Mentors Monday with: Dirk Bathen and Valentin Heyde

#business #strategy #plan #startups #accelerator

Welcome to the future: your company failed. 😱 This statement summarizes every co-founder’s worst nightmare, but can also be an useful exercise to help teams make better decisions in the present. Dirk Bathen and Valentin Heyde, have been working together with startups and companies guiding them in a time-travel journey to help them predict mistakes and avoid misteps . The main tips they share in the following interview:

1 — What have you learnt working as consultants and workshop moderators at companies that could be applied in the startup world?

The big advantage of startups is: they have the ability to shape their ways of working on their own. In big companies, there are established, structures, processes and routines. So it should be much easier to reflect what’s working and what needs to be improved. However, a lot of founding teams are deeply immersed in their daily business and don’t take enough time to reflect on ways of cooperation. That is: there are a lot of reviews regarding the status of product or service, but there are few retrospectives in terms of what went good or bad regarding our cooperation and internal organization.

Another aspect is the distribution of vision. Usually the small team of founders share a vision and they are committed to pursue it. Even if not, communicating within a small team is easy and it doesn’t need much structure. What is true for the vision, is true for organizing daily work, too. A small team, sitting in the same room, can quickly discuss tasks and vision from desk to desk. That is an early-stage advantage of rising startups. But it tends to become a brutal booby trap once the startups scales.

Up to somewhere around 11 to 13 team members the direct, unstructured distribution of vision and communication on daily business works well. When the team grows bigger, it eventually turns out as a mess. People are not aligned anymore, work loses focus, frustration rises. Sometimes founders try to solve the problem with more work load, more tackling of daily business’ tasks.When that happens the booby trap explodes and harms the team.

Founders can learn from big companies (at least the well working corporates) that it is their job to shape the company. They have to think about their organizational structure, processes, working environment and last not least: they have to make sure to find ways to effectively share their vision and align people. If there is no alignment, the self-organizational team spirit of most startups might feel good, but will unlikely lead to great results in product and business.

“It’s not only the product that you need a vision for, it’s your company as a whole.”

But be aware: you can learn from corporates, that this is your job. And you might look at other companies to get inspired by their ways of dealing with all these struggles. But you should not simply copy their structures. Copy & paste works great in a spreadsheet, but it never does in the field of corporate culture and organization. You have the freedom and responsibility to find your own answers. Not alone, but with permanent feedback loops with your team. It’s not only the product that you need a vision for, it’s your company as a whole.

2 — In the Pre-Mortem session workshop, you tell startups that looking into the future is important to make better decisions in the present. How does this exercise help?

It’s not only about looking into the future. It is about imagining a full disaster in the future. On first sight, it seems quite demotivating to be concerned with your own future failure. But the good thing is: you are still “alive”. The dystopian time travel is just a simulation. A Pre-Mortem isn´t a Post Mortem analysis, it´s not a retrospective. In addition, there is scientific evidence that people who simulate their own future failure will make better decisions in the present.

Dirk (left) and Valentin running a Pre Mortem session with ouur batch 5 teams

Conducting a Pre-Mortem is a kind of early warning system: If you try to understand what steps or decisions might lead to that failure, you will be more aware of the things that can possibly go wrong. And there is no better time to imagine a fuck-up than when you’re still alive and kicking. Because when you’re deeply stuck in a crisis, you don’t have the mental capabilities to act strategically. You are in a more tactical, short-term mode and won´t have the mental capabilities to think strategically and long-term.

“A Pre-Mortem-Scenario is much more challenging, because it hurts. It forces you to deal with a great fuck-up you want to avoid by all means.”

A Pre-Mortem is one way to look into the future, the other one is Pre-Celebration, where you imagine a big success. But in our experience this method is rather confirming than challenging. You imagine a big party, a major success, you will open dozens of bottles of champagne — and you will construct your ideal path to that success. That´s wishful thinking. Actually, that´s kind of boring. Because that´s what should really happen in reality.

A Pre-Mortem-Scenario is much more challenging, because it hurts. It forces you to deal with a great fuck-up you want to avoid by all means. That´s why nearly everyone whom we have conducted such a session with, feels kind of depressed in the first place. But after a while, this bad mood turns into positive energy.

So by imagining mistakes, problems, fuck-ups and failures, you will get a different perspective on your current situation. At least that´s the point in making this little exercise.

3 — This was the first time you run a workshop with our startups. How was the experience of working together with the teams? Do startups usually fear the same reasons for failing?

It was interesting to see that some people smiled when we introduced the method. But after they started their time travel and imagined themselves a fucked-up situation, the smiling faces disappeared and everyone was highly concentrated in immersing into the future and trying to identify what crucial steps have led to the depicted disaster.

And we think the teams had some learnings after the session. Interestingly the results have been the same as in sessions made with teams in big corporations: The reasons for failure mostly are internally: not involving relevant stakeholders, differences within the team, etc. There seldomly are external reasons like “a new competitor has entered the market”.

Besides some special startup-related worries like “funding” or not finding a VC, yes, there are lots of overlaps between startups and other teams.

Big thanks, Dirk and Valentin, for helping out our teams and sharing the tips. 👏 Find out more about their work at

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