28
Feb 12

Hiring: The Spark in the Eye

Arguably the most important task of an entrepreneur is to assemble a truly outstanding team. I am proud that I was able to bring many great teams together in the past. And I am grateful to work with so many outstanding people at Qype, at 9flats, and at avocadostore. I made many mistakes on the way. It is worth sharing some of my principles in hiring.

Hunt for potential, not for experience

Many people make the mistake of just looking at people‘s CV or likedin profile and look for the ones who‘ve done exactly what you need. I like people with experience. They can save you a lot of money because they don‘t need to experiment. But more important than where people have been is where they can go.

Hire for attitude

People who want to join us often bring rare and much sought after technical or marketing experience to the table. But we often failed with people who had the right skill, but the wrong attitude. I‘d rather have someone less experienced who will really find out how something can be done than an expert who tells me why it can‘t be done. At 9flats, we‘re looking for people with that spark in the eye.

Hire the best for all positions

„Hire the best person you can afford“ has been my mantra for a long time. Whenever I deviated and tried to make a shortcut, I invariably failed. Most people understand the concept of getting great people when hiring really „key“ employees like a CTO. But they fall short of the excellence principle in the „non-key“ areas like office management or accounting. The difference a truly great person makes to a simply average person is striking. In all areas.

Ethics

Recently I have met an increasing number of extremely successful people with poor ethics. Some on the investments side, but also some who applied for a job. The minute I spot this, I just switch off. I have lost some great potential this way, but I like to think that I gained in the long run. I won‘t give away all my tests here, but one: someone who offers to bring his coworkers to join us, will be shown the door immediately. This is purely selfish. Anyone who brings their friends to join us with them, will take them to the next shop afterwards.

The weekend test

The most important question I ask myself about every person that works directly with me is the weekend test: Would I like to spend a weekend with her or him. If that thought becomes just too stressful, boring or otherwise unpleasant, I just pass.

Pass on opportunities

I‘ve passed on many great hiring opportunities. And I will never know for sure if I have missed some great people that way. But I do know that with most of the people where it didn‘t work out in the end  there was some hunch in the beginning. Something was not right. Someone was not exactly thrilled by the person. So my most important rule for hiring is: Don’t hire if something feels not right.

 

By the way, a link to our Entrepreneur Intern Program (unfortunately German only, will be updated)

Open positions with 9flats.com in Berlin or in Hamburg


25
Jan 12

The Power of Single-Tasking

For most of my entrepreneurial life, I was proud of being able to handle a multitude of things at the same time. And I did get a lot done. Over the past years, my multitasking has become more pronounced instead of less. Phone calls, Telcos, Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, handling people, investors, press: All at the same time.

However, this came at a cost: During the past  years I realized that friends became increasingly annoyed that I was always 10 minutes late. My kids got used to addressing me three times in order to get my attention. In the rare events when I was winding down, it took me half a day or so to relax.

Today, I‘m making a conscious effort to really focus on the one thing I am doing. As I‘ve spent more than 30 years learning to do several things at the same time, I am now slowly unlearning that behavior.

The initial results of single-tasking are amazing:

People give me positive feedback about my presence.

I am able to concentrate better on the things I love doing.

My written communication has become more powerful.

It still requires effort, but here are a couple of the things I changed:

Working out
The gym used to be the most boring place for me. My time on the cardio equipment was spent thinking about business. I tried music to get me through the time needed. Today, I focus intensely on my movements, my breathing, my pulse. As a result, the intensity of my work outs increased dramatically.

No more push messages
I pull them emails when I need them. And I try to do them in larger chunks. This was probably the hardest thing to change after an 8 year infatuation with blackberry. I find it even harter to reduce twitter and facebook. But the quality of my real life has increased as I decrease my virtual life.

Books and music
I discovered that I can‘t even enjoy music at the same time as  reading. Yes I can do it, but I do neither enjoy the book or not the music. It puzzles me how people can do that. So now when I pick some music I really dive in to it. Close my eyes. Or the other way around with the ears…

No late calls
I have started to refuse taking calls after 7 pm. In the past I had investors who wanted to discuss strategy when they had time, around 11 pm. This resulted in me being preoccupied while spending time with the family. I just don‘t do that any more.

Quiet one on one meetings
Less meetings with people in my team. But longer ones. When I talk to people I try not to cover only the most urgent points, but touch on the overarching goals of their area and their ability to achieve those.

