A Founder Perspective on COVID19

As a founder of a biotech company and passionate ecosystem builder I am fortunate to know both sides: I am a founder of a biotech company and work with international ecosystem builders at the Startup Heatmap Europe.  From this perspective, I feel obliged to stress the point that for startups the current COVID19-related situation is very stressful – and ecosystem builders need to understand this. 

The general mode of a startup is the survival mode. So, when the economy contracts, this struggle and stress intensifies exponentially. I will shoot the founder perspective straight to the point and hopefully this will help to understand the stress level and issues that most startups have. 

  1. Don’t downplay the dangers

Oftentimes startups are approached too soft. I believe that such an approach is generally dangerous even in the beginning of the startup journey. Why? Because building a company is super tough and because the market doesn’t care if the product or service has no market fit. A too soft approach and coaching might mislead the founders.

But the soft approach is even more dangerous in a crisis. Today’s, dynamic here is very clear:

The Death Valley for startups has become deeper and wider. You have to speak clear words here. Liquidity is essential and there are clear guidelines (See this letter of Sequoia to their founders).

  1. Loans are irresponsible

Governments issue regulations for access to loans for small companies and some ecosystems promote it as a solution for the liquidity problem. In my opinion, as long as a startup does not have a history of positive cash flows and/or funds from the raised funds on the bank account, promoting loans is irresponsible. This step would just postpone the problem and, depending on the company structure, could possibly lead the founders into personal liability in case of insolvency. There are always exceptions, but in uncertain times and contracting economy the startup journey is by far a different game than in a growing economy. Here are some words by Mark Cuban about starting a company on a loan. A better alternative can be a convertible. But I haven’t heard of governments being open to such a solution so far. If you know any sources, please share them with the Ecosystem Survival Team.

  1. Optimism

Building a company without optimism is a bad idea. Losing optimism as a founder in a crisis is 10x as worse than a bad idea. Even in a crisis, startups that have the growth mindset will learn from the situation, adapt, maybe even pivot and grow as a company, as a team and as a person. But beware of false optimism. Hoping that the crisis will not hit hard or that the government will bail you out, is false optimism. Assuming that the crisis will be harder and longer than we all want it to be sets the frame for the right preparation and calculation. If the crisis will be softer then the team will do even better. So, don’t fall back into strategizing etc., adapt and execute. Fast!

  1. Community events 

Community events are vital for ecosystems! Please continue them online! But they should address the real problems startup have right now: liquidity, growth, communication, visibility, relevance. You could expose for example experienced founder and/or investors, who have been through economic downturns, so they can share their experiences.

Hackathons to fight the consequences of COVID-19 are fashionable now and they will spur the growth of a “Cov-Tech Cluster” – so for sure for some startups they are an opportunity. Also, they help to maintain a positive image of the startup scene in society. We have seen great examples like Hack the Crisis from Estonia or Tech4Covid19 in Portugal. However, the harsh truth is they do not keep struggling startups alive – they are rather time-consuming extra activities, which pull resources from saving real startups. I am glad that they take place, but not EVERY ecosystem needs to run one, and not every ecosystem builder must stop doing their job to organize a Corona hackathon.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask unpleasant questions

What are relevant topics for start-ups and entrepreneurs now? What do they need and what can ecosystems provide now?

Do new opportunities open due to the current situation?

How to evaluate, who should rather file for bankruptcy and who should continue to fight? How to evaluate, which companies should we target for an exit now?

I know these question are unpleasant, but they are becoming reality now.

It is clear already that strong ecosystems are more resilient in crisis, because they mobilize resources quickly and adapt to the needs of startups. The commitment and dedication of startup ecosystem builders, your commitment, is what makes the difference in the survival of startups hit by the crisis.

Thanks everyone for keeping startup communities running!


This post has been also published on startupsandplaces.com

Growth does not happen. Growth is done.

Growth is about transformation.

Growth is about building new connections.

Growth is about creating new structures.

Growth is about conquering the unknown.

Growth is about balance of the growth process itself.

Growth is not a bet.

And the list might go on and on.

The market orientation and other variables are well understood by startups, or at least the necessity to understand those variables should be present. I think the most important variable is still often neglected: personal growth and transformation. You cannot coach yourself to exhaustion, faint, wake up and expect to be transformed. You have to do the work. You have to work for the growth to happen.

