The Pavilion Podcast
The Pavilion Podcast

Episode 242 · 4 months ago

Ep 242: Behind The Curtain Of An Early Stage Entrepreneur w/ Janis Zech, CEO Weflow

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Behind The Curtain Of An Early Stage Entrepreneur w/ Janis Zech, CEO Weflow

Part of the TGIM (Thank God It's Monday!) series hosted by Tom Alaimo.

This episode was brought to you by Clari. Drip, drip, drip. That's the sound of revenue leaking from Your Business, and it's your CEO is worths worst night there. Why? In tough economic times, every drop of revenue counts. Revenue leak represents money you've earned that is somehow slipping through the cracks. Luckily, our friends and Clary have a purpose built revenue platform designed to help you stop revenue leak and drive revenue precision through the framework of Revenue Collaboration and governance. To learn more, visit CLARY DOT com. Slash drive. All right, everybody, welcome back to the pavilion podcast, where we show revenue leaders the tips, tricks and tactics they need to be successful in their roles. I'm your host, Tom Alamo. I'm here with Joanna Zek, the CO founder and CEO of whe flow, coming at us from Germany, Janice. How are you? Hey, very well. How are you? I'm doing well. I'm excited to have you on and uh and talk all things entrepreneurship with you. Yeah, thanks for having me. Super excited about it. Yeah, for sure. So, Um. So, let's dive in. Um, there's a lot that I think we want to get to. And you know, just by looking at your linkedin and doing some research, it looks like, uh, you know, you you came straight out of university, like straight into an incubator. It sounds like you were uh, you tried to create a company or created a company while you were in university. So I'd love to hear Um about that first startup that you created, but also just the why behind that. You know, there's a lot of things that like when I was in university I was not starting companies, I was doing things much less productive than that. So I'd love to just see here kind of where where some of that mentality comes from for you. Sure, yeah, so, Um, yeah, I think they started my first company with twenty one second semester, my, My, uh, and the great years. And you know what, I honestly don't really know why I did it back then. I just realized that it's fun. You know, I teamed up with another person and we had this crazy idea and we just started building a product and utterly failed. And you know, I think that's also part of the you know reality of a startup that you know, you try and sometimes it just doesn't work out. Um, but I you know, I got the buck right. I realized that, you know, solving problems through technology together with other people is something I find extremely fascinating and I'm generally interested in many different things and I think as an entrepreneur, you're generally a generalist, right. So you you're focused on various different things. Um. And then over the years I honed in on, you know, becoming more focused on specific things like product and go to market. Um. But yeah, I think the the, the, the the in this...

...show. You know, it's why I did I didn't even know, you know. And Uh, and then I through that, I realized that's probably my journey. Um, and then kept kept on it. M Hm. So, Um, I'd love to hear about like I see Graduate University, you get into an incubator. Let's talk about like the first startup and then we'll get to Um, you know, maybe some more broader commentary around like, you know, the tactics that you use, the founding team, the skill sets, things like that. But I'd love to just hear Um, the first one failed. I don't know if it was the second one or if there was multiple failures in between that that first major success, but I'd love to hear you talk about that a little bit too. Yeah, yeah, so, I mean the second company was a company called five runned. I started it in Oh nine and run it five and a half years. When, after we were around three and fifty people, two and thirty million gross revenue. Um, you know, it was also listed. We sold it at some point after six years. Um. And I mean, you know, I think in the end, you know, what's this the major six tests or not? I don't know. You know, I think I always wanted to create an ever lasting company. Company still around. It's now part of a group called Digital Turbine, Um, and, you know, did six million revenues last year. So it's a it's a it's a real company with real people and, you know, like a real business, and I like that, you know. Um, I think that's that's not always something which fascinated me. And you have to imagine right back in the days, I mean we raised the even million of venture capital to get to eighty million grosser revenue, and and and and so so, you know, I think, you know, starting this company, Um, you know, I think I was twenty four when I started it and you know, most of my time I spent on product and go to market. And I think these two work really, really well together because in the end you are trying to identify a problem which is so painful that it needs a solution, right, and the solution, you know, can be manifold. But if you find in a way to solve it in the best possible manner, then you know you can essentially create a company out of that. Right. So I think most companies and most good ideas start with something which is fundamentally broken. Right. And I think there's so many examples where you look at, Oh, the Internet is there, we have a lot of websites. How do I find information? Rights? Google, right, or you know everybody, you know. You know, social networks have always existed, they just didn't exist digitally. And back in the days it was alien to actually give your real name in the Internet. Right. And and so facebook happen, right. And and and so I think these are fundamentally huge problems and the bigger the problem probably the bigger the potential outcome. Is Right, if you if you solve, you know, the energy crisis right now, you can create a massive company. The problem is often you need a unique insight to solve specific things, because you need to know what is fundamentally broken. Right. So...

...to understand like to to to to pretend to understand the problem, it's really, really difficult. You know, I had back pain's the last one and a half years and you know, without having back pain, you don't know how annoying it is to have back pain, right. So so I think, I think it's you know, and this is why often, you know, vcs look for this unique insight what you know other people don't know, and you know what? That makes you see the world a bit differently so that you see there's a problem where which is maybe not as obvious, and then you execute against it. So I think that's always a really good starting M hm. So Um to me, it feels like a lot of of what you need also is to have the time and space to to think about those things, because if if you're so busy in your day to day that you're grinded and you're hustling, like there's not a lot of time to ponder those existential questions, if you're, you know, running the sales org of of a startup. So would you do you agree with that? Like a lot of time, like I don't know if it's reading or writing or thinking to come up with some of these thoughts and see the world in a different way. Yeah, so I think there's a two things here, right. One is like, do you have the time, but also do you have the access to the specific problem? Right, so if you look around here, you probably see a lot of problems and some seem small but maybe they could become a company. So I think, I think time, you know, it's one factor, right, like how much time you have to actually even think about it, and I think that's definitely a challenge, right, if you're in a super busy job and you're basically fighting to make the next sport and the next port and the next quarter, right, like how do you how do you then take the time to really think about it? And then the other thing is Um, obviously it is risky, right, it's not. I mean, and I never got this, I was twenty three when I started my second company, which then, you know, it's worked quite nicely and and so you know. But now I have a family, right, and you know, it's it's a completely different ballgame, right too, and say, okay, I actually make a lot more money. Right, usually with like in your traineese earlier career. You don't make so much money. So you're not kind of yeah, your opportunity costs like fairly low. Um, so, and and at the same time, Um, you know, you, you, you, you have often a lot more time to think about certain things compared to being, you know, the C R O or vp of, say it's in a you know, fast growing company, where time is is really limited. So so, yeah, for sure, I think. I think this is this is not making it easier. Uh, and and yeah, so, Um, you know a lot of folks that listen to this are, you know, heads of sales or marketing or or rebops working at the startup. And I'd love to hear you we we talked a little bit about this before the recording, but I'd love to hear you expound on, you know, kind of the different skills that one...

...might need. Let's say you're running sales at a hundred persons started up, for example. Um, I imagine there's there's completely different skill sets between that or even being a founding sales team member versus starting a company on your own. I'd love to hear you talk about maybe like the similarities and differences to Um. What makes someone successful in each of those situations? Yeah, yeah, yes, so I think in every founding team you have specific roles, right. So typically there's a CTO, there might be somebody who's very product oriented or go to market oriented, Um and, Um, and so I think, you know, like fundamentally, the skill set of an early stage company often center around things which, from my point of view, a lot of states here's and leaders, a lot of sales he doesn't marketing leaders actually know a lot about, which is, you know, creating really high performing teams, Um and and and and and being really good at Um, at executing right. Um, I think the often, you know what what also plays a key role is to essentially, you know, take a problem and find a technology solution to that and build a product and spect a product. Right. So, and in my mind, you know, and I think I think that's quite normal, you're not starting a company alone, right so you you want to team up with other people and you find the right founding team and the right skill set to to make this successful. In every company is a bit different in that sense, but typically you have a technical founder and more business driven co founder, and I think the business drom co founder and then, you know, somebody needs your own product, right, so that's also really, really important. So I think in terms of skill set, it's certainly helpful if you have a generalistic view on marketing and product as well. Right, I think if you want to become a founder and really good go to market founder, you're very good at product, you're very good at marketing and you're very good at sales and obviously these are a lot of things right, and I think they are often, you know, like I mean, you have these typical conflicts between these in scale up companies and I think it's it's actually not a good thing. It's not a good thing in a in a scater company if there's a conflict between marketing and sales and and Um and and product and in the in the startup, you just don't have that organization. And the other thing I'd say is when you start out, I mean you often don't really have as much resources, right, so the headcount is very limited. So so you need to be excited about being very hands on. I think that is that is something which is fundamentally different to running a you know, a revenue team and a hundred or thousand people company, Um, where often you scale by attracting the best talent and then,...

...you know, becoming very metric driven to essentially help everything, to understand what works and really, you know, scale it, scale it right. So so, Um. So, yeah, I think, I think that that's from a world descripture is often a bit different. Um. And the last thing I'd say is like, I think, especially around developing the playbook, like understanding, you know, what's the positioning? What's the messaging? How do you you know, how do you speak about it? Right? I think these are fundamental things which are super important in a in a in a in an early stage company, once you're closer to to product. Montfit, do you think that there are people just innately that are, you know, more aligned to be, you know, a founder or co founder versus that ten tire or fifteen tire um? And like there's certain people that you know are more kind of like naturally disposition to to start something versus other folks that have that skill set, but maybe their skill set is on, you know, just attracting the right talent, or do you think some of these things can be learned and Um, you know, experimented with? I mean, I think this can be learned and I think it often appears to be something very magical happening there, but it's not that magical. It's actually quiet. Uh. You know, it is often a lot of work, right, uh, and and and and, but but so as many things, right. So it's not like. I mean, I think we all work a lot, so I don't think that that's so special. I think what I would say is, I think especially this, you know, being hence on and being very proactive. Right. So, if you're in a company with ten people, like, essentially everyone needs to be a hyper productive, everyone needs to make best use of their time every day, um and Um. And then I think the other piece is that in the beginning, right, like usually good software takes a while to build, right. So in the beginning you're not necessarily already selling, right, you're basically just trying to solve the problem, well, by building the software, and so Um. So that's that's my point. With like, if you're really good business founder, I think you should have an interest in building the best product. But I think that can be done also together with companies, and I think most of the best companies and best startups actually know their audience and their I C P and their persona's really, really well. They really understand the problems. They dive very deep and this is important for positioning messaging right outbound, you know, knowing the triggers, knowing the pain points. But this is also really important for product building Um and and then essentially translating that into a technical solution.

And so so typically what you see is that that most companies in the beginning it takes a while until you really market and you really sell right. It's not the first thing you do. The first thing you do is actually try to design the software um you're building Um to actually solve the problem really well. And so I mean you know Um, but but that doesn't mean Um, you know, that doesn't mean this can't be learned or or yeah, you you shouldn't do it right. I think I've seen many companies where the composition of the founding team was CTEO, CEO and then like C R O um. That has worked really, really well for for various companies. Can we go back to the the kind of like identifying problems stage of this whole thing, because if I'm if I'm a you know again, an exact that's listening to this maybe has a tendency towards, you know, thinking about entrepreneurship, wants to try their hand. I feel like once you get to a certain stage in your career, at the beginning of your career, there's almost like, uh, in some ways, no, it feels like there's no opportunities. You just are trying to like start, either start something or just like get in at the ground level at some company and then figure it out. And then you get to a point in your career once you've you've had some success and you've networked and built skills that there now seems to be an abundance of opportunities, right, and there's, you know, great founders maybe calling your name and saying hey, come join us and maybe you have an idea too around Um, you know, problems to solve or you know all these different things that that you could do, but you all obviously have to probably focus on on one thing too to really be able to do it well. So I'm just curious, like how you have as someone that you know, you found out your company, you sold it, you were considering what your next idea was going to be. Uh. So I'd love to hear, like, of all the problems you could solve, like maybe, how did you come up with the one or identify with your co founders that we flow was the problem that you wanted to work on for however long it takes for you to solve that problem in the market? Yeah, yeah, I mean so, Um, so. So, specifically with we flow, I mean we're essentially helping, um says, people to make quota by, you know, driving, says, efficiency and making, you know, everyone more effective in the game too, to essentially sell more. And so that's like fundamental problem. And you know, it really started with running the revenue team at five, which, when I left her, around hundred people, and what I saw was just a lot of time spend with not selling. And so I realized, okay, this is actually interesting, right, like like is time spend most sales people don't end Yuh, you know, it's...

