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Why vertical networking probably won’t get you where you want

Last night I slept in a Church.

I’ve joined a new network, one of the other members is a priest on Norrebro so the annual all-night meeting took place in an unusual setting, in the rooms adjoining the church. We were shadowed by a 3-meter tall figure of Jesus. It’s the first time I’ve had a sleepover with Jesus but he behaved well.

The network is a “VL gruppe” the traditional Danish powerhouse of connections, which I always imagined consisted only of greying old men. So it felt very “grown up” to join. But I needed a change of network.


Six years ago my job was MD of the startup network organization Venture Cup, so not surprisingly I was at all the startup events. It was my job, and I was having a blast. While having the time of my life I built up a kickass network within people who start, and fund, crazy new ventures. Some of the people became friends and trusted advisors (most did not).

Then my circumstances changed. In the last three years I hardly attended any startup events. My company Everplaces builds technology for the travel industry, so if I’ve been at conferences at all it has been travel conferences where my clients are. After all, my job is to find out what they want and ship products across the counter. 

In these six years i’ve gotten to know a million interesting and inspiring people. But now I needed a change again. Because lately it has been dawning on me that my network had become totally vertical; startup buffs and travel buyers. I was starting to find myself in conversations with people who all thought the same, and knew the same. So how was I going to learn, to become a better business person, a better leader and a bigger person in general?

Here’s why I think you need alternative contacts, to your industry network.

The problem with vertical networking

You’re too close to being competitors to build proper trust

Any business is in a race for investment, customers and best employees, so it’s common sense that trust is only partial among people who need to promote their own success in order to stay alive.

Appearance is the only truth and you’re only worth as much as your reputation. That’s why there is so much bullshit out there. And that it’s always going “brilliantly” when you ask people.

So, when you have a real challenge (which you do all the time) you’re hard pressed to seek advice in an honest talk with anyone in your vertical, because it will have an impact on what they say about your company when someone asks them. Even if they have the best of intentions word always gets out.

You loose insight into what the rest of the world would like to buy

25-year-old geeks tend to build products for 25-year old geeks. That’s why that world is overflowing with wearable gadgets and apps to solve first world problems. But we cant all make the next Pebble. 

I want to find the really big problem which company with really big pockets are willing to pay really big amounts to get fixed. For that I need to have a network with people in big companies, and try to listen intently for problems they have.

Too much coffee, too little business.

Honestly, there is too much chatter and too little business in the startup world. Your company isn’t a startup, it’s a business, albeit a small one.

I love hanging out with startup people, and have a lot of friends in this industry. But I’ve also learnt that I need to distinguish between times when I drink a beer with startup people I like, and business networking. That’s because I don’t sell stuff to startups, so they can never be the primary business relations to me. So personally, as I have way too little time so I  focus my meetings on people I can sell something to, work with or who can help me improve me company, this means attending limited “startup stuff”.

I think there must be a millions hours being spent on aimless networking within the industry at the moment. But unless your customers are startups, unless your learning rate is sky rocketing at these events then I’d be careful not to confuse it with making-your-business-grow networking.


That’s why I’ve entered into a grown-up network. Not to replace my travel and startup contacts, but to enrich and expand my network, and to make sure I am putting myself in places where I can learn the most, on several levels.

I hope to establish more commercial relations with decision makers from big business, and, most importantly, to learn from people who know more than me, whatever vertical they come from. I hope you find what works for you.  

Cheat sheet: How to maximizise for app downloads

With more than a million apps available, it’s easy to get lost among hundreds of competing apps. Therefore, together with the marketing team at Everplaces, We’ve made a quick cheat sheet you can use to maximize downloads:

Most of the advice applies to both Apple and Google stores, but on the Play Store you will see more of the Google legacy, with searchable descriptions, integrated YouTube videos and more focus on inbound links. 


Last year, 60% of all downloads came from people browsing in the app stores: this means that if you’re not optimizing your app page, you’re missing out on the largest opportunity to get your product in front of your customers.

*** App Store Search Optimization Cheat Sheet ***

Title: Get the title right and your position will improve dramatically!

Have your primary keyword here, ideally within the app name. You can then include one or two extra keywords to get better optimize for the most relevant searches: for example, a travel app might perform better after adding city or guide to the name.

Description: Unique to Google Play is that the app description is searchable too.

As a rule of thumb, your keywords should appear about 5 times. Remember that most people will read this on a tiny screen, so keep the description short and informative.

Number of downloads, rating, reviews all improve your rank. This is meant to make better quality apps rise to the top of the app stores, and goes towards the general quality of your app. So try to encourage happy customers (and initially, friends, family and colleagues!) to rate and review it favorably.

Most good app developers can help you build in a “rate this” feature into the app which directs good ratings and reviews to the app store, and bad ones to your customer service department. Incoming links count, too, so good old fashioned PR can be a great help for this.

