Life after Startup – My 9 year journey in taking distance

Last week, my company and team moved to the same co-working space where I had gotten an office since late 2021. After 2 years working remotely and most people working from home, they decided it simply didn’t make sense to have a big office anymore.

I wasn’t thrilled when the idea was first shared to move Funk-e back to my floor within a 10 second walk from my office door.
I was mostly afraid I would get sucked back into the daily routine of the company, that employees would come knocking on my door and that the whole point of starting new business projects would fade.

However as I have already been less involved for 6 months I noticed that the physical distance started mattering less.
I was actually excited about having my company close to my office again.

This does however raise a point I have been thinking a lot about: What is the right distance to take when transitioning from CEO to being the owner?

The right distance

My goal in first place has been to create the right environment for myself to build new ideas, without distracting an ongoing business.

So in my definition I would say that the “right” space:

  • Gives enough space to build new ideas out into an actual business
  • While ensuring the ongoing succes of Funk-e.

In order to achieve that I believe 3 things are fundamental to have enough of: Physical Space, Time, and Mental space.

Physical space and Time are relatively easy to organise for, however Mental space is a consequence of the first two, and by far the most difficult in my eyes.

In order to have mental space, the company you let go needs to be stable, and needs proven leadership to keep it there. But most of all it requires lots of trust in the team. Now that I am not involved in daily meetings, I need to trust that whatever issues arise, the team will manage to solve it themselves, or if really necessary they escalate the issue soon enough.

I can say that so far this has been the case and it has given me some huge surprises to see how many things the team can actually solve together that I used to think I needed to handle.

The wrong distance

The first 4 years of my company I was pretty much immersed in all the daily problems and projects of the company. I mostly took distance by delegating specific activities, such as writing scripts or doing voiceovers. But I worked at the same level as my employees. However as we grew beyond 10 employees, the necessity to take more distance became more obvious.

What now seems like a relatively easy transition took me almost 9 years of trial and error.
Here are some of the mistakes I have made in taking distance.

Building Funk-e abroad

In 2013 we had set up Funk-e in Germany. After having lived there for 6 months between me and my co-founder, we had finally found a country manager for our German office. She was a bright young woman with lots of ideas and energy. She was still quitte junior as a leader and just like us (we were 23) still needed to make mistakes. After a few weeks onboarding her in the Netherlands, and some travelling back and forward we let her take over the reins in Berlin.

Unfortunately, rather than letting her make her own plans and give her a clear budget, we would have calls frequently and stress on many details like how much to spend on ads, and closely question every new initiative she would take.

Result: After 1 year she left and we needed to step back in

Building a new business, while running Funk-e

In 2015 I had started building a Training company called Pitch-e. My time would be divided between acquiring customers for trainings and communication projects for Funk-e.

However, every time there was an issue with the bigger company, I would always be sucked back into the day to day issues of Funk-e. Physically I would also still work in the same space meaning I was constantly distracted by meetings, and seeing issues up close that I felt I needed to fix in Funk-e.

Result: I couldn’t really let go of Funk-e, I also could never focus enough on Pitch-e to make it a success.

Working in the R&D department

In 2018 we thought it was time to let someone else lead the company. This was by far the biggest step we had taken in letting go. We decided to take a step back to the R&D department. We would come up with new products, and the new general manager was supposed to run the company. Also we had separated the department (with 3 people) physically to a different wing of the floor.

However every time we would come up with new products in R&D it would need a lot of effort from the rest of the company. When they would be too busy with other projects, I would end up using my status as owner to get what I needed, and frustrated the team.

Result: We could not align well on our future plans and had to integrate the entire organisation under me again.

Taking the right distance

When it comes to taking distance from my company, I can say that over the past 9 years I have learned many things that don’t work.
However I have also found some things that have definitely worked well, which I believe are reflected in the steps I have taken with Funk-e since 2020:

Succes factors 

I have applied the learnings from my previous experiences into my transition away from my company.

Step 1. Don’t focus on new businesses while running another.

I spent all my energy in focussing on 1 proposition and building a management team under me. I had to close down all open projects such as the Trainings business.

Step 2. Appoint a well trained manager from within the company.

After having seen the management team in action with each other for a year, I promoted the sales manager to become our general manager. The team trusted him and the transition was almost flawless.

Step 3. Take a step back from selling new projects.

I decided to not sell any more client projects directly. Even thought on the short term this would have a financial impact, it helped to be further removed from daily project challenges. Because every time I sold a project, I would feel responsible to involved every step of the way.

Step 4. Get out of the way.

This last part was mostly done in terms of responsibilities at first, then reducing my time invested in projects.

Only when I was in another office and working on Funk-e partnerships 1-2 days per week, did I really start getting something I didn’t have for a while: Mental space.

From CEO to owner

Now that I have the Physical space, Time and Mental space, I can really start to focus on being the owner and to start new things. This is a completely new role for me to explore on it’s own, which is very different from Owner + CEO, but more on that in a later blog!

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