APX Voices
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APX Voices

Leadership: How can you be a conscious boss?

Creating a workplace culture is essential, and looking after yourself as a start-up founder is just as important. In the latest episode of The Early Stages Podcast by APX, host Søren talks to his guests about growing into a leader that finds the balance between management and culture within your team.

In the seventh episode of the second season, Søren’s guests are serial founder Sven Mulfinger, whose latest venture, Dana, is a digital health start-up for new mothers, and coach and advisor Philip Horvath.

As a start-up grows, so will the team — and the team will need some guidance. Philip Horvath knows: “Being the boss means that you are in charge of organizing the venture, and there are two sides: There’s management and leadership.” Management is about setting the direction, distributing work and tasks. Leadership is about people, creating a culture of how to fulfill those tasks. “Understanding that separation is helpful, so a start-up can see: Where are we going together and how?”

Developing a team actually starts with self-leadership. Philip knows some common challenges, especially in the early stages: “At first, everyone is doing everything. But as soon as a process is repeatable, you have to separate who is doing what.” Starting with the exit-strategy is a good approach: “Think about who you want to be in the end, not only now”, Philip says. “Separate who you are from the things you need to get done and understand how you are doing things while taking care of yourself.” Getting the balance right is crucial, so it’s not just about getting things done in a team, and not all about culture as well.

Sven Mulfinger agrees. In his opinion, there are two different styles within management: “The one you do naturally and the one you have to learn. The same goes for leadership. Per default, you think your natural style is the best because of experience, but then you find out about other styles that can be really interesting, like being focused on learning, purpose, safety, authority, results,” he adds. “That helps define who you want to be and how you want to work.” So, conscious leadership means healing yourself before you heal others. “Don’t go there playing God and thinking you will know everything,” says Sven. Instead, reflect on behavior, try to expand it to the team and from there to the rest of the world.

Doing something stupid is when we really learn, so there are no failures but always learning experiences. “Sometimes you have to be the results-driven one and sometimes you have to be the entertainer, cheerleader or pioneer. We can’t do one thing all the time, because situations change, people change,” Philip says. In his words, culture is an interference pattern that happens in the overlap of individuals. “If you are an early-stage start-up, you have a team full of new people and each one of them is helping to define the culture of the start-up. That’s why you have to be very conscious of hiring the right people, especially in the beginning.”

Then, creating opportunities to let the employees meet up are essential. “You have to invest in culture as well as in your company strategy,” Philip says. “That is not an either/or decision but a ‘yes, and’ one. If your goal is just making money, you have a purpose problem. Both the employees and the customers want to see more from you.”

Sven and Philip agree that the main mistake one can make is getting lost in the external like investors, the employees, or the public. “Putting your feet on the ground and finding your center is really important, otherwise you quickly burn out if you constantly run after people’s expectations,” Philip explains. He adds: “Extreme performance requires extreme self-care.”

Listen to the full episode for more insights and subscribe to our podcast series on your preferred podcast platform to listen to a new episode every other week. If you have feedback or topic ideas, send an email to soren@apx.vc or leave a comment on the episode through our social media channels. We hope you enjoy it!

Our podcast series “The Early Stages” discusses all the relevant questions for your “Startup-Journey” in 24 episodes. We touch on topics like hiring a team, brand building, fundraising, and leadership. In each episode, host Søren sits down with founders and an APX expert to discuss one stage of the company building process, sharing their personal experiences, learnings, and advice for other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.



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Europe’s leading earliest stage VC. Based in Berlin and backed by Axel Springer and Porsche, we support the most ambitious pre-seed startups. APX.vc.