Read more about Google Play rankings here

Speaking their language. Localizations means translating your app into different languages, and this makes a big difference in some countries.

Inside the app you can either translate everything (content and tabs), just the tabs.

You can also use localization improve downloads in your primary foreign-language app stores, by
- localizing the app name
- uploading translated screenshots to  stores, and by
- translating description and key words. This has a lot of impact. 

Not surprisingly, the more people prefer to their own language to English, the more impact localization has, as this image demonstrates. In Europe, countries like Germany, France and Italy generally prefer products that are localized, whereas the Northern countries and Benelux don’t care. 


Great visuals get more downloads

Showing your app page to the maximum number of people is only half of the job. Chances are most people will skim the description and look at the pictures instead, so give them plenty to look at to convince them to actually download. Design matters everywhere, but even more so on mobile, where you only have a a second or two to convince people to give your app a chance.

- Icons: most people won’t go past an ugly icon, so spend some time in getting a beautiful, creative one.

- Have the best possible screenshots, that intuitively explain what the app does. They should explain enough that you don’t have to read the description (which most people wont)

- Lots of screen shots. Make sure you attach all the screenshots the Stores allow you too, many developers only have a couple, but this is a waste of opportunity as people will typically scroll through all of them. 

- While not mandatory, Google Play now lets you to upload a YouTube video that illustrates the app. Think of it as an opportunity to make a good sales pitch.

Photo: Sara Sampsel

More tips about app making and app marketing on We’ve made 70+ apps and are always happy to share our knowledge

The best way to avoid time wasters to maintain high productivity

I’m in that awkward situation that I don’t have time to talk to everyone and respond to all the requests I get. Sounds familiar? 

"It’s not what you know, its who you know" they say. But frankly speaking I think success is equally connected the simple formula: how much do you output. There are many situations where your company would have benefitted more from you being back at your computer, than drinking coffee with even the most interesting person. 

So on one hand we’re taught that Saying No is the key to high-productivity, and on the other hand that we need to well-connected and in touch. So what to do? 

Personally I love and rely on my network. I’ve spent year building it up and it contains many people I feel privileged to know and work with. But I get 30+ emails a week from people who’d like to get acquainted in some form. But if I drink coffee with 30 people a week, I won’t be able to do anything else. And all niceties aside, I am in my job to serve the company, my colleagues and my investors.

But that doesn’t makes it less unpleasant and awkward to saying no to people who’ve been introduced to you, or who write for help. I find it really awkward because it goes against all politeness, and against my own values of paying it forward. 

So how do you sort? Everyone means well. And output is different for each person, i.e. what’s a productive conversation for one person is sub-optimal use of time for some one. (Actually time-waster is way to harsh a word to use, but “sub-optimal use of time” would have made a terrible head line).

Right now I am working with this prioritization of incoming non-business critical requests:

Typically yes:

- Anything from someone I rate highly
- A specific collaboration opportunity, input on specific matter
- Someone who has been intro’ed by someone I rate highly
- Intro request, as long as it is mutually relevant for the parties

Typically no:

- for general feedback on their startup
- intro request which doesn’t appear relevant for the recipient/ to people I don’t know sufficiently well 
- to “get generally acquainted” because they are also in startups/travel
- to interview me for a uni project, survey etc

I normally say no something like: 

"Nice to meet you! I like your app/product/company, very cool. Do you have an idea for how we could benefit each other? Then I’d love to Skype, otherwise I try to avoid general-meet-and-greet calls as they are often not productive. Am sure you are super busy too! Do you have a plan or a concept in mind?" 

So if you want to reach me, short and specific emails are most likely to get a reply. And email over calls and voicemails. And requests that don’t cost me too much time.

The reason I am sharing this is that I find it awkward to refuse requests, and am looking for the best way to stay polite while have maximum productivity. I am not unique in this, everyone gets irrelevant requests, many people many more requests than me. So, how do you manage productivity and staying polite?

Something is bubbling in the Copenhagen startup community!

A short run down of #cphftw, startup village, founders house and the other grass root initiatives happening in Copenhagen right now. 

The talk starts with a bit of a run down of the uncertainties of starting a startup, which the audience found hilariously entertaining, being mostly 55+ years old directors from the traditional IT industry.  

This video was shot and edited by DanskIT, from my talk at their annual general meeting. It demonstrates how I switch into a bizarre halv-jysk dialect when presenting in Danish #suitablyembarrassed

A farewell to Simon Schock, tragic death of my cofounder in Founders House

Yesterday I did something I hope I’ll never do again. I went to put flowers on the grave on one of my co-founders, a friend not yet turned 30.

Simon and built Founders House together. Together with our three other cofounders Angie, Christian and Mike, our MD Zenia and the people in the house we’ve been on an inspiring, tough and fun journey the last three years. Simon was only 29, and generally fit. He died of a heart attach while rock climbing in France.


