Don’t waste your resources. The journey to success is longer than you think in the beginning. Don’t give up your control in your company before you have traction in the business. Don’t leave your day jobs immediately. By bootstrapping, you can stay in the driver’s seat for longer.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Jacobsson.
Marcus Jacobsson is the CEO and a Co-Founder of Tipser — an embedded e-commerce scaleup on a mission to revolutionize the discovery and buying experience of products online. Over the last 10 years, Jacobsson has guided Tipser to secure notable clients, like Bustle Digital Group, ShopStyle, and Itsapark, a venture within H&M Group. Jacobsson’s passion for people, teams, and fast growth helps him lead the happy and ambitious people at Tipser.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Before Tipser, I worked for big corporations, but I’ve always had a very entrepreneurial mindset. I focused a lot on building new business and solutions for big corporations. I love to create new things and challenge the status quo, I hate administrative tasks! I realized that climbing the corporate ladder didn’t appeal to me. I thrive in an entrepreneurial environment and I’d always dreamed of building my own company. After having started a couple of different companies, Tipser turned out to be my main life project.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
More than ten years ago, the co-founders and I saw this trend with social media influencers rising. At the time, they were called bloggers. We realized that the bloggers were influencing people’s buying decisions, but they didn’t receive any rewards for guiding consumers to certain brands and products. We wanted to build the backbone for a system that would compensate media and influencers for inspiring consumers. That is essentially the platform we set out to build.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Obviously my parents! My father started his own company and my mother helped me a lot with self-esteem. My father designed and built railroads and bridges. He is a very typical engineer — lots of attention to detail and very hardworking. I got his work ethic but much less attention to detail! He would spend hours and hours on drawings and I’d get so bored. But I was inspired by what he built — all these advanced bridges and complicated structures that connect people. That’s what I do in a digital, consumer-oriented world.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re at the forefront of pioneering a new industry — embedded ecommerce. In short, we were stupid enough to stick to the huge vision that we came up with more than 10 years ago. It’s a very grand idea: to enable anyone to buy whatever anywhere, on any surface. It’s much easier said than done!
We soon realized we were ahead of the curve with our vision. At the time, brands were more than happy to launch an online store and publishers lived on banner advertising. But it soon turned out that the evolution of ecommerce and digital media was in our favor. Today, media outlets need more revenue streams and brands have realized that consumers spend time on other channels, not their online stores. This makes our position unique. We’ve poured 10 years of blood, sweat, money and tears into a unique platform.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Tipser has strong values and we do our best to reflect the positivity we want to bring into the world — Innovation, Passion, Bravery, Freedom, Humbleness, and Trust. These are not just words for us — they guide the choices that we make and the actions that we take.
I believe that a company has a responsibility to make conscious choices and impact the world positively. We are trying to help brands that spring from underprivileged backgrounds to give them more exposure on our platform and through our media clients. We are reducing those platform costs for small brands trying to make it big. We also encourage our clients to select more sustainable alternatives for their product offering.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
First of all, I’m quite visionary — perhaps even too visionary. I thrive when I find revolutionary solutions to problems, rather than small solutions to small, single issues. It’s boring to improve things that way. I want to look for solutions outside the box and stick to the vision. It took us 10 years to get to the sweet spot, and, originally, we expected it would take 6 months. If we hadn’t been foolishly visionary, we wouldn’t be here today.
Secondly, I’m restless. I see problems and opportunities, and I can’t relax before I’ve found a solution. It probably comes from my parents. This tendency doesn’t help me sleep, but it does help me build a company. It’s challenging for family and leisure time, but good for business. That said, I am working on a better balance every day!
Thirdly, I love to see others thrive. That’s how we’ve been able to attract great stars as colleagues and build a motivating, positive culture that helps everyone at Tipser achieve great things and have fun doing it. I’m not an expert in anything, but together we are unique. Alone, I know nothing, but the team knows about everything!
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
In general, I think mistakes are valuable lessons. But perhaps, prior to finally deciding to start my own company, I listened too much to risk-averse colleagues — how good it is to be in the safety of a big corporation. In retrospect, I should have jumped ship earlier. That’s advice to everyone dreaming of at least giving entrepreneurship a chance. If it doesn’t work out, it still gives you valuable experience that most likely is attractive in your next job interview.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
It was being stupid enough to stick to a huge vision, and we eventually realized it would take a long time to get there. Several years in the beginning, it was very hard to work with clients. We were so early with our vision that clients were not ready for it and it was hard to convince them that this was the future. Their perspective was on the coming quarter and ours was far ahead in the future. There was a mismatch of our idea and clients’ needs.