The growth of startups I am referring to is not short-term but is rather to long-term building process that does require a personal growth with fundamental personal transformation. There might be an endless list of references for personal growth. You name it! Here I can speak for myself and share my learnings with you.

Growth has to be for a good reason.

One of the best reasons is always a win-win. Because that’s what makes you feel good about the next step. Although personal transformation is about the “Alice in Wonderland” feeling, there are three aspects that can guide us and tell us that we are on the right path.

Let go.

You have to let something go that held you back from the next step. This step is not painless, because you let something go that served you well in the past. It maybe the way you treat people in general or the way you react to conflicts or problems. But you know that you made the decision take yourself to the next level. It’s like writing. You cannot write the next sentence unless you make the full top and start writing a new sentence. You have to make your point and head toward the next point. So, growth cannot be only an accumulation of qualities and skills, it has to be also letting go the old ones.

Embrace the unknown carefully.

Startup life is fast. But in personal transformation, don’t rush. When you come to the point, where you want to make a decision to make the next step in your personal transformation, take your time to reflect. How much time? Here it is important to keep your feet on the ground and not get lost in fantasies. I think with two hours of focused reflection, alone or with a friend, should be enough, to bring you to the point, where you can make a decision, what to do next and what to leave behind. The situation will be new, even though the circumstances will be the same. Don’t rush. Adapt steadily, conquer the new terrain and be prepared for the high and the lows.

Perceive the immediate results.

It sounds like magic and it somehow is. You will see immediate results and you will feel different about things that will happen. And it doesn’t matter whether the perceive it in a new way because your perspective has changed or because things and people start changing around you. Both go hand in hand. Don’t overthink this. Be practical.

So next time you are stuck somewhere, and you are waiting for something to happen, recall to your mind that growth does not happen, growth is done and apply this: let go the old, embrace the unknown carefully and perceive the immediate results.

And most importantly: remember people, who helped you to get here and feel grateful about this chance to grow!

Why I create my own quotes

No question that everyone has a lot experience to with the world. So, I wondered what the best way is to share my experience in an effective and efficient way for the reader and for myself. That’s how I came up with quotes.

Quotes can inspire. Good quotes resonate instantaneously with the human mind in such a way that a person might discover new perspectives, values and directions, that were invisible before. That’s why, any good quote is somehow inspirational.

But it’s not only about discovering new perspectives. It’s is also about taking action. Reflecting upon a particular quote in a certain situation in life has the potential to fundamentally change one’s direction in life. The change might be in lifestyle, values, how we treat others and ourselves or change of the career path. It is actually striking to me how often quotes pop up in our minds, when we have a conversation on something of great importance impacting our lives. That is what I call a “good quote”. A good quote has a measureable or visible impact on the reader.

Good quotes are often counterintuitive, and on the surface, they sound not rational. But when we reflect upon them, we might find a lot of rationality. Good quotes are the expression of our human experience in a very condensed form.The less, the better. The simpler, the stronger.

There are two reasons why you should also create your own quotes.

#1 It’s great to express yourself in an authentic way. You express your experience and your personality in a very condensed form. It’s much easier for others to understand why you care about something and what you care about most. The signal cannot be overheard or overseen.

#2 By posting your own quotes you can expand and develop the expression of yourselfbecause personal quotes, that you post publicly, are also commitments. If you don’t follow your principles, people won’t believe your truths. It’s important to have our own truths and our own “Why”s. Posting one’s quotes is a commitment-test for yourself.

Of course, you could also post other quotes. But hiding behind someone else’s quotes makes you as a person invisible. If you want to become more visible, here are some principles I follow when I create quotes:

Don’t overthink. It’s about expression of yourself and your values. First expression, then reflection.

Find the Why.If you get inspired by particular quote, ask yourself why you like it and write it down. Play with the words and you will discover a deeper meaning of the quote for yourself. It’s this deeper meaning that touches you and resonates with your experience.

Reframe a quote.Find a quote that really moves you, inspires you and try to reframe it. Pour your own and unique experience into this quote.

Spontaneous quote.When I go through a particular experience in life, words just pop up in my mind that sum up the lessons I am currently going through. I made it a habit to note them immediately and not reflect at all. When it’s noted I start to reflect and make it simpler but stickier.

