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The Road To Crowdfunding Success

In light of Hordes recent crowdfunding success, we've had a chat with the founder, Alf Gunnar Andersen about their success, the importance of building a good organizational culture and future plans for the company.

Written by: Markus Solsvik Krüger and Kari Dybwad

5 quick warm up questions:

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who complain before they even try.

Any book or author that has inspired you?
Tribes by Seth Godin.

What could you talk about all day?
Innovation and value creation.

Name one thing about yourself that your LinkedIn profile doesn’t tell us
I was supposed to be a rockstar...!

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Gaming with the boys.

Why should startups consider crowdfunding as a funding option?

First of all, it democratizes the access to funding. The competition amongst investors is usually quite low, and the demand for the equity from scale-up companies is usually high. This puts the companies in a difficult situation. With a lot of companies wanting equity, but very few investors investing in them, crowdfunding presents a new and sustainable option for companies like Horde. Another bonus with crowdfunding, is that it creates a lot of ambassadors for us through the investors, as well as the ability to set our own terms.

What do you think made the biggest difference from your first crowdfunding round to the massive increase in the second?

In order to raise funding a second time like we did, the importance for a great story in order to emphasize and clarify the purpose, is big. Especially when we aim for more funding with a higher price. The most important part for us was the fact that we reached the milestones we said we would in the first issue round. We established partners and started generating revenue, and got our license while the amount of users kept increasing. Despite some delay due to Covid-19 and the PSD2-regulations, we managed to reach our goals and have now started delivering a product to the market which has validated our potential of making profits. I think this has made clear the intentions and purpose behind Horde, compared to when we first started out and the whole concept seemed a bit abstract to some people.

I think we could’ve brought in more funding both the first and second time around. Both processes was supposed to last for two weeks, while the first round stopped after four days, and the second stopped after seven days. The about 500 people that have been with us so far have been followed up and given updates all through the process, and i think that has contributed to an increased trust in Horde amongst both current and prospective investors. When the second funding process took place, they could see that the value of their shares had gone up and the company had reached their goals. This has likely resulted in them wanting to invest more, or at least made them tell friends and others interested in investing, creating a positive “word of mouth” effect for us.

What will you spend the funding on?

We’re in the scale-up phase with intentions of growing and exploring. At the same time we need to operationalize and commercialize. This puts us in a situation where we, as an organization, need to be ambidextrous. We have already taken action, not only by employing developers, but also operational people with the responsibility of “keeping this bus on its wheels”. By investing a great amount of the funding into ambidextrous capabilities, we hope to take a leading position in the Norwegian market within our field.

Is there anything you think Norwegian investors could do better, and do you have any recommendations for them?

Telling investors to invest more and take more risks would be a bit naive. There are of course a limited number of companies that succeed, and most likely a there are bunch of companies you should avoid as an investor. That being said, Norwegian VCs do generally hesitate investing in companies, and they’re known to invest small amounts. If they choose to invest, their opinion of valuation is often unfair. Compared to Swedish VCs, trends show them valuing start-ups and scale-ups as much as double the price that the Norwegian VCs often do. With smaller companies being the ones in need of equity, the VCs often have the upper hand enabling them to devalue companies. Most of the time it’s business as usual - supply and demand.

I think there is a certain competence and experience gap amongst some investors. We need more investors with actual entrepreneurial experience, who have a different perspective and want to help and guide companies to reach their potential. On a positive note, I do see an increase of these types of investors in Norway, but still - the Swedes are ahead of us here as well.

Which advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are having issues bringing in equity?

First of all, you need to make sure that your concept will bring some sort of value. I don’t want to be a “know-it-all” telling people what’s good and bad, but I think many people believe being an entrepreneur is a “cool”, while in reality it is really hard work. Don’t get me wrong, it can be both fun and rewarding, but if you cannot handle adversity and unpredictability, you’re not in for a good time.

Founders and entrepreneurs need to get better at building their teams. In most scenarios three or four people is not enough to cover all the roles needed to compete in today’s market. In my opinion, they need to go out there and bring in funding, so they can hire the right people - especially in the first phase of growing the company. My mentality has always been that owning 20% of something successful is better than owning 80% of something that is bound to fail. Bringing in the bare minimum to keep hold of your shares in the company rarely enables you to get enough equity. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize the expenses associated with developing a company - hiring, marketing etc. There are certain gaps of competence among entrepreneurs, that needs to be filled. Their ambition for funding amounts needs to be increased, as most companies could always do better with more money - especially since Norway is an expensive market to operate in.

When things don't go as planned, what keeps you motivated?

