Insights from a Founder

Today’s absolute highlight was a few valuable minutes with Björn Isakson, experienced startup leader here in Stockholm. He is currently Co-Founder at Pixlo AB in Stockholm. Björn brings a wide range of strong experience to the conversation, he has held roles in various startups as well as large, established organisations and even at a regulatory body. I wanted to hear his thoughts on leadership at startups. We were able to cover a lot of ground in a very short time. Thank you Björn!

My goal was to hear his perspective on what is unique about leadership at startups? What, in his experience, are some challenges of being a leader at a startup? Read on to see Björns thoughts:

  • Founder profile

Often the profile of a startup founder is an entrepreneur, creative, innovative, full of vision not details, inspiring, passionate. This person or people may not be the best profiles to lead a company in the day-to-day work. And in other cases, the founder could have a tendency to micro-manage to maintain control.

  • Agility

A more established organisation may have planning horizons of years; annual budget processes looking out 5 years or more. At a startup, it is imperative to be more agile. Circumstances and conditions change at a very fast pace for most startups and require a much more agile and lean approach to doing business.

  • Timing

Timing is everything in a startup. One challenge is to know when to determine if the original idea is relevant or irrelevant. It is important not to give up, but also important to know when not to hold onto ideas that are not working. It is a challenge to ‘kill your darlings,’ especially if there are financial and reputation investments that have been made by the decision-makers. It is also a timing challenge to determine when it is time to add additional staff, how to divide up the work and when and which processes to put into place.

  • Cost Consciousness

A startup is typically much more cost-conscious than a larger established organisation. The resources simply aren’t usually available. This requires a culture and leadership that can work with this.

  • Resilience

It will take longer than expected to succeed at a new business. That journey requires a huge portion of resilience, perseverance, and persistence. Leadership at startups needs to find this for themselves and cultivate optimism to their employees.

  • Diversity

Hiring for diversity is something that most organisations can improve on, but it is especially challenging for a startup when many times the founders will look for more people just like them or recruit from their own network.

  • Organisation

Those people working in a startup, both the leaders and the staff, must have an attitude of openness to the tasks they carry out. In a larger organisation, roles are often narrowly defined and are made clear at the point of recruiting. In many organisations, there are role descriptions, organisation charts, division of responsibility and established processes. In most startups these are not yet in place. Anyone working in a startup must be flexible to carry out new and changed tasks, at least until the timing is right to start establishing more structure.

Some great learnings for this late-summer Friday afternoon! How about you? What leadership challenges have you experienced at a start-up? Would love to hear from you.

Thank you Björn for sharing your insights with me!

Have a great weekend!