Quotes are about expression of ourselves, inspiration and giving the value of your experience to others. So, play with these three variables. You are unique and there is not a single reason to hide behind someone else’s quotes.

Startup Architects, Consider These Two Principles for Your Startups!

Practical advices are valuable. Practical insights are invaluable. Advices show the direction, insights uncover principles. Here’s what I learned about advice and principles for starting startups.

Building a startup is a lot of fun and work. And you should ask for advice, whenever you can. The advantage of advice is that it shows directions: where to look for product-market-fit, whom to speak to when raising funds, where you could present your product, etc. And as a rule of thumb, experienced professionals and entrepreneurs are very generous with giving advice and sharing their experience.

The problem starts when you start getting too much advice from different sources. While all of the information may seem to be credible and valuable, how do you decide which direction to go?

Advice overload can quickly lead to indecisiveness and inability to execute. The result is something people call luck. Since I don’t want to rely on luck and I actually enjoy work, I decided to analyze all the advice and available knowledge, trying to come up with an optimal blueprint to build a startup. I found many similarities between successful companies: leadership, team, investment, strategy; but there are also plenty of contradictions. I came up with two main principles for building a startup.

Both principles are fundamentally different from each other, but both start with you. Either approach is fun, generates value and creates a solution to solve some kind of problem. Neither is better than another, right or wrong; the difference is purely circumstantial.

That is why you should consider both principles I am going to write about as an exercise to assess the motivation, why you are building or joining your startup. The primary rationale behind this exercise is that the principles determine the architecture of the startup.

Number One – I call it Startup Assembling. Here we have a clear purpose and clear picture of the future. The problem you want to solve identified and the addressed opportunity is quantifiable. Here the main characteristic is clarity. The good thing about this approach is that because you have a clear view of your value-adding activities, the startup journey can be reverse engineered. By identifying the essential parts of the big picture, you can engineer the process of startup building step by step. That is why the vital resources here are skill and experience.

Number Two – The other approach I call Startup Envisioning. The envisioned destination is only blurry, BUT the direction is clear. The path is guided by (personal) values, by principles, by the necessity to make an impact in a particular market. Here we have a lot of experimentation. The outcomes of the experiments cannot be anticipated, and the results cannot be engineered. It’s the results and learnings that form one step at a time that allow the startup to evolve. It is probably the entrepreneurial journey with the highest uncertainty. And the critical resource here is passion. And passion cannot be reserve engineered; it’s what I believe.

I know both principles are meta and this is my attempt to put it in words. Take it as an exercise to explore why you are on your startup journey and how you are going to approach it.

Go through the features of the Startup Assembling and Startup Envisioning approaches I have identified so far and reflect which path you are on.



Startup Assembling

Startup Envisioning

Clear picture of future value Blurry, but explicit direction
Reverse engineering Passion-driven
Quantifiable opportunity Creation of the opportunity
Components to be assembled Build components one after the other
Initial trust (“makes sense”) Initial disbelief

Limitations are just opinions.

Startup life is tough. The last months were very tough for me. Not primarily because of the startup. It’s tough mainly because I have to balance many uncertain variables. To make life certain for the family, I worked a lot, and in the free time, I worked on fundraising, finishing demanding scientific projects and preparing presentations. I stopped counting hours because things just had to work out. And they did.

What puzzled me was the state of never-ending regeneration, the lack of energy. I struggled to find the strength to sustain my work speed I have built and that I really enjoy. I struggled to maintain the flexibility in thinking, in working and in shifting the focus from one activity to another.

I reflected a lot of the reasons or looked for explanations. And surely, I found some. But they didn’t change the state I was in. On January 16th, I had enough. Instead of looking for reasons and explanations, I just did, what felt right at that moment. I meditated for a while, calmed my thoughts, and to my surprise, I didn’t feel significantly better. On the contrary, I felt a little weaker.

Again, I started to ponder “Why is it so difficult to find the balance?” Then I suddenly realized, this question, this thought is stopping me from taking any action, it’s weakening me. So I packed my bag and I went to the gym, tired as I was, and started to do my workout. And guess what happened to me? After overcoming mental limitations and physical inertia, I began to feel energy and power.

That’s how I found the truth about limitations. They are just opinions. So next time, when you think about limitations or difficulties, treat them as opinions. Opinions can be challenged easier and changed faster.


What is Your Passion?  

Once a thing called “passion” comes into play, be aware that clarity is on the way. That is why this post is brief. I am grateful for all the experiences that brought me to this post and happy to share it with you.

Now, take a deep breath…and read the lines with passion. <3

Passion is fearless. If you are afraid of failure, then you probably are not passionate about what you are doing.

Passion fuels action. Passion defines failure differently: Not acting is failure.

Passion manages complexity. When things are overwhelming, listen to the voice of your passion. The noise will disappear and the situation will become clear.

Passion brings value. The only reason for existence of passion is to make things better and build value.

Passion is always unique. There is no general method to discover one’s passion for something. It is a personal journey. And it never ends.

I am curious about your personal journey to passion. Where do you stand now? DM me on IG or FB.

Thanks for reading!

The day I forgot my notebook

Over the last year I have developed a very productive habit. I commute every day and spend at least two hours in the train: one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. I learned to use this time very efficiently because the time is constrained, distractions are limited and no stable internet connection is available. So, when I take a seat in the train, it’s all about focus, focus, focus.

Working in the train has become a powerful habit, but how powerful a habit can be I discovered, when I forgot my laptop in the office.

Well, on that evening, in the empty train without the notebook, I decided to note down, what is on my mind. I used the rest of the time to reflect upon that list and tried to prioritize the points. Then it stroke me that everything I have written is purely business-related. I mean everything! I was surprized because I love to spend the time with my family. Why was my list so focused?

Then I remembered, what I know about habits. They are connected with the environment. No wonder that in my “peak performance” environment I could think only about business-related issues. Now, I was relieved.

But on the next day, I stumbled upon Karl Quint’s micro vlog for startups. He talked about work life balance in startups and importance of mental and physical health for success. So, I gave more thought to it. Indeed, there is no balance in the startup life and I actually think, it is the right way for startups. But this experience revealed to me, how important it is not to lose control of our habits.

For example, if you start working home, even on small tasks, then you will likely develop a habit of “working at home”. Which is not bad. But when you come home and expect your mind to relax and it doesn’t work, it might be this particular habit that inhibits relaxation.

Habits, once developed, make our lives easy and efficient. Remember that it’s you, who creates habits. So be in control of your habits!


Starting-up in Life Sciences

Zeitgeist, Complexity, and Verticals

Business is hard. Starting up a business is harder. Starting-up in life sciences is…well…very hard. Why? There are a couple of issues making starting-up in life sciences very challenging. I will consider the typical scenario of a university spin-off and share my personal experiences.

But I don’t want to bore you with the typical issues like IP protection, business models, the industry you want to address, competition, and so on. I rather want to share those aspects that were not covered by mainstream resources and hence were underestimated by myself.

The Zeitgeist

Be prepared for an annoying issue. The tech-hype got us all. Almost everybody seems to think that reality can be simulated or digitized. Life science startups are not necessary digital start-ups even though data is of central importance for them.

If you are not a digital startup, be prepared be perceived as one. Craft your pitch in a way that people get from the beginning that you are not a digital startup. Since, all experiments generate data, use words like “data”, “IT” or “automation” very carefully and put them into the right context. Although it might be sexy to sell your idea as if in the digital context, it is up to you how to back up the buzz words with facts.

The Complexity

Technology in life sciences has an immense diversity of applications. I know how tempting it is to brag about the potential here and there. Working with proteins might open endless opportunities, but nobody will believe that until you demonstrate that unlimited potential in reality.

In our first steps, we were given the advice that still resonates: “It sounds like you have a great idea and technology. Imagine that this represents your ten fingers. The next step is to cut off nine fingers”.

The fact is, more complex solutions do not solve those complex problems. Simple solutions solve them.

The Verticals

When selecting your target market, you need to be aware of its potential. Presenting your start-up to people from your core industry is a must. You will get probably insights that you are not the only solution on the market, so you need to communicate clearly your value proposition, uniqueness, positioning, and reliability. And you better craft them before you speak to an expert audience.

But what about adjacent verticals? I found talking to people from adjacent verticals and business development consultants in life sciences very rewarding to anticipate the potential beyond the core industry. For example, the design of industrial enzyme relies on technologies and applications that are also found in pharma R&D. Unexpected to me, but it totally makes sense.

