Entrepreneur, Viewpoint 4.05.2017
By Director of Talent Mads Klarskov Petersen

Being a founding CEO equals the steepest learning curve you will ever meet

Mads has 10 years of experience building hyper growth SAAS companies and has immense respect for founders and the journey they are embarking on. He calls it “a lonely preposition” being a founding CEO and describes their journey as the steepest learning curve you will ever meet.

What I like about working with startups is that I kind of need to reinvent myself a couple of times per week. You need to be extremely open to what works. I like the creativity of it and that there are more possibilities than one.

If there is one thing you need to be able to do as CEO it is to understand how to move people. The CEOs who understand the people around them and know how to put them in play are the ones who will win. It is simply paramount that you understand the dynamics that makes your team work. 

The hardest thing about being a founder is the entirety of the journey – so keeping at it – even the best of the best experience ups and downs. There will be days where you cannot get your arms down, but there will, inevitably, be days where you want to quit 5 times a minute – and probably most days like the latter. We really need to stand behind our founders, because it really is a lonely preposition being a founding CEO.

For me, everything starts with people. What makes my clock tick is finding out what makes people do the things they do and what they do best. To understand the people around you, you really need to listen – I mean really listen. In my early days as a recruiter I was sometimes evaluated as an odd one out because I was so calm and quiet during interviews but I was just listening and observing. Today I start with a disclaimer not to freak people out – still the same approach though – I listen very hard to understand where you are coming from and what you want to do.

"I admire many people. I have to say that the founders I meet during my work with our portfolio companies is a real inspiration. I don’t think people realize what kind of journey they are on and what it takes to go all the way – It is the steepest learning curve you will ever meet."

I am all about the right people, in the right position at the right time… It sounds complex and it is. The best teams are diverse and are arbitrary in size and competences and are changing as a reaction to external pressure.

There is no right team composition. However, there are certain traits that are good to have in a team. Ability to grasp and build strategy and lead others must be in place in a startup team. This ensures that the company can grow in team size and still be focused. The hardest thing about operating a growing team is to keep focus and staying on track.

Sometimes I am wrong. And I hate that… That is why I try to be smart about what I do and why I love structure and processes so much – take recruiting for example. If you do it right it is can be a good experience for all involved, but if you don’t it will be a nightmare. You need to have the company’s goals in mind to find out what kind of competencies you need in the organization to support these goals and then you have to be ambitious when hiring – simple as that. Avoid wasting money by having a clear plan and making sure that you hire people that meet your standards. Don’t settle.

I admire many people. I have to say that the founders I meet during my work with our portfolio companies is a real inspiration. I don’t think people realize what kind of journey they are on and what it takes to go all the way – It is the steepest learning curve you will ever meet.

The journey new CEOs are embarking on is immensely tough, so if I can do something to help them even the slightest, I would really like to be part of that. My goal is to provide our founders with an overview of the challenges they have in their organizations. I help them understand what it means to get the right people onboard – both C-level and board-level. I help them understand how people work and how to develop them further to ensure that they can get the most out of their resources in the organization. At least, that is what I hope, I contribute with.

The most interesting in recruiting right now must be the whole development within the field of AI and machine learning. I don’t believe that people like me will become obsolete in the short run, but I really do believe that machines can help us a lot throughout the processes of recruiting, helping us save a lot of time and make smarter decisions.    

I strive to make myself expendable. I love being part of a project and seeing it come together, but I don’t need to say, “I did this” – It makes me proud being a part of a team that works. But when things are where they need to be I am fine with moving on to new things. Next challenge please…!

It is hard to pinpoint the most important quality in a founder, but endurance is a good quality. But you know, CEOs have to be good at so many things – sales, people, domain – it requires a lot and not all people can do it.

A happy go lucky-attitude is not bad, when you are an entrepreneur. It’s about deciding to get up every day in the hopes that it might turn into a really good day. That resilient optimism will get you far.   

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