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Successful entrepreneurs on the natural tensions in scale-up cultures



October 28, 2019

August 26, 2020

In September we celebrated the opening of our new VIE People office in Rotterdam with our friends, client and partners. We invited top entrepreneurs for a panel discussion on the hard truth about innovation culture and they had some valuable lessons to share. Here are the most important takeaways for those who couldn’t make it. Let’s learn from the best!

Present at our opening were public speaker, entrepreneur and author Kees de Jong who has interviewed the most successful entrepreneurs of the country throughout his career. Lara Timmerman, the CEO of Pop Vriend Seeds. Your salads are more than likely to contain spinach grown by her family company. Siete Hamminga, founder of Robin Radar, a company that uses radar technology to help clear the airports from birds and drones so both humans and birds can fly safely. Nils Clement, CEO of Euro-Caps, a company devoted to making coffee capsules and last but not least Günther Vogelpoel, CEO of Creative Group, a business that is a leading the exchange of digital value. 

In a time of rapid growth some natural tensions start to manifest. Every entrepreneur will encounter them at some point. During our opening we had these inspiring entrepreneurs reflect on their struggles when scaling up.

For successful experimentation you need rigorous discipline

In the beginning phases of starting a company everyone is very willing to experiment and ideas are flowing freely. But a piece of advice for every entrepreneur: once you have found your model or product, stick to it. Discipline comes after creativity. You need discipline to follow one course and doing so requires you to kill your darlings – even if it took five years to develop the product.  

Create a culture of individual accountability by being sincerely honest

The golden rule during meetings is to never focus on who caused the problem. Instead look for solutions. Sincerely honest doesn’t mean you should find out who is to blame and tell them all about what they have done wrong. It refers to being honest about the steps that can be taken to do better next time. The biggest challenge when scaling up is to hold people accountable without casting blame. 

A flat organizational structure requires strong leadership

Everyone aims to keep their organization flat while growing fast, but it requires a type of leader that can let go, delegate and coach. To break down hierarchies the entire company needs to know exactly what the vision and mission is, so communication is key. Research suggests that the more successful you are as an entrepreneur, the less empathetic you become. Doing well shuts you off to the possibility of change because the fact that you are doing well proves that you know what’s best. This is a critical mistake and a deadly mindset for entrepreneurs. The only way to keep your business thriving on the long run is the commitment to keep learning and developing yourself as a leader. 

The very best entrepreneurs are the ones that dare to fail

Each of the five guest entrepreneurs present at the opening of our new branch admitted to making a lot of mistakes in the process of scaling their business. When liaising with a new partner, be critical on their background, mission and strategy, just like you would be when recruiting new staff. Another top mistake is to lose yourself in your enthusiasm about a product and forgetting to test the market. So keep asking the right questions, keep an open mind and don’t close yourself off to collaboration. You cannot possibly run a successful scale-up all yourself! 

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