Tag Archives: culture

GenieBelt’s great 2017

I realized a while ago, that on my blog I have done only sporadic updates on how things are evolving with my own startup, GenieBelt. Too bad, because things have been more than normally exciting especially the last one and a half year, and the journey so far is a good story of persistence and ambition, which I think startup interested people can learn from.

As I wrote back in 2013, the starting point for GenieBelt was that Construction is a huge industry hurt by quality & cost problems, and it seemed straight forward that modern day technology and product usability focus could help massively – and on the back of that we could “easily” build a great company. Things turned out – as you can expect – to be a bit more complicated. But hey, that’s what makes these journeys entertaining and educational.

First of all, it took us three long years to go from idea to a beta product that really worked well for customers. For three years we walked through the desert having endless product iterations and strategy discussions. Tenacity, ambition and a great internal partnership made us get through it all. And maybe also having a bit more luck than un-luck!

We have been fortunate, that a number of visionary customers understood, what we tried to do and wanted us to succeed because they felt the pain themselves from communication and coordination flows not working in Construction. They gave us one of the the most valuable things for an early stage startup: hands-on, detailed and credible product/use-case feedback. But even with valuable data on the intricacies of Construction workflows, then it took us three years to get there. Why?

Construction is not only a huge USD 10 Trn. industry, but it is also a complicated sector to understand, e.g. the many different roles (clients, main contractor, multiple subcontractors, adviser this, adviser that, etc.), all projects having different participants, the participants changing roles between projects, etc. etc. One of my partners, Gari, calculated that there are 70 Million different kinds of Construction projects that all have their unique set of characteristics. So of course there are challenges in figuring out how to make a platform, that can tie things together without getting too complicated.

Another of the big challenges in Construction, is that 80% of work/costs are used at the Construction site, but it is at the office most decisions are taken, and where the involved parties have digitized most of their processes. The link between site and office is broken, and that is one of the main sources of the industry’s trouble – and this goes for almost all of the 70 Million permutations. From the beginning, we focused exactly on the “site-to-office” link, since that is what no-one has fundamentally solved. The established solutions targeting Construction are PC-era products that does not cater for a good mobile experience. New “ConTech” startups are using the mobile revolution to close the gap in various ways, and we have followed our own, unique path.

What started to be clear for us end of 2015, and more and more so during 2016 were a number of learnings, that fine tuned our product and commercial strategy:

A: Use a visual expression that is familiar. My first idea for how we should structure and visualize the data flow on a project was influenced by the kanban model also used by Trello. However, when we got our product wizard, Bob, on board, he came up with an obvious idea that has worked incredibly well for us: in Construction you are used to Gantt charts, so use the same structure for all the communication, i.e. build a living, dynamic Gantt structure for how you communicate and share data. Totally logical when you are being presented for it the first time, but someone needs to get the idea and execute on it.

B: Clarification of our Why/Product Road Map. From the beginning, we talked about improving workflows on construction projects and over time build some kind of analytics around this. In the beginning, I personally positioned  our solutions end-result as “Construction Managers need to look good and sleep well”, and that is still an effect of our offering, but over time we came to a better way to describe what our platform brings: transparency, accountability and overview to Construction. So much of the problems in Construction is because the participants don’t know what’s going on. They know what the plan is (or at least what the outdated plan said), but they don’t know actual status/progress update. Designing a platform that creates transparency on progress and performance would be a tremendous achievement. This is not only about launching a new solution to the industry, but it is becoming a thought leader on how the culture in Construction regarding collaboration and communication needs to change. We need a behavioral change and our solution and go-to-market approach should facilitate this in the most user friendly way. This is a much bigger challenge, but building the platform that can achieve this inherently also brings bigger benefits to Construction than just adding digital tools to an existing, yet imperfect process. Good – our ultimate ambition is to build a great company that can change construction for the better, and the opportunity is right in front of us. We are not just digitizing an existing process, we are facilitating a real change on how to manage construction projects. This deeper insight pushed us forward.

C: Shifting customer segment focus. Originally, we believed our core market would be small & medium sized ( SME) main contractors. In our journey, we realized that even though there are clear benefits for all participants in the construction value chain, then the part of the value chain that most clearly has benefits from more transparency and accountability in construction are the Clients & Developers. The Main Contractors also benefit, but they are at the same time more nervous for the effects of transparency, therefore some of them are not ready to change. The most strategic thinking General Contractors get it, but some are still focused on preserving the old and broken habits of the industry. We can therefore see, that even though we sell to all participants, then the majority of our customers are either Clients/Developers or those Main Contractors really willing to modernize and improve. And our customers are mainly mid-sized and big, because they are the one’s that best understand the need for systemic change. The smaller players will join as the industry changes, but it will be the mid-sized and bigger ones that will push the hardest for this change.

D: Commercial strategy based on hybrid sales approach. As a starting point, we assumed that we would use online channels to generate leads, and that the majority of those leads could be closed via low-touch channels. As our product- and customer focus evolved, we can conclude that our commercial strategy de-facto is much more of a hybrid. For sure, we have shown a very good ability to create traffic and leads online (and we will further improve that), but most of our revenues are closed with a sales force working online or in the field, i.e no touch only has a marginal impact on our revenue growth. Our commercial strategy will be a hybrid model of no-touch, low touch and some high touch sales, which is absolutely fine, since our unit economics are very healthy (MRR pr customer multiple times higher than anticipated helps a great deal), and we have people on board that have experience in scaling commercial organisations.

There are obviously many more details in the story, but the above four adjustments to our original battle plan have been pivotal in getting product-market fit and a commercial strategy that accelerated GenieBelt.

There have been plenty of errors along the way. One of the classical errors we have made is to let the product stray off course when the main direction had problems getting traction. We did a bit of snagging features in the beginning which we should not have done – closed down again. We did a bit of documents & drawings, also shut down. Classic start-up stuff when you get impatient iterating on your core use case.

So plenty of problems, but ultimately we have come far even though we of course know there is still a long way to go. Some of our achievements really make us proud, and they are part of the foundation for the coming years.

1: Our Ambition. Both the original founder team as well as the partnership team we have build over time is very ambitious. For most people it must sound crazy to have a small group of people deciding to change a big industry – but building a Great Company that can do that, is exactly what we want. One of the effects of that has been to deliberately not build the obvious products, that other ConTech companies built. The ConTech software startups have in general focused on snagging, health & safety and other products where an existing workflow is digitized. That is smart, since it’s more straightforward to design the product, and get customers engaged. Quick pay-off, and it of course moves Construction forward. But the basic problem of transparency, accountability and wider collaboration is not attacked head-on to the same extent, and therefore the transformative nature of the solution is not as the platform GenieBelt is offering. Our ambition meant we had to do something that no-one had done before: creating a platform that “connected site to office, and data to decision makers”, and that took longer time. But now that it works, then it is a transformative solution, more uniquely positioned and more significant in it’s impact. And better chance for building a truly Great Company. Having this ambitious mindset caused trouble the first three years, but now it is paying off.

2: Our Partnership. Today GenieBelt is run by a partnership of five guys (and yes, sorry – we’re all men!). Three Danes, two British. Two with Construction background, three with none. Four with good sense of humour, one with non-classified and very troublesome sense of humour. Four with plenty of startup experience, one has GenieBelt as his first startup. Three in their 40’s, two in their 30’s. Three that are hunters, two that are not yet, but secretly wants to become hunters. One and a half who are a football fan, three that just doesn’t get it. And all five of us are fathers with daughters and sons. So, we are a mixed bag, with very different backgrounds and mindsets. But we are glued strongly together by our shared ambition & vision for GenieBelt as well as a strong respect for each others professional and social contribution. We have already seen plenty of difficult moments, and we have come through all of them getting tighter in the process. One of our achievements is, that we have been able frictionless to change CEO twice, first in the initial year from me to Gari, and then in 2016 when we started building scale and commercial activities from Gari to Ulrik. Every time we have come out stronger. Personally, the partnership is a big reason why I enjoy the GenieBelt journey, and it is essential for my belief that we have a chance of achieving our ambitious goals.

