Inside the Nest with Timo, Chief Venture Officer
We sat down with Timo, who recently started as Chief Venture Officer in our team. Read on below to find out more about him as a person and what he is looking after in his role, where he is also giving insights about the possibilities but also challenges venture building holds along with his take on what he likes about Sparrow Ventures and why it is a great place to be and work.
Could you tell us a bit about who you are and where are you coming from?
For sure. Most recently I worked as a Team Lead at Stryber, a company builder and strategic partner for ramping up the Venture Building operations at Sparrow Ventures. I started there pretty much around the same time Sparrow Ventures was launched. Therefore, I had the opportunity to be part of the journey from the early beginning, while being in particular responsible for building FinTech Ventures.
But I started my career quite traditionally and worked in financial institutions for more than 10 years before I switched, became an entrepreneur and co-founded my own start-up and did that for three years. Now you maybe wonder why this drastic change: dropping out of a secure job environment into the unknown. Taking the leap from employee to entrepreneur was actually triggered by a professor while I was doing my MBA. As part of a capstone project, everything for him was all about innovation and how to execute on it throughout the program. It was this time that changed the career game for me. Looking back, I realized that I really excelled in the roles where I had more entrepreneurial freedom. You could say that the entrepreneur was always inside me and my professor unleashed it.
Since then the start-up ecosystem pretty much has become a big part of my life.
Next to trying my own thing, giving back always has been and is important to me. That’s why I have been quite active in the fields of mentoring and organizing events such as the Startup Weekend or the Lean Startup Meetup to help entrepreneurs in their early days validating their ideas. This is how I got here, where I am now. Super excited to get things moving with the Sparrow team as Chief Venture Officer.
Chief Venture Officer, what is that?
Yeah, I know, not the usual job title one typically comes across. Maybe just to put things into context.
At Sparrow Ventures we do two things: building early stage start-ups ourselves and investing in already existing ones to help them scale.
The Chief Venture Officer (CVO) role covers the operational aspect at Sparrow Ventures. Meaning, I am overseeing the team responsible for validating ideas and building the ventures.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day-to-day as CVO entails?
On a strategic level, this includes to identify the right signals in the market to build and create a portfolio of innovative ventures. Due to our connection to the Migros group, this also covers being in close exchange with the teams over there to identify potential opportunities and find synergies to use corporate assets. On an operational level, I closely work together with the ventures teams to make things happen. These are typically composed of two Venture Architects, a Product Owner, a Designer, a Growth Marketer and some Engineers. I see myself as the enabler for them, to create an environment where they have the freedom to perform at their best and build awesome and successful ventures.
What do you like about your role?
One — The people. It’s an amazing team, passionate about what they do.
Two — Bringing ideas to the market. From the whole start-up life-cycle, I enjoy most to kickstart a venture and test how it performs in the market with real customers.
Three — With Migros as parent company in the back, having the potential to launch something that has great impact and adds value to the day-to-day life of the Swiss population.
What do you think is the biggest challenge?
To push the right topics on the market at the right time with the necessary quality and resources. For example, some venture projects require certain things to be fulfilled so that they can be tested in the market with real customers. This is often the case, especially for topics in the area of Digital Health, FinTech or Food & Beverage.
Also, the uncertainty in the world right now with Covid-19 brings new possibilities but also challenges for venturing with it. The Corona Crisis is influencing and changing the society at large. This is something we at Sparrow Ventures are adapting to and have to use it in our advantage. Being aware of and knowing this, it is an exciting time to be operating in the venture building sphere.
And what is the biggest challenge in Venture Building in general?
One thing is that there is often not yet a lot of understanding of what venture building actually is. Which is perfectly normal because it is still quite a new way of validating business models. Companies such as Migros which are serious about their future have started to build new ventures. These new ventures are close enough to the core business to leverage corporate assets, yet far enough to not be absorbed by the machine designed to execute upon existing business models.
It is simply not yet a common practice that you come across frequently. So, you need to take every possibility you have to lay out the opportunities it holds.
This also includes a mindset change to develop and test things data-driven and with the customer in focus. This can be hard, because it means that you have to leave your emotions out while building the venture. Essentially this comes down to: “Don’t fall in love with your idea.” Passion should always be about solving the problem for the customer. In the end, venture building is hard work, it’s about having good ideas and validating them the right way as fast and customer-centric as you can.
What do you like about Sparrow Ventures?
The team is dedicated, passionate and focused on building and investing in innovative business models that create an impact and add value to the quality of life for the Swiss population. All of these undertakings pay into our goal, to make a substantial contribution to the long-term success and profitability of the Migros Group and it’s great to be part of that journey.
What makes you excited every day?
Above all, having the freedom to do what I love is what drives me forward. That is, seeing people excel in what they do, how they develop further and seeing ideas grow into real businesses, that people use and the impact they have in the market. For me, this also goes beyond the day-to-day life at work. There is no typical 9–5 day for me. You will find me even outside the usual hours and spending my free time on that too.
What is your secret that no one knows so far?
When I was seven years old, a good friend and I found a pile of flyers hidden behind some trees at the local playground. Somebody who was supposed to distribute them just dumped them there. We took them, walked from house to house and sold them. We made decent money considering we were just seven years old. Unfortunately, somebody called my mom, complained about it and my first entrepreneurial endeavor ended abruptly in house arrest.
Joining the management team at Sparrow Ventures, Timo took on the role of Chief Venture Officer at the beginning of 2021. In his capacity, he is in charge of the team that drives the development of new business models forward to build and expand a portfolio of innovative and sustainable successful ventures. His motto reflects these ambitions:
“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got.” ~ Henry Ford