Christian Schröder is the Founder & CEO of 10x Value Partners, a venture studio and investment firm that creates 3–5 companies per year. Previously he served as Venture Capital Director at Global Founders Capital. Christian Schröder started his first company when he was 16. Furthermore, he has been a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum.
Q1 What is the most valuable career advice you can give to people just starting out?
First, try many different things to deeply understand what you are good at. You will know them when you find them because the skills will come more easily to you than others and the work will make you feel energized and inspired.
Then, rather than trying to be the best at just one thing, seek to be amazing at a unique combination of things. This “Unique Selling Point” is your competitive advantage over peers that have overspecialized and lack the perspective that comes from a more broad, highly developed skill set. Then, focus on monetising this USP down the line in your career.
Q2 What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Definitely change and uncertainty. Of course, these are actually age old problems but they are still the biggest challenges that leaders face.
I find it helpful to address uncertainty as a constant force, rather than a temporary hurdle that can be “solved” indefinitely. If you’re trying to avoid change, you’re doing it wrong. Great leaders realize that uncertainty is always where the biggest opportunities present themselves.
Q3 How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
First, I get clear about the core values of the organization. Then I make sure that when I speak to the macro vision of the company, it’s aligned with those values.
At the same time, I don’t want to make the mistake of getting lost in big picture thinking. Core values can’t just live in the mission statement, they have to be embodied in the day to day operations as well or they are meaningless.
If I am not in touch with the people at every level of the organization, priorities can drift. You don’t have to micromanage to check in and listen to the experiences people are having with their piece of any given project.
Q4 Where do the great ideas come from in your organization? Do you encourage junior members to be creative and share business ideas with senior management?
Absolutely. We are all limited in terms of the kinds of ideas that we can generate because of our location and perspective within the organization. We all get tunnel vision, but we can all see something unique because of the nature of the work we are doing within the company as well. It would be a real waste not to take advantage of ideas generated from all of those perspectives.
That being said, there is no reason to limit the universe of ideas to those within the organization. Great ideas can come from customers, professional networks and even social relationships. The larger the field of ideas, statistically speaking, the more likely you are to find those really rare ideas that turn out to be game changers. In the end, the merit of ideas will determine which will be tried, and ultimately, which will improve the organization.
Q5 Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
The Samwer brothers of Rocket Internet have inspired me to rethink some of the principles of success. In addition to being very KPI driven, their insistence on hiring the best people, and aggressive tactics, they have shown that being first isn’t always the best position. Sometimes, being better is more important than being first, and that is a game changer in terms of big picture strategy.
Steve Jobs is another big influence. His style of walking in a room and offering new perspectives on existing projects and challenging the status quo reminds me that “business as usual” is not a formula for growth and success.
Q6 Tell me about a time you struggled with work-life balance. How did you solve the problem?
If you do what you love then the boundary between work and life disappears to some extent. After all, if you love your work, it is one of the best parts of living! So, work-life is a bit of a false dichotomy.
On the other hand, I have found that time spent away from work doing activities that I enjoy with my family and friends gets me out of the minutia of day to day operations in a way that contributes to my creative problem solving capacity. Some of my best ideas come to me when I step away from work long enough to get my focus on something else entirely.
It’s sort of like finding your keys. The minute you stop focusing on looking for them high and low, you remember exactly where you left them!
Q7 Have you made unpopular decisions, such as firing employees or reducing compensation levels? What do you do to keep employe motivation alive after such actions?
I try to make sure that unpopular decisions are based in objective reality, first. Can I make a case for the change that is fact-based and grounded in what is best for the organization? If so, it goes a long way to helping staff better absorb the shock and carry on.
The other thing that helps staff stay motivated in the face of unpopular decisions to establish trust with them across the board. For instance, I try to get buy-in when I can, even when decisions are likely to be favorable among employees. And, I tend to value transparency when possible. This is a kind of social capital that can build up in reserve so that when people are asked to make some kind of compromise or sacrifice, they are less likely to be resentful about it.
Q8 As leaders, do you create work environments that are more competitive or collaborative in nature?
I like to let context drive that decision because it really can depend on the nature of the work itself. I try to keep in mind that both have their place. Neither is “better” in the abstract sense.
Collaboration offers the potential for amazing and unpredictable synergies where the talents of staff come together in unexpected and surprising ways. It can be particularly helpful for situations where creative problem solving is at the heart of the work at hand, for example.
On the other hand, competition can be an important motivator when it comes to more routine work with quantifiable outcomes, such as sales or certain kinds of financial services.
Q9 How do you get buy-in from senior management and board on your business ideas?
I think there is a difference between an idea and a strategy. An idea is fleeting, visionary, and speculative. However once you have fully vetted an idea, done the research, analyzed the facts, and decided that it is worth pursuing, it’s a strategy.
I generally don’t try to get buy-in until I have a well developed strategy and can make a compelling case that is framed in terms of the projected benefits for the organization, based on information. In addition, I share my ideas with others to get valuable perspective on potential problems that I may not be able to see.
When I was younger, I sometimes made the mistake of going for buy-in too soon. In some cases it cost me some credibility when I later discovered why the idea wasn’t as viable as I thought at first glance. I have learned to balance my passion for a new idea with the patience of doing my homework to make sure a strategy has merit before taking it up the ladder.
Q10 How to increase employee productivity? Do you invest in their well-being?
I think that motivation and productivity are tightly coupled. One of the most effective ways to motivate employees, in my experience, is to give them opportunities to take responsibility for a project which naturally develops a sense of ownership when it comes to results.
Leading projects and making decisions effectively takes experience. So, I try to build teams that have people with a mixture of experience levels so that each member of the team gets exposure to the decision making process. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, staff get a chance to grow professionally which benefits them as individuals as well as the company as a whole.