Today, co-working spaces are mushrooming up everywhere, but back when I came to Simon and Mike with the idea, there were no co-working spaces focused on startups. And it was a totally foreign concept to build one with “elitist” admission criteria, only for the most ambitious. It went against the grain of Scandinavia social democratic culture where everything must be open to everyone. But I wanted something more ambitous, more similar to talent training in sports. Simon said yes before I had finished the first sentence.

We’ve since built up Founders House up to be the best place to start an global tech startup in Denmark. We’ve done it with our own money, without  support from state or sponsors, working for free and investing any small surplus (co-working spaces is a terrible business) into making the house better and more fun (champagne for parties come to mind). You need a certain kind of cofounder to do that. Simon was perfect for it.

When I remember him, I will try to take with me the good stuff and the lessons I have learned from him

Lesson 1: Focus on the big stuff. The stuff that matters

Your biggest risk at an entrepreneur is opportunity cost. Are you sure you are working on the thing that could have the most impact? Time is your most limited resource, so select carefully and make sure you spend your time and tears on things that can have a big impact, for you, your career and your customers.

Lesson 2: Systems matter

Simon was super focused on optimization. Building systems and models that could ensure the most effective output in the companies he was involved with, and of his own time. He would spend hours analyzing with enormous spreadsheets, to make sure he was making the right decisions. And he would carefully build up processes that could be replicated across the companies he was involved with.

Lesson 3: Enjoy life while building your business

Because Simon had build up systems, and made sure to have good people around him, he was able to lead a good life while being an entrepreneur. An interest shared by his lovely French girlfriend, he was an fantastic cook, loved good wine, travelled frequently and did rock climbing. Today I am so glad he prioritized that too.

Simon’s death was a tragic reminder that life is short. I can’t change what happened, but I can work to become a better person, and a better entrepreneur from the lessons I’ve learnt from it. I will try to do that.

My thoughts go out to the family, his cofounder and close colleagues in Sortedam Ventures, and his girlfriend.  


PS: On a practical note. Simon was no longer involved operationally with running Founders House, which continues to grow and run as per usual. Similarly, Sortedam Ventures will be continued by his co-founder Mike.


Today I had the great pleasure of talking at Børsens IT Value conference together some of the fastest moving internet companies in Denmark; Trustpilot, Falcon Social, Stylepit (was SmartGuy) and SimpleSite (was 123hjemmeside).

I love stories of going from zero to 100 in the shortest possible time, and today was both inspiring and interesting. Here are some of the top tips from our talk:

1: The right sales model is the most important thing

They was broad consensus that while product, brand etc is important, what makes a difference between survival and success is a scalable, reliable sales engine. All four spends the majority of their resources on building up a reliable sales team and system.

At Falcon Social almost the entire first round of investment went into establishing proper sales procedures, and at SimpleSite Morten’s core focus is on metrics; measuring in detail the cost and income from new customer. SimpleSite don’t even have a marketing budget as such, they buy based on metrics; below the CAC they buy all the traffic they can get, and above that they buy nothing. 

Subscriptions are (still) the bomb. Both SimpleSite, Trustpilot and FalconSocial are subscription based, and have monthly recurring revenue as their major KPI. Compared to a site like SmartGuy where you have to spend money to acquire each customer each time this model gives considerable advantage.  

2: Product, Sales and Marketing are merging

With super detailed tracking of every lead, conversion, new client and lifetime value the disciplines are merging. To optimize for the best metrics at all stages the different functions need to work together at a rate not seen before. In particular to be able to make growth hacks and move insanely fast for new product development this becomes a competitive advantage. Therefore most of the companies have one major location for the whole team, and see the value in having the development team in the same location as the others (as opposed to offshore dev offices) 

3. Ride the market

"Market beats team, and team beats idea" says Peter from Trustpilot, who raised 240m dkr and hired 200 people over the last couple of years. According to him that was only possible because they built something "people already wanted" and which there was a huge appetite for already. 

At Stylepit they are experiencing a market demand for differentiation. Competing on strictly on prices in e-commerce is becoming a losers game for everyone, therefore they’ve refocused on brand and fashion, and united all their sub sites into one big new brand. Again this is following the market in their industry, in early e-commerce days it was enough to sell nice clothes, now more is needed to win the fight for loyalty. 

4. Success is grit and muscle, not stroke of genius

The overwhelming message of the day was that execution is the real challenge, working with details, testing thousands of growth hacks, building organizations of the right people, raising money almost constantly and getting the sales model right is where the magic happens.

Two of these companies have been around for ten years, another had the founders work for free the first three years. All of them had a least two years of slow moving progress in the beginning. It’s the classical “it takes a decade to become an overnight success”

So if you were waiting for your eureka moment, stop waiting. Just dig in there!

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