Author Archive

6 biggest mistakes early-stage start-ups make

Posted on: March 21st, 2023 by Andreas Olsen Dag No Comments
Our head of business advisory, Desi Olsen, has advised businesses for almost 30 years and put many start-ups on the road to success. Here he looks at the biggest mistakes early-stage start-ups make – and how you can avoid them.

Mistake 1: Founders thinking it’s a part-time job

Running a successful start-up is not a job for part-timers.

As a founder, your work needs to be your passion and your focus  – during work hours at the very least – if you want to make it a success.

A surprising number of founders don’t get this; there’s plenty who think they can do whatever they want, particularly when they’ve got investors on board and some cash in the bank.

These founders usually see their firms fail.

If you aren’t willing to commit yourself full-time, or you’re looking for excuses not to do the work, then maybe a start-up isn’t right for you.

So, get off that beach and put down the piña colada… It’s time to get to work.

Build your business first. Then sandcastles later.

Mistake 2: Over-complicating your offer

Instead of trying to do everything at once, focus on solving one problem really well.

So many people try to do everything at once and it’s a recipe for disaster. Our Head of Development, Andras has seen a lot of this. He calls it ‘creating monsters’.

It makes him sad, because it’s the easiest way to kill a good idea.

Please don’t make Andras sad.

It’s tempting to add features early on that you think will make your product or service more compelling, but this usually just makes it harder for users to understand what you are selling.

The best start-ups concentrate on a single task or problem they can solve better than anyone else in their space.

The best way to do this is workshop your idea and then create a prototype that really nails down the best version of that idea.

A schematic of one of Smpl's client protoypes
Smpl’s User Experience (UX) expert, Jingjing, designing a prototype

Focus on solving a core problem rather than building infrastructure that does not generate revenue or help the business grow faster.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be planning and scheming for the future, at the same time

Yes, it is important for an early-stage start-up launching a product to focus on getting out there quickly with an MVP (minimum viable product). But you also need to make sure you have built an infrastructure and have a roadmap that lets you iterate and improve as you go along, based on data and customer feedback.

Mistake 3: Not thinking through structures and finances

One of the biggest mistakes early-stage companies make is not thinking through:

  • ownership
  • equity
  • capitalisation

Addressing these issues early on can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

The first step is to decide how you want to structure your ownership. That means answering questions like:

  • Do you want everything owned by one or two people?
  • Are there any investors involved?
  • How much equity will each owner get?
  • Are there any outside partners who want to invest in the company but don’t want an ownership stake (e.g., banks)?

Then it’s time to figure out how much money needs to come from outside sources, such as angels or venture capitalists (VC).

If someone else is providing capital then they will likely be taking some form of equity or convertible debt, so that needs to be worked out too.

Mistake 4: Not protecting your intellectual property (IP)

Ideally, you’d work through your IP before you even incorporate.

As early as possible, I’d suggest you:

  • Identify what IP you have and what you need to develop more fully
  • Speak with a legal expert who specialises in this area to draft a plan for protecting and developing your IP

You’ll need to consider issues around:

  • brand names: it’s important you protect company or product names with a trademark (i.e. a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the marked goods from those of others)
  • patents: stop people ripping off your ideas with patents, which give you the right to exclude others from making use of your invention while patent lasts

Mistake 5: Launching too soon

The thing that will differentiate you – as an entrepreneur or innovator – from most others, is doing something.

The power of an idea – however good – is only ever in its execution.

Smpl's Desi Olsen on top of a cliff, looking down into a fjord
The author, Desi. Out there. Doing things.

My experience is you’ll never feel truly ready to launch your firm and a lot of people will tell you just to get on with it. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.

But before you launch you still need to make sure you have some important pieces in place. These include:

  • a product that people need and can afford – and which you can get to customers in a timely way (nothing kills a new firm quite like failing to deliver on its promises)
  • stakeholder validation – you must listen to customers, staff, investors, (etc.), and get answers to questions like “Do people want the thing I’m selling?” and “Does it actually work?” You’d be amazed by the volume of poor decisions made based on either false assumptions or business owners believing their own hype
  • clients under your belt – you’ll ideally have at least a couple to act as case studies or testimonials before you really push your platform, product, or service. (Many firms will want proof of your bone fides, and won’t want to feel like guinea pigs, particularly in B2B)

If these things aren’t already checked off your list, then hold your horses! Get them in place before you open for business.

Mistake 6: Hiring people who are the same as you

Hiring in your own image can be the comfortable, easy thing to do, but you should avoid it.

You need people with skills and experience that complement yours. On top of that, your team should have different backgrounds from you, as far as is practicable.

Diversity will promote creativity and productivity, as well as help keep everyone honest and open-minded when making decisions together.

