Lasse Andresen, Smpl’s start-up guru and unicorn founder, shares his advice on what makes start-ups successful.
Lasse is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of ForgeRock, which hit unicorn status when it floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2021.
But he’s also a passionate keyboard player who has toured the world.
Here, with a bit of help from Queen and the Rolling Stones – as well as an incident involving a camel – he explains what drives successful start-ups.
1. There’s no room for pretenders
I’ve been part of a lot of interesting start-ups but originally I just wanted to be a musician. That’s my big passion.
Unfortunately, the tab we had behind the bar was always bigger than the money we got for playing, so the business model didn’t scale. Instead, I had to do something else. I had to find somewhere else to direct that passion.
These days, what wakes me up in the morning is finding and investing in new technologies and building new teams. I wake up wondering what I have been missing when I was sleeping. Fear of missing out is why I don’t sleep so much!
But that musical passion still comes through my companies; the values we have, how I build my teams, even how I pick company names. There’s a reason that ForgeRock [the unicorn start-up that Lasse floated on NYSE] has the word ‘rock’ in there.
The road can be hard for entrepreneurs and innovators. You have to find and channel whatever makes you passionate.
2. Do the fandango
As a founder you can’t have a Plan B. If you are betting on Plan A and – at the same time – putting a Plan B together then you do not believe in what you’re doing and you’ll probably fail.
Near my home in Norway is the most famous place in Europe for BASE jumping. When you go to the top of that mountain and you jump there is no Plan B. Just like that, you must focus and believe in what you’re doing.
Along the way you are going to need to make bets, like Queen did with Bohemian Rhapsody. Everyone was, like: ‘You’re crazy! You’re going to put together a song that’s six minutes long and you’re going to have opera in the middle?’ But they believed in it and now the song one of the most played songs on the planet.
Of course, you’re not going to win every time you roll the dice. But if you’re not making those bets then you’re not learning and you’re not innovating.
Based on the choices you make and what the data tells you about the result, you will evolve, learn, and change. That will mean Plan A is constantly changing but it’s still Plan A. Having a Plan B is absolutely the wrong way to go.
3. Put the band together
When it comes to a company or a band, it’s all about execution and for that you need the right people.
If you have the best people in the band and you walk on stage and perform, then you’ll get the audience to join in and everyone will have a great time.
In company terms, that applies to whether the audience is your customers, your employees, or your teammates. Having the right people is at the core of everything.
Too many entrepreneurs think they must be the smartest people in the room (and sometimes the only person in the room).
If you think like that then you’re going to lose out. Even if you are the smartest person in the room, there’s no way you can stay on top of everything.
If someone comes to me with a good argument or idea about how to do things differently and I learn something from them, then I’m happy to say ‘Let’s change Plan A’. That’s how innovation happens.
And don’t be afraid of having diverse opinions, characters, or approaches.
In the tech world I’ve seen so many brilliant engineers that leaders have problems managing. Very often the engineer is not the problem, the manager is the problem.
If you’re paid to handle people who are very demanding – but are brilliant – you should embrace that and work out how to do it.
Look at the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards was probably not easy to manage but he brought something that helped turn them into the biggest rock n’ roll band in the world.
4. It’s a wonderful world
No matter how great you and your team are, don’t be fooled into thinking you can do everything better yourselves. You’ve got avoid ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome.
If you think you can do it all then you’ll spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel rather than using stuff that already exists.
Instead, tap into people and tech that are already around to build something that is larger than yourself.
A good example from the tech world is open source programming. There are many ways to be commercially successful using it, even if that code is not your own and it’s freely available. So many unicorn IPOs in the last decade or so have been based on open source.
Open source is all about inclusive innovation and building something bigger than yourself. Embrace that concept, whatever it is you’re doing.
Think about how you can expand beyond the boundaries of your company; about how to create a community you can collaborate with and share stories with – something that is larger than the limitations of your own little team.
5. Create your own culture club
When you are building your company, you don’t just need to know what you’ll do, you need to know who you’ll be.
Company culture is the way you think, act, and interact every day. For me it’s all about passion and innovation and inclusivity. It’s about having fun, kicking your competitors’ ass, and being very successful in delivering for your customers.
Of course, music works really well for building and moulding a culture.
I still haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like music of some kind or other. It’s a very common international language and it’s great for building a platform for communication and for creating shared moments.
I take my staff ‘on tour’ where we take a week and go somewhere nice. It’s all about building a sense of trust and of belonging.
It gets pretty rock n’ roll sometimes. Like when I ended up walking through a hotel with a camel, looking for the swimming pool together.
These trips are all about creating stories that people can be part of and can share and still talk about years later. Stories that bring people together.
Of course, when it came to the camel, we then had the problem of people asking ‘what the hell are you doing next year to top that?’