Having multiple options and alternatives when you run into a rough patch is a great way to avoid hitting the ground too hard. If not, you’ll most likely end up being too dependent on one player. This will leave you in a vulnerable situation where the player in question has all the power and you won’t be able to negotiate. When working towards our crowdfunding success, we always had multiple plans running in parallel. We had large corporations being interested, which we either accepted or turned down, giving us the luxury of choosing who to get involved with. Without the options, we could’ve risked having to accept offers we didn’t really want to, which in turn would have resulted in us losing some of the control of the company in a very vulnerable phase. If it’s already too late to prepare and failure has occurred, the most important part is to not stop and complain. Stopping for a brief moment is ok, but use the time to reflect on why this didn’t work for us, and then go out there and do what is right, or at least what your gut is telling you is right. As cliche as it might sound, keeping your head up and working hard is usually the common denominator for success.

What has been NCE Finance Innovations role for you as an entrepreneur and as Horde as a company?

One of the big positives is that they have allowed us to focus on the key activities to build the company. They’ve arranged a great office space contributing in making us an attractive workplace, they’ve supported us when we’ve needed them, and still not forced us to participate in events and stuff that weren't a good fit for us. Basically supplying us with vital resources and being humble and helpful instead of being intrusive about how we should run our business.

You get a lot of praise for the culture within the company, what do you think is the key to achieve an attractive organizational culture?

The most important part is hiring the right people. The ones with the most relevant or highest competence on paper, aren’t always the ones suited to work in your organization. We’ve rejected talented people based on their personalities and the way they act. People rolling eyes when you ask dumb questions and acting like they are smarter than you because they know something you dont, these kind of people will rarely improve the culture. Ideally, finding young and hungry people, with good competence, that brings high effort and wants to work towards a common goal. What they lack in experience, they’ll make up in energy and will. It wasn’t until our 15th employment that we hired someone with experience from banking.

Being generous and having simple rules for everyone to follow is a great guideline. I hate when companies have “10 rules to follow” and stuff like that, because no one really remembers all the 10 rules. Three simple rules based on common decency. Our three rules at Horde is (1) no assholes - if someone asks for help, help them. (2) Don’t leave your team hanging - do your part and don’t become the brake for the rest. (3) Exceed expectations, in a positive way, for both customers and each other. We don’t want to settle for “good enough”.

On the other hand, the culture is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can’t take all the credit for having some sort of magical recipe. Success breeds success, and when things go the way we want, it’s easy to keep the spirit up.

As the team and company keeps growing, do you feel like you're managing to hold on to the great culture and shared values within the company?

It’s definitely more challenging. When we were 10 people, it was fairly easy as I could get involved in what everyone was doing and help everyone all the time. Now there aren't enough hours in a day to do so, and I have to be honest on what I’m good at and not. The fields of competence are stretching out, and if I start involving myself in areas where I lack competence, I’ll risk doing more harm than good. We’re on this journey now, and as we talked about earlier we are aiming to operationalize operations. This requires us to trust and allow the employees to make decisions, in order for the culture to become autonomous. Not only for efficiency reasons, but also for them to feel more responsibility and to see the business in a greater perspective. It can get clumsy at times, and it takes some getting used to for all of us, but in order for us to develop, both the organization and the employees in it, it’s necessary. I can’t be present for everyone all the time anymore, so for them to learn and acquire the required skill-set needed to do their job is very important.

It’s incredibly rewarding to watch people develop in this direction. Some people figure out along the way that this way of working isn’t for them, and we respect that and let them go back to doing what they do. It’s important for us that they don’t feel forced into doing something they don’t want. For those who do choose to follow this path, I kind of feel like a parent whose kids are just starting to borrow the car or going to parties. I want to call and check in on them all the time, but I have to leave them with the responsibility. It’s like we’re constantly metamorphosing, and I believe it’s important for us to embrace it and learn how to adapt instead of always trying to solve problems the same way as previously.

Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

I was probably indirectly influenced by my family. My father is an entrepreneur and on my mothers side of the family we have lot of business people. In my younger days, I was heavily invested into being a musician. I think the combination of not being creative enough to be a musician, and not being structured enough to be a great analyst, gave me some benefits. Still being alright in both made me interdisciplinary in some way, and therefore capable of doing the operational part of business, but also with an out of the box mindset.

Despite this, I think my personality has to a certain extent facilitated it for me. I’ve always been rather radical and never afraid to express my opinion. Challenging norms and expectations, because I felt in my bones that this is not right or good enough. For a while I blamed myself for being difficult, but at this point I’ve accepted and embraced the nature of this behavior. It makes a big part of what I do and who I am today. I believe this approach also shapes some of the culture we possess at Horde. We encourage being direct and honest, shaping a culture of transparency within the organization.

In many ways it can be compared to being in a relationship. Honesty and transparency shapes a much healthier relationship than keeping secrets for each other. We let employees see management reports to the board in order to include them. When we see a problem, we take it upon ourselves to figure out how to work our way through. People are too good at “forgetting” issues and tries to hide it away. This way the problems will grow in silence, and at some point hit you right back. Some conversations need to take place even though it sucks. You can’t just hide it away when it gets difficult. This is the type of mentality that we aim to practice.