8th Nov. '12

What can leaders learn from the young startup lions?

A post by Pekka A. Viljakainen


Lack of financing is not the biggest obstacle preventing the creation of new companies any where in this world.

New companies rarely sprout up in capital-heavy industries these days, so the winner is no longer the one who has tens of millions to throw into building smokestacks,assembly lines and other infrastructure. The problems are related to leadership experience, networks and the willingness to work hard in a sustained manner. The help provided by mentors and business angels can really make a difference between success and failure when it comes to new entrepreneurs and speed they learn at. I’d have gone bankrupt if it wasn’t for the aid of committed older colleagues. In the enthusiasm and excitement of youth I tested all my hypotheses on customers, as well as the more experienced of my competitors. Wherever I saw a working solution, I copied it.  This sort of interaction is a two-way street, however.

I’ve spent the past year working with young Russian entrepreneurs and it has taught me things I’d forgotten during my corporate years. I’m more convinced than ever that this new generation has a real genius for working in international teams – as long as they are given the chance.

I took to the stage at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna (www.pioneersfestival.com). 2500 startup entrepreneurs from over 50 countries were present and just one day of walking around exposed me to completely new and highly efficient tools and techniques. I really thought I was up-to-date on what’s going on, but turns out I’m not. I’ll have to start doing more research and learning faster.  More important than the gadgets and technologies, though, were the passion, internationality and joy of creating something new. A week earlier I spoke at a big corporate IT event in California, the audience consisted of some big-time American CIOs. Smart people, huge budgets and a lot of experience, but passion and new ideas were not present. Quite the opposite, in fact. The harsher your story dealing with the corporate life, the tougher you seemed in this company.

The difference between this event and the startup entrepreneurs’get-together was like downtown Joroinen compared to Times Square.  A cynic will say that these new entrepreneurs were born with silver spoons in their mouths and are just burning their investors’ money. Not so. These guys are dealing with an annual growth of 20 to 300 percent in employees. They need working infrastructure, international payments, data security and mission critical admin. And their core business can do a 180-degree turn within a six-month development cycle. Their IT must be agile and keep its eye on the ball at all times. They rarely have any legacy, I’ll grant that, but then they don’t have experienced IT experts or the masses of manpower some organizations can rely on to effect change. And everyone’s new. Who do you trust?

Internationality is the ability to trust and interact with just about anyone on the planet. Thereare assholes everywhere. They come from all countries, linguistic blocks and age groups.Thus building trust should be easy, regardless of the backgrounds involved. The best startup entrepreneurs have grasped this point in a manner that leaves the average corporate animal eating their dust. Having people from 50 different countries at an event is totally natural forthese people. Putting together work groups randomly, regardless of nationality is totally okay. And they jump right into the given assignment. No one is evaluated based on whether they come from corporate HQ, Europe, China, what their age is or other such factors.

The only thing that matters is what you can offer the team as it tries to achieve its objective. Based on this ability, you get respect and if you have something to give, they will want to work with you again. If not, they won’t.

All of this is related to the pressures involved in producing results. Everyone makes mistakes.Projects are born and they die. Everything is a learning experience and all lessons need to be learned, because we are working on something grand and there is no time for indecisive dawdling. If you want to witness this energy in action in Finland, register for region’s biggest start-up event on 21-22.11. at Kaapelitehdas: www.slush.fi But beware! You may learn something new!

The original copy of this article was published in Tietoviikko Magazine.
English version of the article is published in NOFEAR-COMMUNITY with permission.


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