...updating this rm, it's, you know, hunting rotten deals or Zombie deals. It's, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, you know, having these calls when you think, Oh, actually, we should have done better, discover your qualification. You know, this was a waste of time and and and and especially here, right where it's so important for revenues, like where you spend your time and how you spend your day and how structured you are around this. Um. We felt, okay, there's actually a big opportunity to make that a lot better. Right. So this was a problem we experienced firsthand, Um, and it was very much centered around the importance of the crm and especially salesforce and how, you know, how how our colleagues and we, as you know, as the as the Stacey that's interacted with it. Um. So I think this is quite typical that you lived through a problem yourself and it bugs you so much that at some point you're like, okay, actually it needs a solution. Uh. And then the question is, is it only bugging you or is it bugging many different people? So I think the first thing you do is you actually go and talk to similar people and ask them, you know, is this a problem? You know what exactly is the problems you you're asking a lot of why, Y Y questions, like why is this a problem? Why is this proble wise the problem, right, and and and and Um, and you go really deep of actually understanding is this a problem worth solving? Um, but there's many ways how you can find problems, you know, and so I run adventures to before what starting we flow and the idea was to essentially start new companies with fellow entrepreneurs who repeat follwers, and I want to do a new thing. And so what we did is we sat down in the room and we spend, you know, three months basically trying to, you know, go through the problems we lived through and really analyze pretty much everything. Uh, and it's it's not all centered around the problem, it's also centered around, okay, you know, is there a market? What are the competitors? You know, is there already a solution? Right, so what you do in in the initial phase, before you raise money or you actually decided to do it, is you really essentially write down what I call the most o case. So what's the problem? What's the market? What's what are the current solutions? What are they're falling short of Um, you know, how, you know, how would this look like? So to get a real idea and what kind of founding team would you need to make this successful and what kind of first hires? What you need and what kind of you know, can you bootstrap this or do you need investors for it and things again right. So so I think it really helps to write that down. Also calculated a quick business case and often puts stuff more into numbers so you actually see it. Does this have legs or not? And then the second phase is this. You speak to a lot...

...of a lot of Um potential customers and you really aren't in and try to understand Um. You know what's going on and the best companies are often founded by people who are operators, who see things in their day to day work and there's a problem. So everyone here works in companies, I assume, and they all see, you know, different teams and and so there's probably around everyone here a bunch of things which are consistently broken and you can fix and and the beautiful thing is that software and you know you can create very narrow solutions to actually build very big companies. If you think about Kellent Lee as an example, I think it's a great example because it's it's initially just booking, like scheduling meetings. It was very alien when it originally came right. People felt almost offended if you sent them coming leading and now it's just not even a question anymore. It's like it's it's it's uh, it's so inefficient not to do it right. And whether it's Kennedy or you know, I had that great situtions. Yeah, actually, pipe also right. So like there's many different right so so. So I think the point being like this is a very narrow problem, but it is a super annoying problem and it built a multi billion dollar company. So you know, spot those in your day to day life and then think about building a company around it. I think you can treat really, really awesome companies. M Hmm, that's that's great advice. Um, yeah, I was. I was we had a round table with had gone here with with our bounder and CEO Chicago Office recently and he was talking about something similar, where it's like, you know, five or six years ago, talking about like just the concept of recording a call with a customer, pretty basic, pretty easy. And then like where you've seen that whole market go of all the just different intelligence that it can offer to two teams and you know there's just there's there's tons of examples of that where it's like you solve one problem, but if you solve it so you get so deep in there and you solve for enough people. Um, you know can. It can create a huge, you know, multibillion dollar market. The last thing I wanted to, uh, to dive into with you before we get to our rapid fires. You honest, is around, uh, you know, picking the founding team right and you know, let's say you have the idea. You you've narrowed it down. Um, I'd love to hear, like, what you look for, Um, when you're or or how you advise other to look for, you know, Co founders, whether you know you're the let's say you might be to go to market, uh, person. You're looking for a technical co founder or whatever it may be, characteristics or track record, or you know, how you match up personality wise or whatever might be important to you in that scenario.