An easy way to spot that you’ve hired in your own image is if you’re all agreeing all the time. You should all treat each other with respect, but you shouldn’t always think the same way. If you are, then you’ve got a problem.

The one thing you do all need to agree on – and have a passion for ­– is the vision and mission of the firm. That’s crucial.

To tap into Desi’s expertise, as well as the deep experience we’ve got across Smpl, get in touch.
You can email our MD Andreas, just leave us a message here and we’ll come straight back to you.

5 steps to build an innovative culture that drives growth

Posted on: December 19th, 2022 by Andreas Olsen Dag No Comments
Want to create an amazing place to work that delivers long-term, sustainable profitability? Then get the culture right.

I’ve helped build lots of firms and each has had different strategic and tactical needs.

I’ve set up factories for some firms in far flung places, and convinced others step out of their comfort zones to send profits soaring (and, in one case, I helped keep my fellow citizens alive…)

But there’s one thing these all firms had in common: cultures that drive success.

So, whether you’re starting a company from scratch, or trying to change and improve what you’ve got, here’s how to create an innovative and amazing place to work.

1. Care about culture. A lot.

Why should you care about culture?

Off the top of my head, here’s quick list of some of the things a positive company culture achieves. It:

  • builds trust and engagement with staff
  • makes it easier to recruit and to keep them
  • means colleagues will deliver higher-quality work
  • nurtures work relationships that, among other things, foster innovation
  • drives higher productivity and happier customers

These are all things that will drive sustainable, long-term profits for your firms.

And – just as importantly – they make work a place you want to go and a thing you want to do every day.

The culture you create is what will shape your brand in the eyes of your clients and customers. It will determine the quality of the products and services you create, how customers interact with you through your marketing, as well as their experience of dealing with you directly.

That is why you should care about culture.

Metaphor alert! Here are some tall, bright sunflowers to symbolise having an innovative, amazing workplace. We hope you like them.

2. Practise company karma

We’ll get into more detail about the practical steps you can take to create the right company culture, shortly.

But if you take just one piece of advice (and one single word!) from me and ignore all the others, then here it is:


You need to build a culture of looking after individuals, whether that means caring about your employees, being active in the local community, or really wanting to deliver on the promises you make to your customers.

This is company karma.

There is nothing cosmic, ethereal, or spiritual about this. It’s deeply practical.

If you take shortcuts or mistreat people, it will come back to bite you. Do the right thing and you will be rewarded.

3. Start with the right questions

The first step in developing the right company culture is to work out what matters to you.

Start by taking the vision and mission of your company – i.e. what you want to change about the world and how you’re going to do it – and then ask two questions:

  1. what is the ideal environment for delivering this vision and mission?
  2. how do we create that environment?

You can apply these questions to any organisation. For example, consider the time I started a girls’ football team in my hometown.

There was no other opportunity for my daughters to play, so I set a team up for 8-year-old girls from scratch to give them that opportunity.

From the start we said the club would be all about inclusivity. We said anyone could come. It didn’t matter how good they were. It was all about community and making friends.

As the girls grew older that culture created an amazing team ethos. We built a place where everyone looked after everyone else. Everyone got their time on the pitch, and everyone did their time on the bench.

And we got better. Much better! By the time they were 18, these girls had not only won the local league, they’d also been runners-up in the biggest tournament in Europe.

But the culture never changed because that was what got us there in the first place.

Most of the work has already been done for you

Desi, Smpl’s culture guru

4. Find the right answers (Part 1)

The questions above about your cultural environment might seem big, scary questions, but happily most of the work to find the secret to creating an innovative and amazing place to work has been done for you.

Lots of people have looked very closely at successful firms and what they’ve done to create thriving cultures in the modern age (they’ll often reference everything from Zappos shoes and Nordstrom clothes, to Whole Foods groceries and Starbucks, if you want any case studies).

Let’s start by answering the first question above – ‘what is the ideal environment for delivering this vision and mission‘ – using all of that collected wisdom, as well as my own experience…

Q: So… What is the environment we need to create to deliver our vision and mission?

A: That environment will be determined by the values and norms you decide will actively guide the way your company operates. Common values I see time and again these days include:

  • Prioritising transparency in decision-making: if you help everyone understand why things are happening, they’ll engage more (feeling out of the loop is frustrating and demotivating)
  • Focusing on purpose: helping staff understand how the work they do is aligned with the company’s greater purpose (beyond boosting the bottom line) will make them more fulfilled and more driven
  • Making staff feel safe and supported: they’ll give you increased dedication and performance in return
  • Enabling people to just be themselves: if staff feel they can demonstrate their strong sense of self, they forge stronger connections within their teams

Find the right answers (Part 2)

Moving on to Question 2:

Q: How do we create that environment?

