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Internet/media December 4, 2013

Tuesday lunch break with Henrik Lenberg


On Tuesday (Dec 3), the FastForward startups caught up for lunch with Henrik Lenberg, former VP at SoundCloud. During two years in Berlin, and two in San Francisco, Henrik was part of the core team that turned the music platform into its current state.

Now back in Stockholm, Henrik’s got his sight set on establishing his own music creation startup. The ex-Soundclouder also regularly coaches and teaches, to inspire and encourage other entrepreneurs.

Here are some of the insights Henrik shared with us:

Quit your job
“I think people should be faster at leaving their jobs and trying something new, when they feel they’re not doing the right thing.” Henrik is indeed a man of his own word. When he felt he was ready for a new challenge, and wanted to move back to Sweden, he picked up his things and left his position at SoundCloud

Start with why
Initiate a sustainable vision, or ideology, before establishing a business, is another great advice from Henrik. Most successful startups didn’t have a clear plan for becoming billion-dollar companies when they started. Focus on solving a problem that you care about, and have a clear “why” behind the business idea and concept

Think big but start small
According to Henrik, it’s important to steer away from thinking too big too fast. Having said that, a strong ambition is crucial, and there’s nothing wrong with an overarching goal of taking over the world – at some stage. Being a big advocate of the lean startup model, Henrik points out that a startup doesn’t need to have a crystal-clear idea initially. Rather, that’s a part of the iteration process, and will probably change over time.

A good team is your most valuable asset
This is perhaps of no surprise to anyone. Finding the perfect team is an enormous challenge. “If you’ve got a great little team, that is willing to commit, work together and start up a business together – but simply unsure of what kind of business – just get on with it!” A strong team is an incredible asset. Henrik discusses this further on his website: “I believe a great team is usually more valuable than a great idea, and that great ideas usually come from great people working on problems together.”

Make sure you’re geared up
Starting your own business inevitably means you need to be ready for it – on all levels. Somewhat financially, but most important: mentally. Persistency is an important skill shared by all successful entrepreneurs. Once the business starts moving, the energy and full attention has to be there every day, all day – from the entire team.

During the lunch, Henrik mentioned the following books for everyone involved in building a startup:

Thanks Henrik for coming over. Good luck with your startup, we look forward to seeing more of you and your creations in the near future!

Insights March 6, 2013

Find your entrepreneurial sea legs faster

Building a successful startup rarely is plain sailing. In fact, almost all startups have to weather not one but quite a few storms on their path to whatever they define as success. Out of them, only a very small percentage actually make it. Is this low number somehow determined by an invisible law or can we actually do something about it? I do believe in the latter!

First, I think that the world needs innovation more than ever and that we need many more successful startups to drive this change. The incumbents will never drive change fast enough. This means that the odds for startups are in fact improving all by themselves.

Second, we can also actively increase the odds for success. There are so many unnecessary mistakes and unforced errors made by startup entrepreneurs that could be avoided.  Why do you think the VCs prefer a serial entrepreneur anytime to a first timer?

As an entrepreneur I’m coaching said, “There are a thousand pit falls before you even get to buy a ticket in the lottery.” Cynical? Yes, maybe a little, but unfortunately there is quite some truth to it.

When you are first-time entrepreneur, venturing a startup is like crossing the Stockholm archipelago (22 thousand islands and countless shallows) without any navigational tools whatsoever, or, if you are getting tired of my marine analogies, it is like playing BRIO Labyrinth – the wooden maze game – blindfolded. It doesn’t need to be like that, however.

So how can you find your sea legs faster? Where can you get hold of the navigation equipment? How can you, as a first timer, act as a serial entrepreneur from day one?

  1. Bring in an experienced navigating officer. Find someone who has done it before. Make him or her join the team. It is worth the skin in the game you have to give them. This person does not necessarily need to be full time, be involved in operations, or do the legwork. The important contribution is startup experience. It could be a business angel. It could mean joining a business incubator or accelerator.
  2. Get a sonar, a radar, and a GPS. Understand everything about your customers’ desires. Build measure, learn. Buy the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Read it carefully. Many buy the book, some read it, but very few understand the beauty of it.
  3. Use a pilot whenever necessary. This person could e.g. be someone who knows your target customer by heart and knows how to navigate through the intricacies of the industry logic of your target market. This will save you tons of mistakes. But be careful though, make sure that the person understands the difference between the startup approach and a launch made by an established player and brand.
  4. Sail, sail, sail. Most important, though, get out of the building as Steven Blank puts it. And get into the boat! Get out there and sail the rough waters and find you sea legs. You will never become a seasoned entrepreneur unless you leave the drawing board and your ppt-plans behind.
Entreprenörskap September 25, 2012

Why Swedish entrepreneurs need more staying power

One of the most crucial traits you need for starting a venture in Stockholm is staying power. Your peers in Silicon Valley need it too, of course, but not to the same extent. Why is that? Well, there are a number of reasons, but here are three of them.

First, the accessible amount of seed stage money in Stockholm is less. We don’t have the same fools, friends and family tradition to fund startups; the number of business angels and the sizes of the amounts they can invest are less; and we only have a handful of VCs that make seed investments. The lack of competition among the VCs allows them the luxury to place their bets once the startups have made it passed the most critical validation points. Good for the VCs, but as an entrepreneur you need to take the company longer with less money.

Second, in Stockholm failure is really not an option. Most startups need to pivot a few times before they find their recipe for success. This means that you have to be prepared to experiment and learn from failure. In Silicon Valley, as long as you fail fast, failure is embraced, cradled, and even encouraged.  In Sweden, I’m afraid that we still have to learn that we can learn from failure. Thus your pivoting must be carried out preferably in stealth mode and with money from your own pockets or possibly with soft funding.

Third, Sweden as a target market is too small for most startups to justify VC funding. The Swedish market is excellent for testing and validating new business models, but as a Swedish entrepreneur you need to think globally from day one. Many startups underestimate the effort it takes to build an international presence. We think we are so cosmopolitan, but are we really?

So, here is some advice to extend your staying power:

  1. Don’t quit your daytime job too early. There are probably a lot of the customer development, alpha prototyping, etc, that you can do in the evenings and on weekends. Try to validate as much as possible before you trade time for salary.
  2. Apply for soft funding (long) before you run out of your savings. This is of course true for all funding, but first timers tend to miss this. In fact, you can often use the money you invest yourself to match government grants/loans. You can´t do this retroactively, though.
  3. Stay lean. Don’t try to build a new Ericsson from day one. Be even leaner than your Californinian peers. Read the book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. Focus on the minimum viable product.
  4. Understand what unique values your business brings to the market. Everything else should preferably be “components” that you buy off the shelf.
  5. Value your own time the most. A trick is to set a high price tag on you as a consultant working for your startup. If you are charging say 10 000 SEK per hour, you will surely only do the things with the highest priority.
  6. Be frugal. One of my favorite entrepreneurs built his first prototype with garbage container findings.
  7. Trade speed for equity. You shouldn’t give away the whole company, of course, but you can’t afford to miss the window of opportunity either. Find the best co-founders and pay them with equity.