GenieBelt partnership September 2017 when we celebrated taking an important decision – no further comments!

3: Our Culture and Organisation. With solid roots in our partnership philosophy, we have build our organisation from 12-14 people one and a half year ago to now 40+, based mainly in Copenhagen, but also London and Lodz. As is the norm for startups in Copenhagen, our organisation is very international with nearly 20 different nationalities, so at HQ the Danes are outnumbered. When growing the team from a small group of people to platoon sized and beyond organisations typically experience “cultural shakes” (more about that in a blog post some other day), and often the culture changes for the worse. To counter this, we have been very value driven. Due to some of us experiencing growth journeys before, we have focused on steering through the shakes to come out on the other side, with an organisation that is well glued together. One of the things we have done is to define and be explicit on our values; CotB, BIW, BoB, Respect and NoBS – values we try to stick to when taking HR and strategy decisions (NB: humour is deliberately left out as something we value, since too many laughs at the office has a tendency to create inefficiency and lack of focus – and is in general boring). So far we have succeeded in maintaining a vibe good people thrive in, and we intend to work hard to secure this as we move towards a company sized organisation, because the soft assets are usually the hardest assets in the long run.
Random GenieBelt’ers 2016-17

Four and a half year in, but it’s still early days. We have hardly scratched the surface of what can be achieved, but the snowball is rolling now. Together with many good people among Main Contractors, Subbies, Construction Clients, Developers, Advisors, other ConTech startups and Construction Industry influencers we are certain that change is now finally coming. We can all look forward to better housing, infrastructure, office space and anything else that the fascinating Construction industry produces. On time, on budget, quality spot on, less waste/environmental impact/injuries – what’s not to like!

Construction of Strasbourg cathedral, Alsace, France, engraving after a pen and ink drawing by Theopile Schuler, 1821-78, French Romantic illustrator and painter. Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg was begun in the 11th century and completed in 1439. The drawing shows the flying buttresses outside the nave and many medieval construction processes. Picture by Manuel Cohen

 

Scaling a business – learning and performance focus

One and a half year ago we/JUST EAT decided to move forward more ambitiously with the JUST EAT Academy. The objective is to supplement the valuable on-the-job training with more structured learning and development. In practice, the set-up has been running for less than a year, and there is plenty more to do, but from my perspective we can already see some really good results, e.g.

  • Most of the managers in JUST EAT have now been through our Management Assessment Centre (“MAC”). This means that as a supplement to their line manager’s view on their performance and development needs, then we have a structured, 360 degree view on the person from many of the traditional management/leader dimensions, e.g. communication skills, presentation skills, collaboration skills, analytical skills, etc. The MAC is definitely not the final truth, and the line managers qualitative view is still key, but it all adds up to a better understanding of what the manager need to do to develop her- or himself. It is challenging to be a manager in a fast growing company, so if JUST EAT can support with a few tools then great.
  • Together with an external agency, we have developed a really good sales module called “Sweet & Sour”. A lot of sales reps and managers have already been through this program, and it is getting very good reviews. The important thing now of course, is to make sure the learning’s are actually been put into use when the participants come back home, so that is a key focus area for the sales managers.
  • We have a lot of people in JUST EAT, who have their first management job, or which have the biggest management challenge they have ever had, so a course in basic management skills can come in handy. We have therefore put together a course (“JUST about people”), where the participants goes through a catalogue of the fundamental management tools, and we have run this course for the first time some weeks ago.

