The year started with a retrospective of my career, and became an incredible startup journey
Knowing that not much is for sure is a crucial skill in today’s world. However, there’s one thing I did know for sure one year ago: I did not want to join an existing company as CEO again. Initiating something on my own, on the other hand? Maybe. To get a clearer picture, I started with a retrospective: I looked back at my career, my failures, and the needs I had in my roles, and I began to write down all I had been missing as a founder and startup CEO.
By reading, collecting, and writing, I became aware that there is so much more that would have helped me to be more successful with more ease in my past roles. And: I wanted to share those learnings. But how?
I never liked being a consultant; I always thought I wanted to create and not “just” give advice or solve problems for others. But then something happened. I started working with INSCYD, a sports tech company, on strategy development and quickly realized that there is something beyond consulting: I was basically working as an entrepreneur with other entrepreneurs, plugged into their operation, and it became clear that this embedded work I was doing could be very impactful. So why not give this momentum a shot, and turn it into something bigger?
I started GROWTH UNLTD wanting to offer my experience as a founder, my recent learnings, and some guidance when the going gets tough. My primary idea was to support early-stage startups with a product-market fit program tailored to the specific needs a startup has. I decided to offer a relatively low-cost subscription with few 1-on-1 touchpoints, which would allow me to scale the program more efficiently than a traditional consulting model would have and focus my other resources on generating high-quality content.
GROWTH UNLTD started small but soon got more requests from other companies. This allowed me to learn about different industries and sectors outside my core expertise. I saw a measurable impact on our customers; better internal alignment, clear goals, more effective execution, and massively improved results.
Not everything went smoothly, though. In fact, there were quite a few ups and downs during the year. Especially my initial idea of supporting early-stage startups did not get traction. On the other hand, there also was some nice affirmation when IMD in Lausanne offered me the role of Startup Strategist, and I started working with EMBA participants like Colivar, a fintech company that endorses women’s financial freedom.
Sometime in the middle of the year, GROWTH UNLTD gained more and more traction, with new customers like Soeder and Naoo joining us! Towards the end of 2022, numerous new customers — including early-stage startups such as Agree and EndureIQ — rely on our services, which makes me extremely happy.
I have, again, learned a ton working with founders and startup teams this past year.
1. Focus on what matters
First things first: A structured approach to product-market fit works! I created the program with RealGrowthHacking.com, a growth accelerator, and we executed it with several startups; it keeps the teams more focused on what matters, and they achieve their goals with much more speed and ease. The most common feedback is: “Why haven’t we started earlier.”
2. Life experience counts for a lot
I have also learned that first-time founders with life experience and a previous career are great entrepreneurs. I’ve met quite a few during the collaboration with IMD, and — since they have a lot to lose — they take it extremely seriously, have a broad set of skills, and, therefore, have great chances to succeed.
3. Seek active guidance
But they (and founders in general) also need some help from experienced entrepreneurs. The truth is: Being a founder is hard, and you easily lose focus in the day-to-day hassle, get overwhelmed with doubts, and always feel the fundraising demon breathing down your neck.
Looking back at my time as founder and CEO, it would have helped me so much to have someone by my side giving me not only advice but something I would call active guidance. This must go beyond a couple of 1-on-1s or check-ins; it’s about providing constant availability to support the founding teams in all dimensions and keep them focussed, filling gaps when needed, and navigating towards product-market fit.
4. Everything takes time
Comparably small things cost a lot of time if they have never been done; running a demand test, interviewing customers, creating a value proposition, prioritizing MPV features, and testing price points. It sounds terrible, but iterating on these tasks can easily cost 12 months in a startup. THAT’S A LOT. Yet, it’s plausible.
How are founders — especially first-time founders — supposed to immediately understand marketing, technology, research, and sales that go far beyond their expertise? What usually happens is either every step costs a lot of time since they iterate until it works, or the hypotheses are not validated properly. Most likely, it’s a mix of both. Saving a few months could save you.
5. Funding is declining
Funding is an even bigger issue during a company’s early stage than I thought. Early-stage funding declined by more than 40%, and this hits especially first-time entrepreneurs without network and experience hard.
In 2023, we will launch a new program dedicated to supporting early-stage startups. The goal of this initiative is simple: We want to help companies get to the one thing they need most: product-market fit. Still, 90% of startups fail; founders often lose focus and make missteps.
Those early mistakes cost time or, worst case, lead to companies that are doomed to fail. The failure rate can be significantly improved by implementing best-practice frameworks to reach product-market fit, through training, and by actively guiding founding teams through the early startup jungle.
Much money is put into companies and teams that fail to build strong business models. 80% of VC-backed startups fail or barely break even. Our GROWTH UNLTD mission is to make entrepreneurs succeed faster and more efficiently.
In 2023, we will see powerful results by finding the most promising markets and creating rock-solid business models with the participating founders and the help of world-class experts! I’m excited to start this new journey and will provide more information soon.