Bootstrapping helped us survive the tough years. To achieve access, our platform needed a critical mass of both media outlets and brands. We’re still not a piano that plays itself, but we are past that critical mass now.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
One way was to listen to our clients and understand their needs to bring our vision closer to it. Determination was another way — we needed to simply relentlessly go after clients. You need a hundred interactions to talk to ten potential clients to then finally get that one client.
I struggled with stress, it’s one of the downsides of being an entrepreneur. I still struggle with it sometimes, but the key is to be able to cope with the stress levels. I do that by trying to be very present in the moment. I’m always thinking about new opportunities and solutions, but I also need to zone out sometimes. I need to spend time with my family and be in nature to charge my batteries. My mantra to new colleagues at Tipser is that health and family are most important, business comes after them.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
One of the secret recipes is to always celebrate any success, big or small. That’s a running joke at Tipser. My job is to blow the confetti cannon or open the sparkling wine bottle whenever there’s a minor reason to do it. Somehow, celebration outweighs challenges and the burning fires.
When you have a scaleup or a startup business, there are so many fires everywhere. It is the natural state of creating something new. But if you focus only on the fires, you will not help your company grow and succeed. Some fires you need to just let burn, they’re not critical. You will become static if you spend all your time putting out fires.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Bootstrapping is always the preferred route — as long as you and your family can survive. The more you can build before you dilute your ownership, the better. The more you have when you partner with investors, the better. Look at what the investor brings to the table — apart from the money. When there are clearly good synergies, that’s a good fit.
You should also always evaluate the terms of the investment. Is it worth the dilution and risks to take the investment? Partnering with investors is a kind of marriage, metaphorically. I would keep control of your company for as long as possible unless there are super clear synergies with an investor.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Find balance between sticking to your vision and attending to client needs. Most of the time, it’s a mismatch between the two. What kind of balance should you go for? The answer is different depending on the business. If you are a consultant, then yes, listen to your clients’ needs first and foremost. But if you are building a new industry, stick to your vision.
- Set unbelievably high goals. Then break them up into tangible subgoals. This is relevant in the startup times when you have a dream client on the other side of the planet. It’s unrealistic to get them as the first client. So, what do you need to do to eventually sign that client? Start with your neighbor’s business and then maybe continue on to the biggest client in your city, and then the biggest in your country.
- Build a spaceship while you are already flying it. The nature of the startup and scaleup world is that you need to have very ambitious goals, but also ensure you can keep your promises and deliver on them. Promise more than the current offering — in a balanced way.
- Don’t waste your resources. The journey to success is longer than you think in the beginning. Don’t give up your control in your company before you have traction in the business. Don’t leave your day jobs immediately. By bootstrapping, you can stay in the driver’s seat for longer.
- Surround yourself with the best people. Having a strong culture attracts them. You will be surprised how many different skills you need onboard to build a successful business. Many times you will think if only I had this or that person, all the rest would be solved. The mountain is so high to climb, you need to find and attract the very best. Try to find people who are better than you.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I’ve seen people partnering with the wrong investors who don’t share the ultimate vision. Another mistake is spreading your resources too thin and trying to solve everything at once.
You need focus and discipline — say no to opportunities that are not your core business. The nature of entrepreneurship means you see opportunities everywhere. As an entrepreneur, your biggest challenge is saying no to opportunities. That sometimes includes investors. You should try to bootstrap so you can have integrity in choosing your investors. Do due diligence on them as much as they do on you.
Find colleagues that help you keep focus and integrity. You need to have nay-sayers around you, as well.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
I can’t say enough how important it is to take care of yourself. You need to plan for down time and book time in your calendar for resting. It’s a 24/7 job to be a founder. You need to actively devote time to presence in other life areas, like health and family. If you don’t take care of yourself, you, your family, your business and your employees will suffer.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement to help people see the opportunities in their challenging environments and make a positive change where they are currently standing. I want people to see the impact they can have because I don’t think many see it! If someone is in a company that they feel is not doing things right or is harming the environment, they get stressed out and leave. But in that job, they could influence the company to make changes for the better and help millions of people.
When it comes to Tipser, we are of course in a consumer business, but we can help those consumers find relevant products, and we can also help publishers find new revenues and help brands connect with new customers.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d like to meet the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang — I’d like the western world and China to have a better, warmer relationship.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
LinkedIn is the best platform for that. Keep an eye on Tipser’s news!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!