Campus - 22.03.2024 - 08:00 

Startup founders look back: Small steps and big dreams

Melanie Gabriel climbs, Léa Miggiano rides and Paul H. Müller is an active motor sportsman. The three founders of the start-ups Yokoy, Carvolution and Adjust share a passion for outdoor sports. On a panel at the START Summit, they talked about what drives them both as people and entrepreneurs.Startup founders look back: Small steps and entrepreneurial dreams

Founders overcome many obstacles when building their favourite projects. Setbacks and moments of uncertainty do not stop them from pursuing and realising their visions. This was definitely the case for Melanie Gabriel, co-founder of Swiss fintech company Yokoy, Léa Miggiano, co-founder and CMO of Swiss car subscription service Carvolution and Paul H. Müller from Adjust, a Berlin-based company active in the B2B, software-as-a-service and app business. 

Growth towards the goal

Taking steps toward a is not always a smooth process. The three founders looked back on the first hurdles they had to overcome. Solving the question of how to get the product to customers, learning how marketing works, the search for investors or finally gaining and retaining the trust of customers were key concerns. Overcoming those challenges lead to success. Melanie Gabriel and her team founded Yokoy in 2019. Today, the company employs more than 250 people in six European countries and has raised more than USD 107 million from leading venture capital firms such as Sequoia Capital, Left Lane and Balderton. After five years, Léa Miggiano's Carvolution already has 80 employees and over CHF 50 million in venture capital. And Adjust by Paul H. Müller grew from three to over 700 employees in ten years, raised over USD 200 million and was sold for over USD 1 billion in 2021.

Teamwork is the be-all and end-all 

When a startup grows, it is particularly important that everyone in the team continues to pull in the same direction, said Melanie Gabriel. This is the only way for everyone to keep the vision – or metaphorically speaking, the summit  in view. At every single moment, however, the focus is on the next step, the next week, the next month or year. "Even in the moments of 'putting out fires', we were aware that we had already come a long way," recalled the "HSG Founder of the Year 2023". 

Or as Léa Miggiano put it: "We jump, no matter how far or high the hurdle is". From horse shows, she was used to challenges coming unexpectedly despite the best preparation. An important lesson: after a failure, the team has to learn from the mistakes together. "In equestrian sport, the hurdles are higher and the ascent faster  and it's the same in entrepreneurship," says the HSG alumna. 

Above all, trusting in security or staying in your own comfort zone is important for startups, said Paul H. Müller. A founder must learn to lead people, motivate them, trust them and constantly acquire new knowledge. And also take risks: In motorsport, for example, Paul H. Müller encountered traditional, hierarchical thinking like in the 1970s. "Apart from the engineers who work with the data, nobody used a computer. If you use software, you were looked at like you were a magician," says Paul H. Müller. Nevertheless, he made it into Formula 2 motorsport with his software solution. 

In conclusion, the three founders gave the young talents and guests the following advice: don't neglect yourself in difficult times, find time for family and friends as well as your own mental health, talk to people who have had the same or similar experiences, listen to their advice and have fun… and finally, you should always maintain joy and enthusiasm throughout the process.

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