Sebastian Wossagk

Sebastian Wossagk

Benedikt Kronberger

Benedikt Kronberger

  • Partner at btov Part­ners
Meera Innes and Marc-Olivier Lücke

Meera Innes and Marc-Olivier Lücke

  • Venture Deve­l­oper and Partner at Atlantic Labs

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Seba­stian Wossagk,
Partner at Acton Capital Part­ners

In what ways has the startup ecosy­stem changed since 1999?
Foun­ding teams these days are much more profes- sional, and in many cases parti­ally consist of serial entre­pre­neurs. You also don’t need to invest in a big infra­st­ruc­ture nowa­days, and there’s defi­ni­tely more startup capital avail­able in an early phase. En- try barriers overall have decreased, but led to much more compe­ti­tion — and thus a higher failure rate overall, espe­ci­ally in early stages.

What are the parti­cular chal­lenges of late-phase growth?
You need to be faster. You can’t wait until the prod- uct is perfect to release it; it’s a conti­nuous process. It’s harder to convince custo­mers to use a new prod- uct when there are multiple existing alter­na­tives, so orga­ni­sa­tion has to adapt quickly and be very cus- tomer-centric. It is easier for early-stage startups to do this due to flexible struc­ture. Later-stage com- muni­ca­tion is inevi­tably longer and more indirect.For example, the CTO and CMO may have little direct commu­ni­ca­tion with one another, meaning that crucial customer feed­back about the UX may not reach the tech depart­ment in time.

“You can’t have people do a bit of ever­y­thing.”

How do you define a work­force in each phase of the startup?
A company starts off with a small foun­ding team, then the general work­force will grow to 20-25. When it gets to the 50-100 stage, the course chang- es drama­ti­cally. You can’t have people do a bit of ever­y­thing; you need dedi­cated roles, even if the flip­side is losing some agility. An early-stage startup usually doesn’t have, say, a CFO, but this is essen­tial when your company reaches a critical growth stage. You have to make sure you hire peo- ple whose exper­tise is concen­trated on each area.

What is the #1 people-related factor influ­en­cing the dyna­mics of a company?
The quality of your people starts with the foun­ding team. Good foun­ders acknow­ledge that they’re not the right person for certain tasks, which requires humi­lity. You also need to esta­blish a trusting cor- porate culture and common values. Whoever is making the hiring deci­sions must share these and there­fore know exactly what an employee needs to bring to the table.


Beneditkt Kron­berger,
Partner at btov Part­ners

You have three ofce loca­tions. How do you keep all of them on the same level?
St Gallen was the first office and is the most important in terms of stra­tegy, but when it comes to dyna­mics and size, it’s Berlin. Our Luxem­bourg office is quite small, but our funds are based there. As you can see, each office has a diffe­rent focus. We sche­dule weekly company-wide phone-in confe­rences and orga­nise a big event twice a year, as well as holding various regular events with inve­stors. This helps keep the culture even between the three.

What are the chal­lenges of remote manage­ment?
Getting problems and questions solved over the phone can lead to misun­derstan­dings. I would say that the inter­per­sonal aspect suffers a bit; whenever we do a call, it’s always busi­ness. We can’t just go to lunch and chat less formally.

Are there strong country-specific diffe­rences that can make growth diffi­cult to achieve?
Hiring in Berlin is slightly easier as it has a repu­ta­tion as a fun and diverse city, which offsets the lower sala­ries. But in St Gallen there is compe­ti­tion from Zurich. This can hinder growth as finding the right people takes a long time, due to low unem­ploy­ment in Switz­er­land.

“A good CTO will find good IT people, but at some point the recrui­ters have to take over.”

What are the chal­lenges parti­cular to late-phase growth?
Hiring! A good CTO will find good IT people, but at some point the recrui­ters have to take over. One parti­cular chal­lenge in Europe is lack of finan­cing, espe­ci­ally when things get more tech­nical. Also, acqui­ring venture capital for late-stage growth compa­nies can be tricky, as the rounds are often too small for US inve­stors and too big for European ones.

Can a company ever reach “critical size”?
It’s hard to give a gene­ra­lised answer to this. It can be dama­ging if the company has expanded so fast that they’ve lost any sort of healthy dynamic. It’s all about whether orga­ni­sa­tion can match rate of growth. There must be hier­ar­chies so that it remains under manage­mental control.