So I think here's some very specific advice on this. Um, write down how you like to work, what is important to you, what are your core values, and do that in a separate room with the other person. Spend a lot of time together right, like, and not like discussing the business, just just spending time getting to know each other and, you know, like answer the question of like, would you be excited about, you know, spend the next twenty years with that person. Can you imagine spending twenty years with that person or not? If the answer is no, just don't do it. And most companies fail because of founder conflict. Um and I think we all know this. And it's it's, it's, it's it's a deep down like you know, a lot of people talk about culture. It wasn't a culture of fit, but they can't really, you know, specify what what it means. And I think this is true for hiring, very much. So, really writing down your operating principles, right, this CRI. I mean how you work, what is important to you? What? How you think? You know, even, like, you know, maybe your political view is right. Your hobbies right, like what? Whatever? Like how much holidays do you want to take? You know, like how much do you want to work every week? Like it's fundamental questions which you would probably not ask during most interviews. Maybe one should, but like, you know, to really understand Um and. And then I think the other pieces, like is that a really good fit from a functional point of view? Right, so it's this, you know, person Um Um really up for you know, the challenge I had from a leadership perspective, which is extremely important and then also from a skill set perspective, Um. And there it comes down to. Most founders go through being very hands on and then being, you know, translating into leaders. So I think the importance for founders to be able to learn quickly. It is extremely important. In the end, the startup is like a learning journey. You basically go through multiple stages and your fundamentally always learning. You're always iterating, you're always changing, Um, and it's true for products, true for your culture, it's through for many different things. So so I think, yeah, these are some of you know, things which I hopefully help find find right people. Um. And Yeah, and of course I mean go through your network, try to to, you know, talk to to various people, and I really get to get a few whether you would you would love to work together. I feel like that even that exercise, doing that on your own, before you even decide, you know what what you want to do, is probably very important right to understand your own principles and you know what you want for your life and how you like to work and things like that, because that that in its own right, I can probably dictate. Yeah, you know, the type of life I want is one of you know, Sass startup founder, or it's first sales higher or it's when, you know,...

VP of sales at hundred thousand person company. Those are all very different lifestyles. So exactly exactly. I think it's extremely important to look. I think that sometimes the media, you know, illustrates start up founders that almost godlike, and the reality is lifestyle is actually really shitty, right, like and and and, you know, and you have to enjoy the path, you have to and I didn't really maybe, you know, did that when I was twenty one, but really being, you know, Um, yeah, really enjoying the journey. Um, and it's not always fun. You know, that's also true. I mean it Um. So so asking that question. You know, how would my co founder react if we have three more months of money and, you know, we have to fire, you know, half the staff, right, like, Um, and I think these are like things which happen all the time and you know, sometimes they end well and sometimes they don't, Um Um Um. But yeah, I think, you know, these exercises. I think they're also good for generally hiring and, you know, building a great culture. So we we did that at week flow before we brought the first person on board two, and now we map basically that against our hiring process and that can work as a company, but that can also work as a revenue team alone. Right, to be very clear on what are you operating principles? What are you looking for in hiring? And then being consistent, I think, is extremely important. So who you hire, fire and promote against your co operating principles and do that consistently is what you know, in my mind, defines culture. Um, yeah, yeah, that's that's great advice. All right, let's flip it to a couple of rapid fires. Let the audience know, Um, more about you. Um, so, yea honest we're big learners on this podcast. Curious, I m sure, if you're a reader or how much a reader you are, but I'd love to hear if there's any books that have greatly impacted you in your life or your career or even anything that you've you've read recently that's that's made an impact on you. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean I a really a lot on, you know, the subject matters I'm I'm focused on. But one book I read was and I still like a lot. It's like completely non business. It's more like a life topic. It's the data from him and Hess. I don't know if it's so known. Yes, Um, but it's essentially the journey of life and you know how you go through different stages and experience different things and fundamentally it's all not about that but other things. Um. So I think that, you know, impacted me quite a bit. I love it. How about any PODCASTS, blogs, newsletters? I'm not sure how you like to learn about some of these topics that we're talking about, like around entrepreneurship and business and anything like that, but Um, depending on on what you like, anything that you've been kind of binging or or really enjoying recently. Yeah, I mean I'm a big fan of UH, they can almond's thirty minute...