We want to institutionalise learning, and it is of course not only about fine courses, but it all helps. To build a truly great, international company, having the most talented people that are constantly upgrading their skillset is fundamental. And that breeds a virtuous circle, because as people in one part of the organisation shows how to improve, there will be peer pressure on other parts to improve as well. In a performance environment such as JUST EAT, where there is focus on improving all the time, healthy competition drives the company forward, and it is important that the company support this with tools and infrastructure, such as the Academy. We are not yet where we should be in rolling this philosophy out, but we have made a good start.

If you want to scale your business beyond the small-company level, you have to put learning and development at the core together with a performance culture. Deliver, then learn to deliver more/better/faster/funnier/cheaper. It’s all very Jammy!

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Exec Team Seminar June 2012

Once in a while the JUST EAT Exec Team (aka “ET”) goes off-site a couple of days to have enough peace and trancquility to reflect on where we are as a company. This week we met up in a summerhouse North of Copenhagen. Before we went to the summer house we had time to stop by at Rasmus’ house so the UK based guys could see how we live over here in Welfare Denmark – the picture documents it is all nice and relaxing.

ETseminarJune2012

Afterwards we did a bit of slot racing, since we always need some competition to keep the team building going. As usual we were all accusing each other of cheating, but victory in the end was just and fair -;)

Many things were on the agenda, but that is obviously a bit difficult to publish here, so instead you get a picture of the view form the summerhouse.

ETseminarSummerhouseJune2012

JUST EAT World Party 2012

The biggest event of the year in JUST EAT is without any comparison our annual World Party. The event was first tested some years ago and has since changed a lot as our company has changed, but one thing has always been at the centre of the concept: fun and socialising. And for sure, that was also at the centre stage of the World Party we had last week at a venue outside of London.

AllColleaguesWP2012

There is no need to spend a lot of words on the event, I will instead try to capture part of the atmosphere with a series of pictures, enjoy – we did. But if you only have 8 minutes available, then go straight to this heavily cut down video of traditional JUST EAT Got Talent Show, it was a lot more fun than what you can see here, but it might give some feeling for the evening: JUST EAT 2012 Got Talent Show

(NB: there are also hundreds of pictures on facebook page following the event if you can access the FB group).

Nearly 400 people from all over the World came to Berkshire, UK, ready to get started all dressed in fashionable JUST EAT t-shirts:

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First a presentation on what is going on overall with the company, people came to have fun, so we spend less than an hour on that, here I am showing some creative sizzle the marketing guys has dreamed up:

KNpresentWP12

We quickly moved on to the team events, we like to do competitions, so everybody were send out with their teams to solve all kinds of   missions, here some of the teams:

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Some people (the Celts) took it all more relaxed:

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And others put in an effort and won:

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Then we “nearly all” did Little Fish, Big Fish, that was pretty hilarious, but we didn’t get the World Record for most people dancing in sync because 100 people decided it was better to sit outside and enjoy the 25c with a cold beer (grrrr …):

BigFishDanceWP2012

But then our very own Mr Beat Box got the Jam back:

MrBeatBoxWP2012

We also tried to see if we could get some other official Guinness Books of World Records, and we succeeded (not sure how long those very important records will last, but we made it!). One record was in keeping as many balloons as possible flying for 1 minute:

BalloonGuiness

And one in undressing 10 t-shirts as quickly as possible, another very important and high profile sport:

Tshirtwinner

Last couple of years we have given each country a cottage, where they could serve delicacies from their home countries of both solid and liquid nature, this year we gave each country a tent, and combined with fantastic weather (25c in the UK in May is not that common!) people’s mood quickly went from great to stellar, some examples:

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IEtent

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BRtent

EStent

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And then the highlight of the evening, the JUST EAT 2012 Got Talent Show (check link for video). First the intro with Ras on Sax and some big pretender:

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UK marketing doing Bollywood dancing:

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Brazilian samba:

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Who says Finance can’t dance:

