Our annual founder gathering is where we bring our founders together for an opportunity to connect, learn and reflect together. This year’s theme was “Resilience in Uncertain Times.” The journey of entrepreneurship is never without its challenges, but the past year has tested our founders in unprecedented ways.
At Northzone, we believe that the true beacon of inspiration for our founders comes from the opportunity to share in-real-life experiences and sessions with each other. This year, we gathered in Amsterdam for 24 hours. We’ve included key insights and highlights below.
Photo: Experiential dinner with art performances.
For a physical challenge, we opted for ice baths with the aim to give an energy boost for the day ahead. Besides the benefits cold water plunges have in physical recovery, the activity can potentially help reduce stress levels and improve overall mood, boost relaxation, strengthen immune function, decrease fatigue and improve quality of sleep.
Our brains are naturally programmed to perceive physical threats; however, often they can’t tell the difference between a threat to our physical survival and a threat to our identity, taking us into ‘survival mode’. This state of being becomes a blocker in our day-to-day growth but by being consciously aware of our state and using techniques to calm our minds and bodies down, we can endure proactively.
To put this to the test, we started with a breathwork session in preparation for the Wim Hof-inspired activity. We exercised this idea by attempting to keep our minds calm with our breathing, for exactly 2 minutes, whilst soaking in 3 degrees water… Our Scandinavian founders might have had an upper hand to this icy endeavour!
Photo: Ice baths led by Energy Up and Fenix Leadership.
The last three years have been a period of rapid capital infusion characterised by fast-moving fundraising, high valuations and ultimately high interest rates, which led to the recent market slowdown. We are in a very volatile market: while some companies are seeing strong growth and resilience, valuations have come down significantly from 2021. Interestingly for software companies, business spending and consumer reports have largely held up, indicating buyers are weathering the economic challenges well so far.
However, companies are not affected equally and a bifurcation is happening: companies perceived as “best in class” are far more likely to raise in this current environment. High-conviction investors have been proactive in pre-empting rounds as startups are willing to take money but are not officially raising. As we’ve been witnessing across the market, the clear winners are able to raise capital at reasonable valuations, well-capitalising these companies for the next couple of years.
As VCs focus on managing their existing portfolios and undergo internal restructuring amidst the market slowdown, it is now more crucial than ever to encourage recurring touchpoints between entrepreneurs and their investors.
Photo: Northzone Partner, Jeppe Zink.
We invited Andrey Jhusid, Founder of Miro for a fireside chat with our partner Michiel Kotting. Having built Miro from the ground up into a durable business with over 30 million users, Andrey is no stranger to the challenges founder’s face. He shared his personal story and founder journey with us, diving into how he’s dealt with the big and small challenges that have come his way, creating and maintaining culture through the different phases of the company, his experience scaling internationally and more.
From the tenacity needed in the early days to the cruciality of adapting to the fluctuating markets, he shared that his keys to success are patience, adaptability, and commitment to customers.
Photo: Lunch by the canal.
We believe sharing group wisdom in a safe environment with like-minded individuals that are going through similar situations is an extremely useful exercise. Exploring their past, present, and future, our founders shared war stories and learnings, explored strategies and best-practices to navigate their current biggest challenges and set goals to keep themselves focused and accountable. Led by Freddie Birley, Coach at Pop, our team took a step away in order to allow our founders to open up about leadership and personal challenges in a confidential setting.
The experience equipped our founders with new tools, perspectives, and insights intended to help them grow as leaders and humans. Split into two sections leadership and personal, the main challenges that were brought up were team motivation and urgency; ownership and independence; executive alignment and focus; codifying values; hiring and retention; building a high performance culture; and communicating direction and vision on the leadership side. And on the personal side, motivation, energy and burnout; prioritisation; focus, efficiency and distraction; trust and efficient delegation; expectation and relationship management; and balance, headspace and boundaries.
Incentivising teams is a skill founders have to hone as they build defining-category companies. We spent some time thinking about organisational resilience with Merten Wulfert, CEO of Ravio (a Northzone portfolio company) who specialises on compensation benchmarks for fast-growing companies and Noor van Boven, an international talent expert, previously a VP People at Soundcloud and N26.
As the conversation around team performance, ROI and retention continues to be top of mind, we focused on the evolution of rewarding and compensation. Today, it’s important to be transparent. Clarifying the complete overview of what your company offers as ‘rewards’ helps an employee understand all the benefits on top of just their salary package. Clearly outlining your compensation approach, explaining how you determine salaries and bonuses compared to industry standards enables your employees to understand their market competitiveness. And finally, educating employees on equity compensation and how the market affects it will help them understand its importance and how it operates within your reward strategy.
Leveraging the potential of your board is a critical factor in achieving long-term success, especially during the most challenging periods. A high-functioning board should have a diversity of experience across strategy, financial markets and operations. As a founder, it is essential to consider yourself an integral part of the leadership board, fostering trust, respect, and clear communication.
At Northzone, our ethos is deeply rooted in building genuine connections – that is with investors, customers, founders. We firmly believe that getting to know each other on a deeper level is one of the most effective ways to truly anticipate expectations, and, most importantly, offer support when it’s needed most.
Board members are an extension of the leadership team and should be tapped into as such, and the process of selecting its members is just as critical as assembling the right team. Our Partner Wendy Xiao has pulled together a list of the “10 archetypes” of VCs on your board, you might be able to relate: Voices Around The Table.
As we wrap up we realise the real key to a successful founder gathering is the mindset and collaborative spirit our founders bring to the retreat. We’re grateful to our founders for giving us the opportunity to connect and share this experience with them in person despite their busy schedules and to Amsterdam for welcoming us with blue skies!
Photo: September, 14th 2023 in sunny Amsterdam.