We survived our first year with Accordium. This is what I learnt as first-time founder.
2017 has been the craziest year of my life: I moved to a country that I had never visited before (Denmark) to start a company (Accordium) in an industry I had never worked in before (SaaS and Digital Transaction Management) in a role that I have never filled before (Chief Operating Officer) — And I loved every second of it
Here are my Top 3 learnings of 2017:
1) Building a productive company culture is key — use the early-stage mayhem to shape it!
2) Fundraising takes a lot of time, don’t chase after shiny objects.
3) Managing a dislocated team across the globe isn’t easy
1) The first 12–18 months is the only time where you can actually shape your company’s culture.
Building a productive culture where employees feel empowered and happy from day one is important — “duh… dont you say 🙄”. It is trivial, but still not to be underestimated. In the early days you can still actively shape the culture of your organisation — once you grow to 20+ people it will be impossible. It will become a dynamic self-enforcing process.
Therefore, it is highly important to get your values right from the beginning — and I don’t mean you should sit together in a board roam and draw up some bullshit keywords on a whiteboard and then expect that everybody will follow them. At Accordium we only started thinking about this about 3–4 months after we had hired our first employee and took more of top-down approach: We sat down and discussed what we liked about our already existing culture and formulated those into phrases we then used to identify situations where we might be deriving from our values. (Check out this video where Barrington explains our corporate values)
2) Fundraising takes a lot of time
After roughly 93 investor pitches and 412 VC emails in 2017 alone, I can tell you fundraising is a full-time job. It is highly important to treat fund-raising as a sales process, where you need to build a funnel, generate interest, qualify leads, and focus on the most promising prospects. In the very beginning I would chase every shiny object on the horizon, just being happy anyone is be interested at all in what we are doing. Once you start talking to the bigger guys and get some inbound interest from renown investors you need to start focusing your energy: ask questions via email before having an introduction call, try to find out what their typical ticket sizes are, what industries they are investing in, what value they can bring other than money, etc. In the end, that not only saves you a ton of time, but also the VC on the other end. If there is no fit or its simply too early for the VC to invest, just wait until the next round. (I will be posting a separate article on fund-raising soon).
3) Managing a dislocated and global team is tough
From day 1 our team has been spread between Copenhagen (HQ and commercial office) and Kuala Lumpur (Tech development).
This had mainly two advantages:
- We were able to get a team of 4 full-stack developers up and running in just 2 months (both Andrew and I had lived in Malaysia), which is crucial when you only have a 12 month life line
- We were able to save a lot of money which could be spend on product development and go-to-market.
However, this also came with a few disadvantages:
- 7h of time difference can slow things down at times, especially when you are about to launch a new product and need to have instant communication. Luckily, our tech team has a work schedule from around 11am to 8pm while Copenhagen starts at normal hours, which allows for quite some working time overlap.
- Building a united company culture across both offices (coming back to point 1)) is much harder, as naturally the two offices will develop different values and behaviours. Key is to make sure you only hire people who fit your culture in the first place and to bring the team together as often as possible.
What did you learn in 2017? I would love to hear your experiences.
I am looking forward to the challenges awaiting me in 2018! Thanks to everyone who has been part of the journey so far.
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Accordium — helping sales teams close deals faster through contract automation, digital negotiations and e-signatures.