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. (more…)
We, the construction genies from GenieBelt, just raised an angel round of $½ Million, yehaa! That's not a lot of money compared to some bigger funding rounds I have done in the past, but it's exactly what we need and the feeling is as good as when I did £40 Million rounds. And what will the money be spend on? (more…)
Everyone knows the demograpic facts: the human population is not only growing, but in the developed part of the world (and increasingly so in other major regions, e.g. China), the proportion of elderly people is growing even faster. And the old are also getting older! That poses a big challenge, since it is a core responsibility of any society to take care of the elderly, those that worked hard so those following would inherit a better world (preferably!), and with a bigger and bigger portion of the population being older it gets costly for the working population to sustain a good level of elderly care. As in so many other situations, part of the answer to that challenge lies in technology. Biotechnology and innovation in health care in general is of course part of this. An important part of the many elements that needs to get in place, is how to make existing assisted living/elderly care more effective. In Scandinavia there are thousands of homes for elderly people, that no longer can live by them selves, and need daily support - and you can add tens of thousands more in countries like Germany, UK, Japan, USA, etc. If you visit these homes, you will see how the nurses and assistants are running very fast to cope with all their daily routines and the constantly appearing emergency situations. They are also acutely aware, that they will not get a lot of extra resources to cope, maybe on the contrary - so how can the work be organised more effectively so they can maintain a good service level with sufficient "warm hands" to take care of the elderly? Half a year ago, I was contacted by some of the founders of Sekoia (not the VC of more-or-less the same name) who had worked on a solution for exactly that: work-flow management for the elderly care homes. At first, it might sound like a simple issue, but I am working/has worked with several teams doing work-flow management for specific industries, and the devil is always in the detail. You can use some generic solution, but the big productivity gains always come from customizing to the specifics of the industry. And the Sekoia guys had spend nearly three years fine tuning the concept before they recently went into sales mode, i.e. they knew very well what the needs are of this sector. And with their open platform concept, I believe this is a winner. The team ticked the boxes for me (chemistry, potential, progress, I can help, etc.), so we quickly decided to team up, and I became investor and active chairman some months ago. I have spend some time working with parts of the team, and last week we had a couple of days off-site (in a cabin used by kindergartens that needs a bit of nature - proper!) where I got to know the whole team. That only gave me more confidence in that we have something really good brewing. Lately, the team has turned up the volume and sharpened the philosophy behind the solution and seen even better customer feedback. The team has also started to get more into sales mode, and talked to the relevant institutions (p.t. only Denmark, but we have big plans ...) about the philosophy behind the solution, and there is great reception, it really is a way for the sector to both drive effectiveness as well as quality. Even without significant sales activities, Sekoia now has dozens of solutions sold. That might not sound like a lot, but in Scandinavia, where we have a relatively sophisticated set-up for assisted living, no other player has more than one pilot in action. And in the rest of Europe, we haven't seen anything like our approach - this might end up as a good example of Scandinavian welfare technology being exported for the greater good. The number of 85+ year olds will grow by more than 150% between 2005 and 2030, and the population which is 100+ years old will quadruple, so wish Sekoia good luck in succeeding with the mission of making assisted living better and more cost efficient. As a minimum, the solution needs to everywhere when I need a warm, helping hand some time around 2070!
Those that know me would not say the "hair & beauty" segment is a natural fit for me. My wife would even say I'm the anti-thesis to hair & beauty (she married me because of wit, charm and money ...) so how did I end up as chairman of Wahanda?
Earlier this spring I got a ping from Lopo Champalimaud. Lopo is co-founder and CEO of Wahanda, Europe's biggest destination for salon - and spa bookings. Initially I was a bit baffled, because why would people in the beauty space talk to me, they obviously had never met me or seen pictures of me, but when I then started chatting to Lopo, I quickly realised the logic for why I should talk to Wahanda. A while ago, Lopo had decided to go all in on the booking part of his business concept, i.e. if you need to get you hair done or want a beauty treatment, then go to Wahanda, check out the local salons in your area, and book directly into the system. Obviously, that is quite similar to the underlying model of JUST EAT - however, there are also some critical differences which team Wahanda has spotted and are getting the most out of. Lopo's Wahanda journey has so far been 5 years long, and lots have been achieved, but I am particularly excited about the focus on building up the best and biggest network of local merchants that can offer great supply of hair and beauty services through out the UK, and internationally as well. Lopo and his team (incl. the latest add-on of Simon and Chris) has more experience than anyone else in this space, and the size of the business is also well ahead of the many smaller players in the industry. Building internationally leading companies in emerging industries is one of the greatest professional experiences I know of, and I think Wahanda has a great opportunity to do exactly that. A chairman role is very different from the many years where I was running companies, but I hope that background is a strength. I need to help & support those that leads the organisation & strategy, not be the big leader or strategizer my self. This transition is massively helped by the fact that Lopo and I get along very well, and through a very open discussion atmosphere we get everything on the table and leverage our different backgrounds and perspectives. I'm looking very much forward to the Wahanda journey, this will be both very fun and very big. And I might even learn a few beauty tips along the way.