Taking time to think
My train commute between Hamburg and Berlin with its poor connectivity has taught me the beauty of spending uninterrupted time to think. I now am actively creating time to sit down, even if I‘m not on the train.

One thing has not changed though: My attention span is still very short. So if I‘m typing away in a meeting that means I‘m not focusing on that meeting, but on something else. Entirely. In general that is an indication that I feel my input is not required in that meeting and I resolve to be not in that meeting the next time.


17
Jan 12

What to look for in an Angel

Angel investors have the most sexy name in the industry. They provide startups with money when nobody else does.
Some aren’t actually angels,
but that is another story…

Many people ask me if I would like to invest in their startup.
Time for some reflections on what to look for in angel investors.

 1. The most important thing you want from angels.

When people talk about angels, they often talk about subjects like
value ad, network, perspective, input and so on.
But in reality, you could get that from mentors as well.
When you pitch angels, of course you tell them how
much you value having them on board,
but in the end, don‘t kid me and don‘t kid yourself:
You want the money to start building your business.
And you don’t want to court them forever, because
your time is better spent in building your business.

So you need money. 

2. The second most important thing.


Every business that I have been involved in has been a roller coaster.
Fantastic ups, threatening downs.
Key people leaving, competitors walking in,
numbers not growing as quickly as you want them to.

You want an Angel to be relaxed.
Someone who has given you their 30k from
their savings account is not relaxed.

The third thing you want

You don’t want much of their time.
Some of the best angels I have are really hard to reach,
will listen only for a limited period of time but help tremendously.
The worst angels are people with time on their hands.
Giving lots of unsolicited suggestions.
At worst: looking for a job in your company.

You want their experience.
You want them to be experienced either as angels or as entrepreneurs.
So they know when not to bother.
More importantly, they should know when and how
to give you the essential messages you would otherwise not listen to.
So they can look at the business with the outside view and give you the two or three hints that you need to go into the right direction.
So they pull some weight with you when they see something coming that you don‘t.
That they do have something to say in the rare cases when you need advice. I have received some great input from the experienced guys.

A word of caution.

Not all angels are angels. Some people are actually sharks.
You will see that in their business terms.

The people who blog or twitter constantly about themselves in the world:
For me, they have not done much. The really good angels I met are often
very restrictive with what they say in public.

The people who boast beforehand about how much they would do for us?
never heard again from them afterwards.

Give back

I like to keep all my angels for the long term:
I have always found that it pays well to keep them informed,
albeit I still don‘t do this enough.

Try not to surprise them; if there is some rough terrain ahead,
I shout early as they are along for the ride.
It is also a good idea to help them make money.

As you may have gathered,
I don‘t consider myself a great angel investor.
In fact I invest very rarely and cautiously.
I do have to earn a living and hence
I‘m not relaxed enough to trust other people with my money.

 


12
Jan 12

Do less.

I am a master of the to do list.
I’ m quite good at getting stuff done.
Both in business and in private life.

I do even better with my long term goals:
Write them down, forget about them and
a couple of years later they are achieved.

I don’t mean this ironically.
It is a fact of my life and most people would envy
me for my ability to get stuff done.

A few of my friends are even better
at this game than me.
Entrepreneurs who are even more determined than me.
They achieve bigger goals, faster than me and
and then move on to the next one.

But recently I picked up on some strange signals that make me
want to get out of this game.I realised that while I felt
some contentment about achieving a lot,
my happiness did not increase with getting more accomplished.
One trigger was a simple statement,
picked up on twitter:

You are not your to do list.

    Later, over Christmas,
    I read a book with the rather blunt title “fuck it”.
    It’s  more refined message is, in my words:

    We attach so much meaning to so many things in life,
    that we become too attached. And we miss life on the way.

      Aterwards I discovered the fantastic blog
      of Leo Barbauta, http://zenhabits.net/.
      (My favourite  post)

      Leo writes about a lot of the  things that
      I’ve been doing for quite some time now.
      Getting fit, consume less.
      Our home is actually quite minimalist
      and I work a lot to keep my life simple.

      – Er, repeat that: I work a lot to keep my life simple.

      Phew. There I said it. There must be a better way to do this.
      I don’t want to work a lot to keep my life simple.

      Do less. Want less. Breathe.


      23
      Feb 11

      9flats.com

      For the past couple of weeks we have worked in a distributed team in 9 different locations around the world. Have a look and enjoy.

      Later today we are going to reveal our secret headquarters…