Thank you for taking the time to share a couple of great insights with our community! To kick things off, can you tell us a little about Yabusame Partners and your role there?
Jensen: I am Managing Partner at Yabusame Partners. We are an international boutique consulting & advisory firm specialized in working with early-stage startups and corporates. We work with startups on strategy, go-to-market, and fundraising topics. For corporate clients we provide support in the area of corporate innovation (from startup scouting to engagement).
Which leadership skills do you think are most important for founder/CEO?
Jensen: Several skills are critical. Communications skills are essential as representing the company and its vision are most critical to successful growth. The CEO needs to be able to manage both product and business areas and build a team of professionals that can take ownership of their areas. The CEO should be able to listen and take cues from others that may affect the direction of the company (i.e. when to pivot). Generally, he/she should be energetic, persistent, adaptable, and well-informed.
What skills or characteristics you think are most important for startup? How did you develop them?
Jensen: Similarly, the founder team as well as the startup employees should be committed to making the startup successful and willing to work in a startup environment (higher risk, less money, long hours). They should be motivated team players that are leveraging all their resources to make their company successful. Most of these characteristics are secured through hiring the right people. Developing the right culture for the startup is more of a process that will take some time. Startups usually also end up with some people that are not living up to those expectations (or vice versa) and changing out those employees quickly is the best approach to ensure maximum productivity for the company’s limited resources.
What's the most common question startups asks you and what's your answer?
Jensen: Any startup’s first and foremost concern is usually fundraising. Companies ask for help with developing the right narrative for their pitch deck and for connections to potential investors. Therefore our work often starts with investment advisory services and CEO coaching before we start focusing on critical go-to-market questions (e.g. product market fit; GTM model; strategic partnerships).
How do you build and maintain your network?
Jensen: Networking is a critical skill in the global startup ecosystem and is particularly important in Silicon Valley. Startups success is dependent on three key factors: hard work, timing, and a certain degree of luck. While you can control the effort, the two other factors are typically hard or impossible to control. Having a large network of contacts frequently helps with timing and sometime opens up opportunities that startups may not otherwise have.
In Silicon Valley it is customary that people openly discuss their business and advise others. Sharing information helps everyone and often allows companies to grow their business more effectively or more quickly based on the experience of others. In Europe, I often find the business culture is rather closed and not prone to exchanging information. That ultimately makes it more difficult for startups to network and build new networking contacts.
Who do you think is the current best startup CEO and why?
Jensen: I don’t think there’s one startup CEO that can be considered the best. While successful CEOs have critical traits and qualifications in common, every business needs the CEO that is best for them, at different phases of the business rollout. Founder CEOs often don’t last very long until outside investors call for a different CEO profile which is perfectly fine as requirements change over time. Just because a founder has developed a great technology, that doesn’t make them the right CEO for the company in the long-term. Very importantly, a good CEO needs to keep an open mind, pursue a persistent approach to growing the business, and know when to change direction (pivot), because initial assumptions have been proven incorrect or market conditions have changed.
Last question: What would you tell and recommend Czech startups?
Jensen: My first recommendation is ‘Know your market’. It is critical to understand the market for your product or solution on a global basis. If you want to attract investor and claim an attractive addressable market, you need to be aware of what customers need and what alternative options exist in the competitive landscape. This will inform your product and market strategies.
Second, build an MVP and start market testing it as soon as you can. It’s easy to over-engineer solutions based on a set of narrow assumptions thereby wasting time and resources and not taking real customer requirements and priorities into consideration. Paid Proof of Concept engagements will allow you to better understand customer use and may lead into commercial agreements if structure correctly.
Third, as you move beyond the first set of customers, find good advisors to help you optimize your go-to-market strategy and rollout. You can easily squander funds by running in the wrong direction. As you decide between market segments and geographic priorities, make sure you're getting the return on investment you were planning for. If you run a lean shop, are smart about these decisions and hit your key milestones, raising that next financing round will be that much easier.