A: There are lots of ways of doing these things, but here are some core activities you should consider:

  • Instil modern leadership: this means practising authority with one eye always on empathy, transparency, and trustworthiness
  • Communicate like crazy: leaders need to communicate openly and with compassion all the time, and listen, learn and act on what they hear back (one way to do this is with regular ‘check ins’ where you listen to employees and address their questions)
  • Reward people properly and fairly: we all want to be financially secure without undue economic stress or worry, and we want the same opportunities to get ahead
  • Develop skills: your teams need to be the best they can be to make your business thrive (and everyone wants market-able, in-demand capabilities and skills to obtain good jobs and advance in a career). Try not to worry about them leaving if you give them this; they’re more likely to leave if you don’t
  • Give them the right tools/tech to do their jobs: at a foundational level this means access to the cloud and a reliable internet connection to ensure everyone is connected and collaborating. N.B. try to avoid ‘the right tools’ just becoming ‘more tools’
  • Create proper flexible working: this isn’t just about where people work, it’s about what they do, when and how. Flexibility is about the tools they have, the autonomy they’re given to make decisions, the schedules that match their responsibilities, and more

Good luck on your cultural journey. And drop me a line if you want any pointers. Happy to help!

Our mission is to help entrepreneurs and innovators succeed, that’s why creating sustainable brands is a core part of our Business Advisory service. If you want to find out more about that – and how we can bring your Big Idea to life faster, more efficiently than anyone else – we’d love to hear from you.
Click here to drop our MD Andreas an email, or leave us a message here.

“They thought my idea was crazy but now they’re No.1”

Posted on: November 17th, 2022 by Andreas Olsen Dag No Comments
Desi Olsen, our Head of Business Advisory, on building international brands, and putting survival before fashion.

Klopp, Mourinho, Guardiola, Olsen.

All great names of the football coaching world. I recently retired after coaching kids for 10-years. We started a team of 8-year-old girls from scratch because there was no other opportunity for them to play. We just said anyone could come. It didn’t matter how good they were. It was all about community and making friends.

As they grew older that turned into an amazing team ethos; it was a place where everyone looked after everyone else. And we got better. Much better!

By the time they were 18, these girls had not only won the local league, they’d also been runners-up in the biggest tournament in Europe. But the ethos never changed. I’m pretty proud of that.

Business success is 80% about who you are

The rest is about what you know. It’s passion that will determine whether you win; the drive that comes from really believing in what you’re doing.

I learned that from my business partner Nils, in the first company I ever ran. I was 22-years-old and we were selling children’s toys. We somehow set up a factory in China, we made the right contacts, we learned to make the right decisions, and we built a national company.

We only did that because we had passion; we were never going to stop. For every problem we found a solution. It just seemed the obvious thing to do because we really cared about what we were doing.

Fashion’s no use if you freeze to death

I once had to convince Hummel, the child’s fashion brand, that if they wanted to grow in Norway they’d have to get into snowsuits.

At the time, Hummel basically recreated adult fashion for kids. The idea that they should sell these shapeless waterproof suits – someone called them ‘biohazard suits’ – was crazy to them. But it’s a classic case of knowing your audience.

I explained to them in Norway fashion often has to take a backseat because it can be -20 degrees and sometimes staying alive is more important than how good you look.

Secondly, I said that selling these suits was a great way to introduce people to the Hummel brand in large numbers. It worked because now they really understood their audience.

Mixing this practical and creative approach into their aspirational brand helped Hummel become an international success story.

Practise company karma

If you want to build longevity you need to care. You need to build a culture of looking after individuals, whether that’s caring about your employees or being active in the local community. It also means really wanting to deliver on the promises you make to your customers.

If you take shortcuts or mistreat people, it will come back to bite you. If you make karma a cornerstone of your brand it will deliver profits. There’s nothing cosmic about that.

I’m a big picture kinda guy

I’m good at spotting commercial opportunities and working out how to leverage them. But I’ve got much less of an eye for the tiny details. That’s why I always make sure I’m surrounded by people who can do that and – just as importantly – are able to clearly explain what they’re doing to me, and to each other.

So many entrepreneurs or innovators think they can – or should – do it all themselves. It never works.

There’s the old cliché that you should surround yourself with people who are better than you, but that’s not quite right. You should surround yourself with people who are better at what they do than you. Then you can focus on the thing you are best at.

If you want to find out more about Smpl’s business advisory service, or how we can bring your Big Idea to life faster, more efficiently – and considerably less stressfully! – than anyone else, we’d love to hear from you.
Click here to email our MD Andreas, or leave us a message here.