Building a successful business doesn’t automatically make you a good guy.
I keep finding myself coming back to this thought. Despite the heroic image society paints of entrepreneurs who have “made it,” the true measure of their worth should be the positive change their company has made.
And positive change is only achievable when it is based on values.
After all, a founder’s decision to solve a particular problem is anchored in their values. This is how a founder chooses to build their business. They bring together a group of passionate people to challenge the status quo and do the impossible, gathered around these mutual values; this is the simplest definition of a startup.
Unfortunately, all too often in the busy technology environment, these values become empty words that languish in incorporation documents or gather dust on a forgotten part of the website.
But now, more than ever, the founders must return to their ideals. When fundraising is tough. When you have difficult conversations with customers. When unseasonably warm winter days remind us that humanity needs change fast. These values should always serve as a guiding light, a way to ensure that we collectively pursue real change—no shortcuts, even when times are tough.
The cost of neglecting your values
As the world, and especially the tech industry, goes through difficult times, many leaders will be tempted to turn their backs on everything they once valued and go into bunker mode, doing what they think they need to do to survive as a business. And what is the first thing I reject? The values they worked so hard to implement.
“If you don’t believe that young women can build successful companies – even after seeing hard evidence – we simply shouldn’t be working together.”
It takes courage to stand by your values when times get tough. Turning away from potential investors because their values don’t align with yours might seem crazy. But otherwise, you’ll pay the price further.
It wasn’t that long ago when, on a foggy London day, I heard these words come out of an investor’s mouth while wrapping up a pitch: “Linnéa (Einride CMO, Deputy Managing Director and Founder), as a young woman, It’s not good. for the business. If you want us to invest, you should reconsider her role in the company.” I didn’t have to think twice; he just quickly said goodbye and left the room. If you don’t believe that young women can build successful companies—even after seeing hard evidence—we simply shouldn’t be working together. These decisions are not easy, but they are critical to protecting your company’s mission and vision.
Your values encompass everything your company stands for. Neglecting them has a knock-on effect – first, your company loses its purpose, then every stakeholder walks out the door along with their trust, and finally, you lose your team, the people who have dedicated their lives to your business and helping you to realize dream.
Europe still has a long way to go
Often founders abandon their values when times are tough because it’s the easy way out. At the same time, they try to simplify the problem in front of them.
European technology leadership is particularly guilty of this bias towards simplification. As a region, we have a lot to learn—our instincts to avoid confrontation, our tendency to be too literal or not confident enough, and how we ignore cultural differences in favor of doing things the way we’re used to) can come back to it bites us.
“You can’t solve problems just by simplifying them”
Businesses benefit from navigating complexity, learning to embrace uncertainty, and facing challenges head-on. The impact of simplification is especially flawed in response to a crisis. You can’t solve problems just by simplifying them. Yes, it is important to break it down and unravel each filament of the thread, but you must remember to work with the whole challenge simultaneously, accepting the tangled mess as it is.
But remember, values are a torch to guide you through the chaos.
Founders, take note
However, you will be presented with opportunities that challenge your beliefs and situations where you will have to choose to hold on to your values or neglect them. Here are a few things I remember that you might find helpful:
- Remember where you came from. You started a tech company because you wanted to do things differently, bring innovation to life, and be part of building a better world. Sure, you may have other motivations, but thinking about the initial spark that convinced you to take the leap and find a company can help if you find that, in the middle of a snowstorm, you – you lost the compass. And when I find myself in difficult situations, I turn to my collection of old books – it helps me take a step back and remember what’s important to me and why we created our company in the first place.
- Stand by what you believe. You can’t lead a team if you no longer share the same ideals that helped you start the company. Your team won’t take you seriously or respect or trust you if you don’t practice what you preach.
- Never look for the easy way out. It might be tempting to find an easier route when faced with a challenge, but often a shortcut today will lead to a bigger problem tomorrow. Force yourself to take the hard way. To get out of a crisis, you will need to inspire those around you and give them the means to achieve their goals. Neglecting the values that united you for a quick win will lead to lasting damage.
Every piece of the leadership puzzle comes down to the values you stand for – holding them up like the North Star ensures your team stays engaged and focused on results, even if there are bumps in the road… and there will be plenty.
Part of our job as leaders is to remind people that we have a responsibility to create something bigger than our self-serving interests. To take another look at those values you wrote down and remember that they are not just words, they are the key to building a better and more resilient future for all.
Robert Falck is the CEO and founder of the freight mobility technology company The final unit