Meera Innes,
Venture Deve­l­oper, and
Marc-Oliver Lücke,
Partner at Atlantic Labs

The team at Atlantic Labs is 50/50 on gender — albeit the CEO/partner roles are all men. Do you believe in quotas, or have a diver­sity stra­tegy?

Marc No, but foste­ring diver­sity is incredibly important, as disrupting the status quo is the busi­ness we’re in. This can only be done if you have as many diverse points of view as possible.
Meera I’ve spoken to people from other compa­nies who believe they may have been hired due to a “diver­sity bingo”. I am mixed-race and female, but I believe I was hired because of my exper­tise. Diver­sity should become so natural that you don’t notice it’s there.
Marc About one third of our startups have a female founder, most notably Clue (repro­duc­tive health app).
Meera Part of making the ecosy­stem more inclu­sive is reco­gni­sing not only that women are there, but also that they do face disad­van­tages. At Atlantic, we have an initia­tive where we bring toge­ther our female foun­ders and leaders to create a support network.

Does the make-up of a team set the tone for the dyna­mics and diver­sity of a company and thus on how a company’s deci­sions are made?

Marc Diver­sity at all costs isn’t a goal in itself. What’s important is an entre­pre­neu­rial, colla­bo­ra­tive mindset. But getting a diverse foun­ding group around the table as soon as possible will posi­tively affect the direc­tion it takes.
Meera The danger of a homo­ge­nous team is that it creates a feed­back loop — you’re all saying and hearing the same things and you don’t think outside this bubble. Step­ping outside that loop and putting yourself in a posi­tion of discom­fort necessary for healthy growth. You are limi­ting your poten­tial if you insist on only addres­sing your audi­ence in one voice.

Do you look for diver­sity in the indi­vi­dual quali­ties of a foun­ding team?

Marc All foun­ders need the basic charac­te­ri­stics of being entre­pre­neu­rial and being able to develop with each other. They must harmo­nise and work towards a common goal. Our dream setup consists of inter­di­sci­pli­nary teams — for example, one is expe­ri­enced in startups, one has a tech back­ground, the other knows the indu­stry. This has worked well for us.
Meera We look for compa­ti­bi­lity rather than variety. A duo can be very charis­matic during their presen­ta­tions yet have only mode­rate chemi­stry, or you might have two shy people but one shows a commit­ment to balan­cing out the team. Commu­ni­ca­tion issues, however, such as talking over each other or disagreeing openly, are a red flag.

“It’s not our job to influ­ence a company’s culture”

How is company culture set and main­tained?

Meera Codify your values at the very begin­ning: why you started and what you want to be. Foun­ding is a stressful journey, so it can be easy to deviate from the values and get lost. The danger of letting employees dictate culture is that it can become distorted if they don’t share your values.
Marc The first hires are critical in shaping culture, and a strong culture can allow a company to grow more quickly and flexible, and also better deal with crises. Still, in high-growth phases, if you haven’t inve­sted in internal orga­ni­sa­tion, culture may even­tually dete­rio­rate. You need to hit the sweet spot between good orga­ni­sa­tion and flexible culture.
Meera It gives you a base­line: no matter how much you progress, the culture repres­ents your inte­grity.

Do you stress the import­ance of culture to your compa­nies?

Marc We do coach them if we feel they are going in the wrong direc­tion, but we cannot mould their culture ourselves. All we can do is look out for good leaders and support them.
Meera It’s not our job to influ­ence a company’s culture. I do place great import­ance on encou­ra­ging foun­ders to prio­ri­tise their well­being and to talk about the struggle of the founder expe­ri­ence. It’s okay to admit that this is hard and stressful. You have your own indi­vi­dual journey to focus on, and you can ask for help when you need it. Take care of yourself.

You may control the first steps in your company, but it’s the employees that keep things rolling. Keep them balanced and happy, and you’ll main­tain a healthy dynamic in your company.

Sebastian Wossagk

Sebastian Wossagk

Benedikt Kronberger

Benedikt Kronberger

  • Partner at btov Part­ners
Meera Innes and Marc-Olivier Lücke

Meera Innes and Marc-Olivier Lücke

  • Venture Deve­l­oper and Partner at Atlantic Labs

Want to get to know Sebastian Wossagk?

Get in touch

Want to get to know Benedikt Kronberger?

Get in touch

Want to get to know Meera Innes and Marc-Olivier Lücke?

Get in touch

Still curious?
There is more to see here:

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