The Balance

It is always difficult to shift the focus from the core idea because it might lead to the loss of focus. So, you need to balance those two opposite perspectives: focus on core business and explore the potential beyond your focus. The best option to achieve it is to have people in the team, who have a talent for one extreme but not for the other. Finding the right balance between the opposites and understanding the other position creates mutual trust, amazing results and opens whole new perspectives, which you have never dreamed of.

The figure-it-out-skill: Part 2

In my last post, I introduced the figure-it-out-skill. The central skill you need to master the challenges of a start-up because for many problems in a startup solutions do not even exist. You have to figure out, the “what”, the “why” and the “how”.

To master the figure-it-out-skill, we need be aware of certain obstacles that lead us to something I call pseudo-solutions. They actually interrupt the process of figuring out and we accept the pseudo-solution as a solution.

Humans develop routines to minimize brain activity as an act of self-preservation. Using already accumulated routines, each of us can probably suggest to every problem at least one solution. However, this behaviour is jeopardous, when you are navigating uncharted sea.

Knowing a solution, does not mean, it is the right one.

It’s pretty obvious. Something that worked in the past may work in future, but the probability decreases because the context changes. Understand this: we innovate or test new ideas to because we somehow negate present state (of knowledge) and want to change the status quo. So if we are passionate about this kind of change, we should be beware of solutions you already know because they worked out in the past. They might be ineligible in future.

Talking about solutions, will not solve the problem.

I assume that we mix up words with the real world in our brains. And then wait for results from words. Words don’t move, action does!

Talking is not any better than wishful thinking. So, the best way to start is to stop wishful thinking and stop talking. Start studying a problem that interests you using an optimistic attitude. Don’t let your actions get paralyzed by words or even big ideas we like to talk about.

Enforcing any solution, is not about problem solving.

Instead of figuring out what is really going on, the solution is enforced again and again. Most of the time the context rejects solutions of these unimaginative fellows, who are obsessed with their top-down mentality. No room left for new ideas. The uniqueness of the context is disregarded.

When a solution is enforced then it’s more about power and not about solving a problem. Imagine how boring a world would be if there would be a quick fix for anything.

Figuring out the solution.

If you don’t accept fast pseudo-solutions than you will likely find fulfilment in problem solving; and this will be your unique and personal experience.

To me, the level of mastering the figure-it-out-skill is directly correlated with the depth of understanding a problem. The more you understand the problem with its causes, present and future implications, the better you can figure out the right solution and test it. Understanding the problem does not mean focusing on it. It is a constant and creative shift from understanding the problem and finding not any, but the right solution.

The figure-it-out formula 😉

Figure-It-Out-Skill ∝ Ability to Understand the Problem

The-Figure-It-Out-Skill – Part 1

Are you a big fan of How-To advice? If so, don’t read this post because you will not like it. But if you want to learn why we fail to apply the how-to advice, then go on.

My biggest problem with all the how-to advice by books or people, even successful ones, is that they forget the key to the how-to. There is an implicit expectation that by knowing the “how-to”, the magic will happen. But it most likely won’t.

First of all, one question must be raised: “Will I?”. And this question shouldn’t be answered too fast. It’s not “Do I want?”, “Can I?” or “Do I have to?”. The question is “Will I?”. Before you say yes, think about all the consequences. Well, at least the most important ones.

The product of the question “Will I?” creates commitment. It’s the personal commitment that creates the magic. Commitment is never a result of an existing solution. It’s the condensed form of the initiative to solve a problem. Now, the search process for the right tools begins. And if you still want to answer the question “Will I?” with a “yes”, now it’s the right time for the search process for the how-to-tools.

Someone, who has already done or is currently in this process, will know that there are many tools and many solutions. For many problems in startups, solutions do not even exist. And the problem of too many solutions or no solutions only one skill can manage. I call it the figure-it-out-skill.

The figure-it-out-skill must be perfected every day. It is our personal response to problems and difficulties. This skill demands to learn and is highly dynamic. Otherwise, solutions would not exist at all. This skill fully requires consideration of the current context, which is rapidly changing.

Knowing that, please do me a favor and don’t rely on the startup or some life advice recipes. Just take a step back and answer the question “will I?” Will I accept the challenges, the work, the punches, the failures, the responsibility for progress? Will I accept happiness in work? Or even happiness in failure?

You have 5 minutes to figure it out!