When Jakob returned to Denmark after a period of working as a CFO for a Venture Builder with HQ in South East Asia he was in doubt whether or not to pursue a career as a CFO or something which was more operational. Through his previous work in Denmark he connected with the notorious entrepreneur Morten Lund whom he met while working on a Series-A Investment for a new and upcoming Nordic venture company. Together they saw a market fit for a Venture Builder/Advisory Firm that was more about providing the right knowledge and specialists versus purely providing capital. Together they decided to found HippoCorn.
We sat down with Jakob to have a chat about HippoCorn, his personal views on the best Danish and international start-ups and entrepreneurs as well as career opportunities at HippoCorn.
Start-ups needs 3 things to succeed
“Together with Morten I was chasing a lot of projects the first 6 months after I came home from Asia. I/We were literally flying all over the world chasing and getting inspiration from other projects. We had a focus on Latin America, the San Francisco area around Palo Alto and Germany. We spend a lot of time understanding what the market was currently needing. A lot of the start-up’s we visited needed more than just capital. Industry Specialists and really experienced entrepreneurial advisors who could help them reach the next phase of growth and land the next investment where always needed. Fundamentally we figured that a start-up needs three things to succeed: A good idea, specialists (experts) and capital. And we didn’t see a lot of companies, especially in Europe, that were focusing on delivering those 3 things in one package to the start-up’s.”
HippoCorn is founded
It was soon after this realization that Jakob and Morten (as chairman) decided to launch HippoCorn officially in early 2016. In short, HippoCorn scouts a huge amount of start-ups and grown-ups and gets in touch with the companies which they think are the most interesting and where they see a good match with what HippoCorn offers. “I guess you could call us a venture advisor – in the sense that we take a very active role in the companies that we decide to partner with unlike e.g. VC companies who invests and maybe get on the board but that’s it. We started out using my own and Mortens networks to find the right competencies and specialists for the companies to help them take it to the next level. Now we have a huge network that keeps increasing organic by word of mouth. This might be hiring a CTO or a head of international expansion – someone who has done it before for a another super successful company. Morten has done a ton of investments and been involved in some of the most successful Danish start-ups so obviously he has a huge reach and vast amount of experience that other companies can leverage. Ideally we like to get the foot in when a company is working on the market fit or scaling the business”.
Managing Director Jakob Hansen (left) and Chairman Morten Lund (right)
We provide know-how to companies at the right time and make them investor ready
HippoCorn might sound like a VC but there are clear differences according to Jakob. “One of the key differentiators between us and VCs is that we do not just help to get funding and then leave it up to the company to ensure the right growth. We step into the company and make sure, that they are investor ready. When we decide to engage in a company, we invest with human capital, finding the right experts and connecting them to the right people if they are e.g. looking for fundraising”. According to Jakob there are no other company that are doing it the way HippoCorn is doing it. “Berlin based Project A Ventures are doing something which might be along the same lines however they have all the experts in house, where we on the other hand, have a smaller core team and then a big network that we assign to each venture.By doing this we ensure that we always have the very best people – and not just the ones we currently have sitting with us in the office. We are in it for the long term when we engage”.
You need to be a mix between a consultant, private equity guy and an entrepreneur
To fuel its growth HippoCorn is currently looking for a lot of new colleagues with different levels of experience. “We are currently looking for smart people to join HippoCorn – basically at all experience levels – from analysts to team leads that owns the work we do for the start-ups we engage with. For our senior experts we are looking for people with deep technical knowledge within a certain field – The ideal candidate for team leads would be a consultant with private equity experience and who have maybe played around with his own startup, that mix have proven to be the best fit. I think those 3 are the key components. For analysts we obviously do not expect that kind of experience – key thing there is hard work and curiosity within the field. One of the upsides of working in a place like HippoCorn is that you get a lot of responsibility fast – much faster than at other companies. In addition then you get the opportunity of working with some of the smartest people. People not just sitting in our Copenhagen office, but from our network all over the world.
The next Danish unicorn start up is…
“That’s a difficult one – I think we have a really promising generation of founders and start-ups right now. I’m probably going to forget some, but I’m impressed by companies like Lunar Way, Cardlay and Linkfire – and obviously more mature companies like Vivino and Tattoodo which haven’t even started the true monetising phase yet. I also believe that companies like Trustpilot and Tradeshift might become unicorns in a not too far future. These are just some of the start-ups, but there are a lot of really interesting companies out there right now”.
I have yet to meet a founder who is super creative and world class at executing – I’m not sure it exists
Jakob has worked with some of the best entrepreneurs, however he finds it difficult to point to a single person as being the best he has worked with. “I think we have a bunch of people in Denmark that are world class within entrepreneurship. My own partner Morten is probably the most creative person I have worked with – he is the kind of guy who wakes up at 5.00AM because he just got a new idea – combined with his experience in building and advising companies he has some very rare skills. But I also think that people like Jesper Buch (Just Eat), Tommy Ahlers (ZYB) and Mads Faurholt (Nova Funders) are extremely good – maybe more on the execution side but it’s super impressive what they have done. I don’t think I have seen many Danish entrepreneurs who can both come up with the crazy original idea and also execute flawlessly on it – that is a very rare skill if anyone possesses that combination at all”.
When asked what makes a good founder Jakob replied with the following three skills:
- Insane drive – you need to be ruthless in your will to win and succeed. You will have so many set-backs and slaps in the face that you need to be super dedicated.
- Execution – the founder has to be strong at executing. This might not be doing actual operational stuff, but he or she needs to be able to get things done all the time. This is especially important at the early stages of the start-ups life.
- Ability to ask for help – this is a tricky one, but it’s so important that founders are able to ask for help. There is no way you can figure out everything by yourself and if you don’t ask for help you will have sub optimal results.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel is one of the books Jakob recommends all aspiring entrepreneurs to read
Top 3 books for aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel – The book gives you a good understand that you should try and aim to do something that makes life better.
- The hard things about hard things by Ben Horowitz. Really good book which will give you a good understanding of all the downsides of being an entrepreneur and the tough times you will HAVE to go through and how to utilize it all in a positive way.
- The Goal – by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. About a plant manager working at a plant, whom uses his curiosity and observations in his private life to optimize his plant. A good example of how entrepreneurship works.