“If you do something every day, it’s a system.
If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
To close with one of my favourite Zen quotes:
“Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: Chop Wood, carry water.”
Too many people have asked me over the past couple of weeks: “What are you working on right now”. Time for some communication – and a rebrand.
Over the past year I have worked with several startups that I advised or invested in. I’ve learned that I am most efficient when I can leverage my own preferences and my own experience into the future.
So far, I’ve done “local” quite successfully with Qype. I’ve done marketplaces with 9flats (large) and Avocadostore (small). Before that I did a lot of media, ranging from the small GEO.de to the extremely large Bild.de. I’ve advised or worked for companies in Fintech, in eCommerce, in Pharmaceuticals (DocMorris). I’ve had a lot of exposure to the travel scene with travelchannel, lastminute.com and again 9flats.
And I’ve always shied away from gaming, gambling and payday loans. I only want to do meaningful stuff. This has worked really well for me during the past 10 years.
In summary here is the common ground in
- Businesses I have a reasonable competitive advantage in
- Fields that have a great future and are not too narrowly defined
- Areas of interest that I love
Enter Density Ventures. I think there is a common ground between local, marketplaces, smart cities. I enjoy discussing strategy with my friends at yell.ru (a Russian Qype, funded by Kinnevik), or expansion with wundercar as well as micro location with BeaconInside. It all seems to work well together. Here is a link to the Density Ventures website and my current portfolio.
A new startup: FLIO. As part of Density Ventures, I am currently working with several people on a new “focus venture”, which I hope will be much bigger than Qype. I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it will be an app that every one can use at airports, register here to see when it will be launched: Getflio.com.
Last week, my friend David Rowan called me a “one person accelerator”. But in reality, I just enjoy doing two things at the same time, being an investor – selecting and supporting future startup successes and also being a businessman or an entrepreneur. Hopefully I can continue to alternate between these roles. I certainly can confirm what Warren Buffet is claiming: Doing both makes you better at both.
P.S. What gives, what won’t be part of Density Ventures?
Media. I still love media, but I’d rather do this in a different context. I would love to see a news app that actually makes money. Or an advertising model that pays for great journalism. Media won’t be a part of Density Ventures. And eCommerce. I love eCommerce, but at the moment it seems like a game of losing money today for market share in the future, which I don’t know how to win.
In today’s newsletter, Ben Evans notes that CocaCola disabled voicemail in it’s HQ. This was published in a Bloomberg piece, with a nice quote:
“People north of 40 are schizophrenic about voice mail,” said Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management’s Center for Digital Business. “People under 35 scarcely ever use it.”
Being over 40, I have switched off voicemail about 5 years ago. I just hated to listen to it and having to call people. I call back missed calls from known numbers anyway. It just felt natural to me then and over time, fewer and fewer people complained. I think I saved a lot of time and nobody has every been worse off for it.