...to President Club. I think it's a fantastic podcast to just learn, you know, the specifics of you know how to do. You know what we all love better, Um and Um. And Yeah, I'm I'm also, you know, I think pretty I really like, you know, just following people on Linkedin and, you know, like seeing specific not not everybody you know, but like there's specific, good content there. Um. And then I mean on on startups. I mean there's a bunch of good, uh, good books around it. Um, I love, I love, from good to great. It's it's not not a start up book, but I think it's a fantastic book. It's very much standard around, you know, getting the right people on board and then focusing your strategy around that. I'm a big believer in, you know, trying to build high performance teams and, you know, really like everybody's saying hiring the best. Right, but what does it mean the best? And I think it's such a cliche. But then in reality it often looks very different and I think, if you know, most companies would try to get to, you know, fifties, sixties, sevent of people being really, really productive and enabling them to be more productive. I think it would be a great thing. Well, that, Um, what goes on, you're honest, in the headphones, music wise for you. Oh, you know, I used to be DJ when I was very, very young, um, and that that's past. Um. You know, I still like music a lot. Um. So Berlin is known for electronic music, Um, but I also very much like, you know, things like kings of convenience, Um, Tam and Pala, you know, very different artists. I have a bunch of spotify plantlists and yeah, I like it a lot. Not. Um, you mentioned uh, in a week or two year, going on vacation or taking a week off with the family. Curious. What do you like to do outside of work to recharge? Yeah, I mean, I think as many I love sports. So I been playing competitive sports when I was a child. So, so, so so still like to do it a lot. I'm like Kite Surfing, a lot of snowboarding, but I never do it so um, and yeah, I just go running and do do some you know, some training just to to recharge and then hang out with friends, family, our daughter. It's hard to mix kite surfing into the day to day like, you know, do that after work, you know, in the morning. It's it's something that you need like a lot of time to probably figure out exactly. I mean, you know, I love it, but maybe...

...maybe because I do it so seldom, I like it so much. I don't know. Um, yeah, but I just I just it's fun. Um, my last one for you. Who's someone that you'd love to see come on the pavilion podcast? Oh, that's a very, very good question. Um, who would I love to see podcasts putting you on the spot. Um, I don't know if you've ever been here, but kyle's from mixed Max GPS says that's pretty awesome. I don't think he's been on. Yeah, he should, say I can connect you with him. He's awesome. I'm a relatively new mixed Max user, so, Um, I'll take it. Maybe he's got some tips for me. Um. Be Honest, I appreciate you coming on. Before I let you go, uh, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about like where folks can connect with you, learn from you. Um, learn more about we flow. The floor is yours. Yeah, sure, I mean so. I'm on Linkedin. You honest say, Um, check out we flow, get we flow dot com. Um, if you're interested in chatting, just just ping me, drop me a message on pavilion select community or um or just on linkedin. Um, happy too, happy to hear from you and connect. And Yeah, I hope you, some of you, start to start their own companies or join companies early and make them really successful. If you ever want to chat about that, please, please let me know. Please reach out. Awesome. Be Honest. Thank you so much for coming on. Same here. Thank you for having me. This episode was brought to you by Clary, the only enterprise system that's purpose built to run revenue. CLARY's revenue platform helps identify and stop Revenue League so you can achieve revenue precision predictably and repeatedly. To learn more, visit CLARY C L A R I dot Com. Side Stret.

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