Three months ago, I heard about a small company in Copenhagen called Kirkeweb, which is Danish for Churchweb. Religion is always an exciting topic (too exciting for some!), but the key reasons why I got interested in the Kirkeweb story was, that the company was a start-up focusing on a clear niche (Churches) in a highly fragmented "industry" (most parishes and deaneries are fairly independently run organizations) where the need for a work flow management system is very clear, but no-one else in Europe seems to understand how to build and market to this highly specialized sector. I met the founder and CEO, Christian Steffensen, and then I quickly became hooked on getting involved. Christian could explain clearly how churches has significant benefits from using the system to streamline administration processes, internal communication & coordination, web site management, etc. and thereby have more time/resources to focus on the core tasks of the church (Love!). So, all the classic benefits of good work flow systems were also clearly seen in this "industry", and on top of that Christian through his long history with the church (programming church websites and admin systems since he was 11 years old) knew how to interact with the church community. Also (and Christian will hate me for writing this), Christian is a smart cookie who is a proper entreprofessional mixing the best of entrepreneurship with the desire to do things in a smart way. This means that since the Danish part of the business is doing really well with critical scale of churches signing up, then it is now becoming important to move out of tiny Denmark. Kirkeweb is engaging with the Church community in Germany, the first churches has signed up and much more is coming. This ticks the last box for me, since my background and skill set is a great fit to help Kirkeweb and Christian in the coming years as Churches all over Europe will see the benefits of easy-to-use Church Management Software. I joined Kirkeweb as chairman/bestyrelsesformand in April, and I think this is the beginning of a long and fruitful journey, amen!
DING-DONG - It's been a while since I've posted last time, so here's an update. My plan in February was to do research on a couple of project ideas I had, and then to talk to all kinds of people to see where exciting things happened, especially in Denmark and London. The plan was also to move not too fast, since it is easy to become enthusiastic and commit to all kinds of interesting ventures, and then suddenly be fully booked up. And now, I have partly fallen into that trap - but for good reasons! What is it I want? The stuff that motivates me the very most, is to do great things with great teams. Everything flows from the people on the team, and if it is great people working together in the right, high-performance, entrepreneurial fun-loving way, then amazing things can happen. From these kind of teams flows great products, happy customers and oodles of respect from investors & partners. And that again attracts even more good people, and if the leadership continues to step up, then Nirvana can be maintained for a very long time. That is awesome to be part of, can't get enough of it. Many people with my background do one of two things:
- Become a classic investor, building a large portfolio of angel- or VC investments. That is very exciting, and you get to help all kinds of entrepreneurs, but my issue is that I don't think I'm ready for such a passive role. Any investor would say that they "add value hands-on", etc., but the truth is that with a portfolio of 15-20 investments and spending most of the time chasing new deals, then they are not really close to the action (and typically doesn't have any real, hands-on experience related to your challenges, but that's another story). And I don't like being distanced to what I'm doing, and the people involved.
- Become a CEO for a big company. Well, first of all, there are not really that many companies based in Copenhagen where it makes sense for me to get involved full time as CEO, and I'm not interested in moving my family to another country for a long period of time. Secondly, the reason why I enjoyed running JUST EAT even though it was a 1,000-man company was that I had been there from when it was a small 35-man Danish company, so I had directly or indirectly hired almost every single manager in the company, and I had skewed the company culture exactly in the direction that I felt was right for the company - and me! Chances are, that if I got on board another company that was already big, then I wouldn't be a great fit for the culture and all kinds of "culture wars" would have to take place (had enough of that in the initial phase, when I joined JUST EAT five years ago). Thirdly, working for one company only would not leverage all the knowledge I have today about leading, developing, internationalizing and scaling companies. That is a skill set that is still a scarce resource in Europe, so I might as well leverage it across several companies.
Since I joined Just-Eat in the spring of 2008, I have been not only CEO, but also chairman. That is not the right structure for a company, and I have been wanting to change the set-up for a while, but it is not easy to find the right chairman for a company like ours. In the first couple of years it was not urgent to change, but since we did our series B round beginning of 2011, it has become an absolutely must. Luckily, after a very long search period we have finally found our new chairman! It is with great pleasure that John Hughes going forward will take an active lead of our board (official press release of John Hughes joining Just-Eat is here). It is a relief for me, that I have a wing-man of that calibre, who will take charge of a big chunk of the overall governance of the company, which frees most of my time up to focus on running the company together with the Just-Eat the team. And it is also a great support for me, that I can lean on John's experience when handling some of the strategic issues we constantly are dealing with in our fast paced company. Just-Eat is constantly growing, in only a few days we can e.g. say that we have partnered with the clear leader in a major European market. All this growth is exciting, but it also adds complexity, and as we add more and more investors/owners to our company, then what is called "corporate governance" with a fine word becomes important. John not only knows from own experience how governance works, but he also adds a lot of hands-on executive/operational experience from running mid-sized as well as really big tech companies; and he also has a great strategic mindset. John will be an important asset for our company going forward, and it's going to be great to team up with him as we develop our company the coming years. Welcome on board John!