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Interview with Harry Järn, CSO, Movi

Harry Jarn, Chief Sales Officer, Movi
A good board member takes into account the company context. Early stage ventures need very different help from a board than more mature companies. So being an experienced board member even from the same industry doesn’t necessarily mean the person is the right board member for your company.

Bio

(Find Harry on LinkedIn here)

All things digital, from global cloud & sold as a service.

Front line exec with broad experience in start ups, corporate ventures, sales & sales management, leadership, CRM & business development, strategic consultation & related innovation with customers as well as in financial management, private equity and trade finance.

Particular experience in sales, strategy, financing and venture capital within ICT markets as well as SaaS business model & cloud based offerings. Interested especially in early-stage & corporate ventures, challenger strategies as well as go to market to emerging/new markets.

Specialties: Sales, Go to Market, CRM, Innovation, transformation, execution, start ups, corporate ventures, SaaS, cloud offerings. Turning employee satisfaction to customer success & results.

Interview

All startups have to go through a “second birth”, from founder-oriented to process-oriented after receiving the first funding round, and it’s no news that most founding teams gets replaced with new management chosen by their VCs. What are the key skills both a founder and the company must develop to thrive and survive the growth-stage?

Very good question! This is often a dilemma faced by the start ups and at worst can destroy otherwise promising venture if no solution found acceptable for all parties. This is a topic the VC might need to take up already as they do their initial DD on the company: not just the exit, but how to get there as an evolving team.

So this should be somehow on the agenda within the Board all the time & from the beginning as this should not become as a surprise to anybody: open discussion about the changing needs & evolving operations of the venture and what it will mean for the company. So open communication between the VC & founders & management is a pre-requisite. Create a roadmap for the company early on which can be reviewed regularly.

From founders side this means they must have the ability to let go: take a helicopter perspective to their company & understand the big picture on what is needed for the company to scale from early days to national/regional/global markets. In perfect world the new management/new additions are chosen together with the VC & founders/management.

Founders deep insights, energy & enthusiasm about the subject matter are however important also in later stages, they cannot just be replaced & thrown away. Ideally they continue contributing to the company, in a different role. Building company’s credibility further.

How do you retain and grow your top performers? Just equity and financial incentives, or other aspects like culture, respect, emotional incentives?

Financial incentives (mainly through equity & options) are important: they make people work & push for something they consider as their own, fosters entrepreneurial spirit. Makes all the difference.

But financial incentives are not enough. Creating an inclusive culture & caring organization where people are respected & trusted is maybe the most important ingredient. There has been a lot of literature around the topic, how to build a caring organization, so I won’t go there in details. But I have always firmly believed that people must feel good to come to the office, be proud of belonging to the team and in general, be happy workers whenever it is possible. There are rough times too, but they are easier to handle when you know things will get better once challenges are solved.

A caring organization is one where people are taken into account, credit is given to those who deserve it and communication works openly in all directions. Sure, a leader must be able to make also hard decisions, but even they are easier if people understand WHY.

If your employees feel good at work, that will be visible to the customers too. It’s good for business.

What are the biggest tension points you have with the top performers? Things like compensation? Disagreement on roles and tasks? Others?

Problems with top performers arise easily if the role settings within the teams are not well thought & you have people in “wrong places”. Then typically expectations clash with realities as the job/career process doesn’t meet one’s own expectations. And people start to feel pressured by colleagues who they feel are getting involved in things that don’t belong to them.

So once you have a position/job description clearly defined, think hard what kind of personality would fit best that position, taking into account the overall team & organization around. Make sure people complement each others. And conduct the recruitment as a team. Don’t outsource it (completely). Recruiting new team members is maybe the most important responsibility for any manager/leader/team.

Works on all levels, from Management team to product & delivery teams.

With that I don’t mean recruiting yes-men (or -persons). Absolutely not. Rather, find people who see the target & direction in a similar manner. But they might strongly disagree how to get there: by bicycle, bus, airplane, car or a combination of some/all of them… Different views & ideas are good. There must always be some healthy dose of friction in the company. It keeps you awake & makes it more difficult to get complacent.

It’s no news starting a company is an emotionally intense process. Rejection. Stress. Burnout. Conflicts. What techniques do you use to manage yourself and keep high output with a long-term view?

True, the journey sometimes feels like it is a marathon but split in an endless number of 100m starts…

It’s important to pay attention to things both on the job & spare time. We all have our own ways to relax & charge batteries, For some its reading a good book. Other go out with friends, or to movies, etc. 

But first of all, you must take some time out to yourself & loved ones. How much, depends on your own set up family situation. Kids need plenty of attention every day. You have to provide that time to them, otherwise you end up in a dead end.

Personally, apart from family & friends, I’ve found I can best charge my batteries through intense training. I love ultralong hikes. So I take time to practice & execute those. And motorcycling: put the helmet on & head out to the countryside. Total concentration on the moment, nothing else. 

Also small things matter: if you are on a long multi-week business trip, cross different continents, remember to give time to yourself. Spend a weekend in a nice place if you can. Relax. Make use of perks you get from extensive travelling. Like that lounge with massage & champagne bar at Hong Kong airport. You don’t always have to take the shortest connecting flight…

And while in the office, talk, share, ask, spend time by the coffee machine with people. Show interest to them as individuals, not just employees. You get so much more energy back from them. That alone takes you forward the extra mile.

What makes a good board member to you? What are some common pitfalls board members make and what are some attitudes that make them valuable assets to you?

A good board member takes into account the company context. Early stage ventures need very different help (often very much hands on work) from board than more mature companies. So being an experienced board member even from the same industry doesn’t necessarily mean the person is the right board member for your company.

A good board member is also always approachable. Ready and willing to listen & help, also outside of the board meetings.

Ideally, each board member would add value to the start up beyond the board meetings: bring in potential hires, leads, competencies, challenge the direction of the company. Bit a bit more like coaches & mentors. And always keep in mind the company evolution roadmap: it might be that the board members also need to be changed as the company evolves.

In some cases it makes sense to build a separate Advisory Board to help the management in the middle of growth pains. Advisory Board members should bring deeper industry understanding & networks to the company, helping in building visibility, credibility and access to new potential customers, partners, other key stakeholders.

Key Lessons from Harry

  • As a board member, take into account company context and roadmap. Startups need different types of help in different stages, and being a good board member is intrinsically tied to the startup’s specific stage. A good member can help them in this current time and their current circumstances;
  • Seek connection with others and leisure to ease the stress of founder life. During long sprints of intense work, take some time to take care of yourself so you can last in the long run as founder;
  • An inclusive and caring organization is essential to retaining key top performers. A-players may be motivated by compensation and equity, but that is merely necessary and not sufficient. Top performers need an organization that has a purpose, strong culture and a “why” so they can be part of something greater;

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