Philip is co-founder of Helpling, a marketplace connecting customers with insured domestic cleaners. He and long time friend and biz. partner Benedikt Franke employ a team of 600 across 11 markets. Philip leads product, IT, and operations management.
On his path as a founder.
I started my first company when I was 23. I had finished college and came to visit my parents for the weekend. I interviewed for an internship at Rocket Internet by chance, on a Saturday. My second round was that Sunday. I started on Monday. I worked for different companies of theirs for a year and a half, then built my own. I sold that, did interim product work, then started Helpling in 2014 with my co-founder and Rocket.
On eye-opening moments.
In the first year and a half, we went from zero to 500 employees in 14 countries and 4 continents. Raising 50 million was uncommon back then. My biggest learning: everyone is cheering when you are a trending startup. Nobody tells you about the dangers. Bad times come and capital is never unlimited. Changes happen in a day, based on perception. When it happens, nobody wants to talk to you. Nobody returns your calls. Nobody gives you more money. It happened to us in 2015-16: our biggest US competitor had burned through their 50M and gone bankrupt. The perception of our company had changed with that of the sector. It was eye-opening and healthy: we had optimized for the number of employees, not for profitability or real growth metrics. Hard decisions followed: we let 250 people go. The bigger your company gets, the bigger the problems. It never gets easier. If you make your mistakes early, you can still recover from them.
On keeping it together when things fall apart.
It was ambition, and not wanting to fail. At some point, you need an unhealthy ambition to keep going. If you're always choosing the easiest path forward, this is not the job for you. You need some kind of blind ambition. Some call it stamina. You keep on going and say: Okay, I believe in myself, I believe in the company. I believe in the vision, there's some evidence for it and we keep on going no matter how difficult it seems right now. There's always a way through.
On managing the fear of failure.
I am very driven by this. To manage it, I write things down and imagine the worst scenarios that can happen. Never in my entire life, things turned out as bad as I had imagined. When you write it down and look back at your own experiences, you also see the good solutions.
On his routine for balance.
I normally wake up between six-thirty and seven AM. I do an hour of sports and meditation. To get some of my aggression levels down before I get out (laughs). I'm at the office at eight. I generally take short, 20 minutes lunch-breaks. I'm an emotional person, so sometimes I use this time to do weights and meditate some more, usually with the voice of Sam Harris. I leave the office between around eight PM. My ideal regular day is 11-12 hours long. Now start to burn out quickly if I do more: I have been doing this for 12 years. It's still a learning process. I learn from others and from coaching, but when we are in an M&A or fundraising it's very hard for me to keep this balance. Being married helps: I make sure to spend enough time with my partner.
On burnouts and safekeeping health.
I've been doing an insanely stressful job since 2008. Some of the stress is getting to me physically as I age. I've had things like little tinglings in the ears or not sleeping too well. The first signs, but no burnout so far. Earlier in my life, I didn't pay attention to that. I kept going thinking: Those burning out are weaker, I have a higher tolerance and can just push through it. Youthful ignorance. I am now more mindful of my time and health, of how I invest my energy. If you experience early burnout symptoms, pull out a little and empower others: It doesn't help anybody nor the company if you are out for a couple of months.
On scheduling a productive week.
I assign different roles to each day. Monday is with the country managers, Tuesday about functions like marketing and product. Half of Wednesday for more international work. The remaining time, I use for long term things like company structure and last minutes. My calendar reflects this setup: I have 30 minutes blocks on Monday and Tuesday, and longer slots on the other days. It helps my productivity to know I'm gonna get my main work done at the start of the week and can use the rest to put out fires. This is the theory: some longer-term thinking still falls down onto the weekends.
On running personal retrospectives.
Allocating specific timeframes to specific topics helps me immensely, both from a business perspective and on a personal level. What are my goals for that quarter? What are my physical goals, in terms of health? At least once per month, I perform this exercise where I go back and analyze my calendar, to see if I have truly achieved those things. I try to do this with another person so that I am accountable to someone else and forced to be honest with myself. It helps me prioritize my wellbeing and get more things done.
On product learnings.
Our model might seem easy, but building a two-sided marketplace on a postal code level is a rather complex thing. Main learning: understand incentives. Example: Craigslist is the ugliest website you can imagine, but it gets it done and people return for it. There are so many pretty websites out there that don't get the basic product-market fit in the incentives. We have learned to spend a lot more time on the incentives and a lot less time on how the platform looks. Looks are the last 5%.
On the hardest company stage and aging.
Every stage has its difficulties. I like how the company is right now, even if my role as CEO changed so much. We are in 11 countries with over 600 people. It's a bit like getting older, everything has its benefits. I am not as young as I was before, and the company cannot be as agile as it used to be. But we're a lot smarter and more thoughtful in terms of decision making, We're profitable and growing nicely. Over the years, I have become calmer and more thoughtful in my behavior. I never had formal CEO training: I have been correcting this mistake over the past years: I spend a lot of time trying to advance my skill set. Until then, I learned by committing many mistakes and from others.
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