1- Hello Roland, can you please tell us a bit about you?
Sure! My name is Roland Siebelink and I am the scaleup ally for tech founders. That means I speak and write about tech startups that are growing very fast, and I coach scaleup teams around the world to maintain that momentum.
2- What are your focus areas and why?
Well, I have been very lucky to have experienced three scaleup journeys from the inside, each growing from some 10 to 1000 employees in 3-4 years. I may be the only person in the world that has lived this journey on the inside three times. Everybody else in a scaleup company is doing this for the first time. As a result, I can often predict what is going to happen next. Founders find it extremely helpful to have that advice as they take decisions.
3- How do you describe your journey in a few words?
At university, I got involved in the very early days of the Internet. That led to cofounding the first web agency in Belgium and leading the first rollout of consumer broadband Internet in Europe. After my MBA the first bubble had burst so I led some product and strategy functions in traditional companies. But soon I had founded a startup pioneering e-mentoring. In 2010 I became CEO of Topicmarks, an AI-based summarization startup. We won the Founder Showcase, raised funds and sold it to Tagged. I then joined Rocket Fuel, the first platform applying AI to digital advertising. That company grew very fast too and went public in 2013. All the while, whatever official hat I had been wearing, I felt myself drawn to coaching the founders. How to make the startup bigger and more robust while keeping the entrepreneurial zeal alive. In 2016, I decided to make that coaching my fulltime occupation.
4- Where do you think your work is making an impact?
Especially in the middle stages of the growth journey. The beginning stages are well covered already: every aspiring entrepreneur can find exhaustive materials on how to start a company, find cofounders and reach product-market-fit. My focus is on preparing startups for what happens after product-market-fit. How can you reach market dominance and what are all the capabilities you have to acquire in succession to bring your scaleup along on that journey?
5- How do you think Digital Marketing is changing the future of entrepreneurship?
It already has changed entrepreneurship beyond recognition, especially in digital goods and services. Platforms such as app stores, Amazon and Google/Facebook advertising enable entrepreneurs to launch, advertise, sell and distribute products with almost zero upfront overhead. This is a far cry from all the funds entrepreneurs needed to raise just to show some initial traction. These days, two guys or girls in a garage can literally conquer a part of the world before even accepting investment.
6- Tell us about your approach?
My lectures and my book create awareness of all the learning phases founders have to go through to bring their startup through all the successive scaling phases. Every phase comes with recommended tools that are free to download and that founders can apply within their own companies. When founders want some help to move faster, I will typically run the quarterly offsites with their team and provide executive coaching in between.
7- Do you think your mindset has anything to do with success?
I am a firm believer in the growth mindset. That by focusing on the potential for improvement, you can actually make part of that improvement happen. It still takes hard work and you will not always succeed. But the focus on the potential for improvement will let you keep trying, thereby increasing your chances for success. Those that look primarily at risk of failure, have a much harder time even trying. I think such a mindset can be an extreme barrier to success.
8- If you could turn the time, what would you love to change?
I think humans have an enormous capacity for resilience. There are many natural and man-made catastrophes that anybody would wish we could have avoided. But I find I rarely focus on trying to change things that cannot be changed anymore. Instead, I try to focus on alleviating the situation and wondering how we can overcome our new challenges. In a way this is an example of the mindset having to do with success, as per your previous question. Not to waste time on trying to change the unchangeable, but to do your best in making the best out of your situation, however bad it may be.
9- What are you most excited about at the moment?
I am very excited to see that Silicon Valley is finally starting to recognize scaleups as a separate kind of company. Separate not only from startups but also from incumbent corporations. Too many scaleups have suffered from internal wars between “the startup folks” and “the corporate people”, leading to bad compromises that took too much momentum out of the company. I am excited to see that both camps can easily compromise a set of best practices specific for tech scaleups (Scaling Silicon Valley Style, High Growth Handbook, Blitzscaling).
10- The last word or final thoughts?
If you are part of a leadership team of a scaleup, you may experience an enormous discrepancy between the Kool-Aid everyone seems to be drinking, and the actual results your leadership team is producing. I have good news for you. This is normal. Every scaleup company I work with experiences the same discrepancy, whether they are aware of it or not. And I have even better news for you, in that many of these discrepancies can easily be fixed. As long as everyone is open to getting to know more about the company, more about themselves, and more about their colleagues. A quick start is to take the free “FastAtScale Health Check”, available on my Web site. Looking forward to hearing from you.
You can connect with Roland on social media, by visiting: