Founded in 2014 by Sissel Hansen, Startup Guide is a creative content and publishing company that produces guidebooks and tools to help entrepreneurs navigate and connect with different startup scenes across the globe. Today, Startup Guide books are available for 17 different cities in Europe and the Middle East, including Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vienna, Lisbon and Paris. Startup Guide also has two physical stores in Berlin and Lisbon to promote and sell products by startups. Sissel Hansen is orgininally from Copenhagen, and grew Startup Guide to a 20-person team that is mainly based in Berlin and Lisbon. To learn more about Sissel Hansen and Startup Guide, we sat down for an interview with her.
Your main product is a book, you have a store and now you are launching an online platform. How do you see the impact of online and offline channels for your business?
No matter how much technology has helped improve online relationships and communications, there’s still something to be said for meeting people in real life. With the books, readers get a sense of who they could reach out to in the startup scene in a particular city, whereas the store serves as an open space where anyone can walk in and connect with us and discover innovative products made by entrepreneurs and creators. In both cases, the idea is to use a physical object or setting to facilitate in-person connections. Then there’s our new online platform, which we see as a place where relationships can be sparked quicker. Ultimately, our online and offline channels boil down to one of our core values: fostering and building strong relationships. We’re big believers that this is crucial for a business to succeed.
When launching a new book, which criteria do you look for on the startups you feature?
We don’t have a certain set of criteria because we never select the startups featured in the books only by ourselves. Instead, we always team up with a city partner that is established in the startup scene and then ask the local community to nominate startups, co-working spaces, founders, incubators and established businesses to be featured through an online submission form. Based on the results, these submissions are narrowed down to the top fifty companies and individuals. Afterwards, the local advisory board – which is selected by our community partner and consists of key players in the local startup community – votes for the final selection so there’s a balanced representation of industries and startup stories in each book.
Where does the decision of opening a store comes from? And what’s the next location?
Our first Startup Guide Store was opened in Berlin in August 2017, with Kickstarter as our partner, because most of our team was based in the city and it seemed like a natural next step given our love for physical tactile experiences. Since then, we opened another store in Lisbon at LX Factory, where another part of our team is based. Even though our stores are real stores, they aren’t only centered on selling. More than anything, they’re about capturing the spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity in a physical space and acting as a place where people can come together to discover new things, spark dialogue and share wows and hows.
In terms of the next location, that really depends on where the Startup Guide team will expand to next – since the stores are also our offices. We’re currently also looking into potentially starting a pop-up concept that’s tied to the launch of our books in certain cities.
Startup Guide is launching a new online platform – what is it about and what are your dreams and hopes to what it will become?
In a nutshell, the Startup Guide platform is a new way to help people turn their ideas into a reality as quickly, smoothly and painless as possible. If someone has an idea for a startup or business, we want to help them get incorporated, start selling or testing as fast and easily as possible. Whether it’s registering for a bank account, insurance, VAT number, or sifting through legal requirements, our hope is that the platform will streamline this entire process of getting a startup off the ground while offering useful content and a vibrant community to help with the rest. Even though most cities are now only a plane ride away, building a startup in different place still means adapting to the language, culture, bureaucracy and legislation in each one – this is where we want our platform to come in and make it easy to startup anywhere and everywhere.
How does it feel to be a female leader in the startup world?
It feels both good and bad. The upside is that because of what’s going on in the media and all around us, more and more people in the startup world are looking for women leaders to speak and give attention to, which is also a downside because sometimes it can feel like you’re being invited to events purely because of your gender. Having said that, I think we’re headed in the right direction, but I still think we have a long, long way to go. That’s why I take every opportunity I get to speak out on this topic and try to be a sort of role model for women who want to be entrepreneurs, investors, or whatever they want to be.
How is it to lead a remote team? What are the challenges you face and the main tools you use to manage your team?
The main challenge in leading a remote team is that there are so many things that can be miscommunicated or misunderstood when you’re not sitting directly in front of someone, because you can’t see their facial expressions or body language. The thing with all this technology is that it still can’t replace this in-person human connection that’s necessary to nurture relationships between team members. That’s why it’s critical for us to get everyone together for team gatherings, even if it’s expensive. It’s important for us that the entire team spend time with each other face-to-face to reconnect on a personal and professional level. As for tools to manage a remote team, we use mostly Slack and Google Docs. One thing we noticed is that switching from primarily email communications to using Slack open channels made a huge difference in our team.
What are you most proud of achieving with Startup Guide?
There are so many things I’m proud of achieving, like the investment we recently received or every time we bring our books to a new city. What I’m most proud of, though, is hiring great people, building a strong team – which is incredibly challenging – and creating a place where people want to go to every morning and can enjoy their work. I’m really proud of our team and what we’ve achieved together.
What has been your biggest challenge with Startup Guide so far? Is there something you’d like to have done different?
One of the biggest challenges for us when we started out was trying to complete the first book in Berlin with a very small budget. In the end, we did it and it was such an amazing feeling to have created this physical product that no one had made before. It’s always challenging to swim against the current, but if it works out, it’s such a rush.
There are a ton of things I would have done differently, but if I had done them differently, another set of problems would have come up. It’s a hard question to answer. I guess one important thing I learned is to really pay attention to the people you take into your company – whether it’s employees, partners or shareholders – because they shape what the company becomes. I don’t regret any of my decisions, but that’s been a big learning for me.