The long way from technology start-ups

Der lange Weg von Technologie Startups
Graphic 1: Biofabrik's headquarters near Dresden, Germany

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At this point, we report at regular intervals on progress in the development of our plants and concepts. But what if there wasn’t any progress? And not just that? Then it’s probably time to report something about the conspicuous silent demon of the startup – the setback. And what we do about it.


A success story every other week? No way!

It is in our nature and culture that we prefer to talk about successes rather than about their evil brother, the setback. For while one thing gives us recognition and self-esteem, the setback, failure or failure triggers the exact opposite. Especially with third parties. Or is it?

Actually surprising, because especially in startups with the goal of disruptive developments you fight for every success with a multitude of failures. You just don’t talk about it. The failure in the development of new ideas is a compelling prerequisite for success. After all, we learn how it works to a large extent from failures, they show us limits and errors of thought.

There are hundreds of books on how to deal with it, thousands of clever sayings and everyone has good advice. But in order to create facts in a start-up, something else is necessary.


Setbacks: The harbingers of success.

Failure is first and foremost the non-occurrence of an expectation. So far that’s no problem at all, you just rethink your expectations, change the way there and go back to lot. But we humans don’t work that way. A multitude of emotions, pressure situations and external influences often do not allow this wise way in startups.

Mind you, I’m not talking about Failures in the development departments of large corporations, where all the costs are certainly borne by someone else. I am talking about people and companies who have put everything on one card – at their own risk and without double bottom. I’m talking about tech start-ups.

There, failure leads to questions of a completely different dimension: Does what we have thought up here work at all? How many days, weeks or months does failure set us back? Can we hold out financially until then? And how sure is it that it will work at all the next time, many weeks and thousands of euros later?

The consequences can be dramatic. Employees burn out, are demoralized, no longer believe in the goal and start looking for alternatives. The personality profile of employees in startups must therefore be a very special one. Then one does not avoid failures, but one prevents the consequential damages mentioned above.

Now we had to put up with a little bit ourselves in the weeks. We would like to take this as an opportunity to share some of our experiences on this subject with you outside of the technical information itself – in the hope that parts of it may also make it easier for your team to deal with setbacks.


Basis number 1 for developers: It works.

It is the DNA of a tech startup that an infinite number of components have to be assembled into an unprecedented whole. No disruptive technology has ever been built before. No truly innovative software has ever been developed before. Anyone who takes on this task, whether as a founder or an employee, must first and foremost be one thing: an optimist. Replaces the word gladly against believer, visionary or Dreamers.

<pclass=”bodytext”>If the failure occurs, the optimist will ask W questions: Why, When, How, What. These questions are constructive. At this point, the optimist himself will recognize that the change or even a complete strategic shift of the company is and must be part of the process. This is more difficult for most people than they themselves think, since they often throw months of work – such as the development of an entire reactor generation – overboard and have to start motivated from scratch.</pclass=”bodytext”>

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Graphic 2: Process diagram of our plants

The doubter, on the other hand, will not ask any open questions, but will find that he was right when he said before that none of this would work anyway. Change or even a change of strategy are a horror to him, because he actually wants a safe, controllable job. Don’t get me wrong, these people are no better or worse than others, only more effective elsewhere than in revolution engineering.

A single rotten apple can spoil the whole basket. First behind closed doors, later louder and louder the cold breath of doubt blows through the entire team. Because if the engineer says that you can’t…

In this case, the only thing that remains is to sort the apples clearly according to good apples for the target and those that need to be removed from the basket. This is often difficult and unpleasant for the mostly young management and only necessary if clarifying discussions remain fruitless. But then it’s necessary. Also as a sign to the team.



Basis number two: Something bigger than us.

The people you need must be of something higher than money. motivated. The idea of working on something big in a team of geniuses must be more valuable than the annual salary. When things get tough, money isn’t enough motivation to move on. What we need is a vision.

You can test a new superstar’s affinity for your common path in the interview by placing the starting salary well below the market after you have explained the vision. Thank you for everyone who gets up and leaves. And give those who remain a meaningful and clearly measurable share in the success of their work. This motivates far more than a fixed salary at Silicon Valley level.

It is the responsibility of the entrepreneur to give the team a vision. To show you convincingly that it’s about more than beautiful code, the quick exit or the two hundredth dating app. If your idea doesn’t have real emotional impact, your people will leave the ship at the first headwind. If you can’t explain to your employees in three sentences what they are actually improving in the world, then don’t start the company.


Basis number three: Competence and discipline.

There are people who have exceptional competence, but somehow they don’t put it on the street. Maybe it was the sixth beer last night or the fact that you CAN’t get up before ten. Or maybe it’s just a lack of discipline.

And then there are extremely disciplined people. Every day the first in the office, crystal clear reports and 100% reliable time tracking. But… nothing comes of it. It lacks genius. And without it, you can’t build revolutions.

So we need both: discipline and competence. Consistently. Here too which doesn’t fit because it slows down the rest. If the best person for this task is not seated at every point of the team, the whole organism loses performance – and you will need it.

That’s why clear structures, fixed working hours, punctuality and professionalism must be the basis of all your activities – startup mentality, decentralised work and great free time management back or forth. If anyone can deliver this from a beach in Bali, very well. But only then is it allowed to do the job decentrally.

The genius appreciates this healthy discipline, by the way, because it tends to routine out of intelligence. These can be used to automate insignificant necessities. It is no coincidence that Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore the same clothes every day. Or carry.


Conclusion: Together against the setback

A team with these characteristics is no protection against the setback in development projects. There is no such thing. But it is the basis for dealing with this. It does not replace the entrepreneur’s obligation to establish a culture of change, to mantra the failure as a healthy part of the process and to trust employees to learn from these mistakes independently. It only makes this process possible in the first place.

And so it can happen that after 12 months of construction of the first refinery that purifies our raw product to food quality, its output is 90% below expectations. And that after countless tests, burst neurons and thousands of euros later one realises that the reason for this is not in this refinery, but in another refinery in the Czech branch. That you have to Yearly productionRaw material must be completely reworked and just can not come to Christmas with the first products on the market.

But it also happens that this same team, while these lines are being written, informs us in a short message that the output of the new refinery could finally be multiplied today and that the results from the laboratory will be available tomorrow morning. And perhaps, but only perhaps, the first amino acid drinks and bars made from healthy pasture grass will be launched on the market at Christmas. And first of all to our meanwhile many (thank you!) Facebook fans. Keep your fingers crossed. And if you’re not a fan yet, become one here.