FinancedanceWP2012

UK Sales doing the Haka:

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And several others, but the winners were – the Danes singing about how they are treated as cash cows, hmm think about that for a second:

TeamCowWP2012

We also had the traditional JUST EAT Awards for best of this and that (congrats to Spain, Norway, UK, Switzerland and Sebastien), and Mr. Buttress got a kiss and a piggy bank:

PiggyWinnerWP2012

And after that no more team building or award ceremonies, JUST PARTY:

HappyESWP2012

MarketingEnthusiasmWP2012

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Thanks to all JUST EAT’ers for a great World Party – see you all plus a lot more again next year.

NB: special thanks to Leah, Mike and Anne for getting everything organised so briliantly, especially the weather really impressed me.

Professionalism in an entrepreneurial company

Yesterday, I was in Holland where I did a Q&A session with the Dutch team. Every once in a while I like to meet my colleagues locally the countries, where the local teams has the opportunity to ask all kinds of questions, and I have the opportunity to hear how they view the world and explain what direction Just-Eat is going. It is interesting for me to see what aspects are being brought up, and even though there always are some classics then there are some surprises here and there.

One of the issues we spend some time on yesterday was “professionalism”. Several people asked questions that were related to getting more structure & planning, more defined roles & responsibilities, better coaching & training, etc., i.e. all the stuff you would expect from a professional company.

Any successful, high-growth company goes through the different phases from idea/concept, early start-up, early growth, etc., and the trick is to get it right in each of the phases which are often very different from previous phases. And if a company doesn’t adjust quickly enough to a new phase (often pro-actively pushing into the next phase), then coming to the next level is only more difficult, if not impossible.

The challenge is that people also need to change. Some people are brilliant in one phase, but out of their depth (or just not motivated) in the other phases. A few can actually master many phases, extremely few work well in all phases. Nothing new here, this has been part of the technology and management literature for many decades, but the interesting thing is that it is still so difficult to get right, and the key reason for this is that “people” don’t get it. Or rather; they might understand to some extent, but they are not actually taking the full consequence.

In Just-Eat, one of the challenges we have is that we want our culture to represent both professionalism as well as entrepreneurialism. Entrepreneurialism I believe is about energy, willingness to take risks and mental flexibility. Key elements of professionalism is for me about applying the necessary levels of intelligence and structure. Some people believe the two things are not compatible. That is absolutely not true! It gets harder as a company grows, absolutely, but if you roll over and surrender to one view then it only gets worse.

Of course sometimes the two will clash, but at a closer look it happens less often than what we normally would think. Sometimes people that are out of their depths will complain about things no longer being entrepreneurial enough, and things are now “corporate and bureaucratic”. Likewise, sometimes some would say it is difficult because a situation is not handled professionally enough, “more time/analysis/structure/money” is needed, but maybe the problem is difficulty in getting on with fixing the problem, and taking a bit of calculated risks (“sometimes” is the key word here …). In many cases where I hear one of the two sides it is more excuses than real problems. Yes, it is tough sometimes to get it right, and I don’t always have the ultimate silver bullet either, but I am certain that the two sides can live together in healthy competition. When building high growth companies it is the right thing to balance the two. The right mix will change over time, but they both need to be there. Those that believe professionalism is equal to bureaucracy lose out on major opportunities.

At the personal level, I think it is important for all who loves to participate in building and growing businesses, that you do as was stated across the Apollo Temple in Delphi: “know thyself”. Understand what part of company building you are good at, and motivated by. Don’t fool your self into believing you are great in all phases. And be happy to leave the organisation the day you can see things are no longer good for you – and move on without moaning about how the company will now be destroyed and everything was better in the old days. You could of course be right, but the future progress of the company (or lack of) will typically tell the story.

Get the balance right in your culture for each phase, and I promise you have one of the most important things in place when building and growing a company. Very banal in theory, very difficult in practice.

yin-yang