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Managers in their fifties should not throw in the the towel just yet; startups are not just for young people

15 Oct

Managers in their fifties should not throw in the the towel just yet; startups are not just for young people

Adéla Vopěnková, a freelance Journalist and Content Strategist, recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michal Vajskebr, Chief Commercial Officer for SpenglerFox, and Petr Šíma, Partner at DEPO Ventures Investment Group, during an exclusive event we hosted in Prague.

Where is the executive search market heading? Are there any new trends, positive or negative, brought about by the pandemic?

MV: There are two types of companies. Those that try to proceed the standard way and rely on the fact that if they are not doing well in one region, then they can focus on another one and expand geographically. This is not entirely easy with today’s connectivity. Then there are players who have been pushed by the new rules of the game to get out of their comfort zone and design services they can offer synergistically. In my opinion, we have entered a period of fluid relations, where the boundaries between the candidate, client and cooperating professional often overlap. We see it as a big shift and change from the past.

Headhunters have traditionally focused on corporate clients. What can they offer to startups?

MV: Experience with setting up best-in-class processes is probably the biggest value proposition. Startups that thrive and grow quickly often crash and burn due to the lack of rules and formal procedures. They grew too fast, so many fall victim to their own success. Some think that it will be sufficient to hire a junior HR person to rescue them from a perilous situation. Sometimes, I am astounded to hear that they are looking for a specialist in three countries who speaks several languages ​​and has experience from various markets and “above all is not very expensive”. When I hear this, I often wish that I would like find such person myself. The best solution to this is probably a senior interim professional hired for a few months, who will define a sustainable operational structure for the company. Once this is in place, then they they can hire a skilled, but less senior person on a full-time basis to implement the system.

How specifically did your collaboration with DEPO VENTURES begin?

PŠ: In recent years in the Czech Republic, there has been a generational change. Entrepreneurs who founded companies after the revolution are now at the stage when their companies have just been sold, handed over, or they are currently intensively dealing with the transfer of the executive duties to younger managers. At the same time, there is undoubtedly a large group of managers who have already repaid their two or three mortgages, have invested in conservative investment products and are now looking for what to do next.

Are you suggesting they are facing a midlife crisis?

MV: For some, this may be the case. They are often around 50 years old and have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder, tried everything possible and suddenly they may feel that this environment can no longer offer them any further development. They still have the drive, feel that they no longer need to work for money, and at the same time are looking for a new impetus to life.

PŠ: It is precisely these people who often become angel investors in America. And it is already happening here as well. The change is clear: while in the past, startups were mainly created by people with previous experience in their own business, today it is increasingly C-level managers.

However, it is said that corporate managers are not very suitable for startups…

MV: I do not think so. There is certainly a large group of managers who are not suitable, but on the other hand, not everyone wants to be in the corporate world until their retirement. For some, the priorities change and they seek a different work-life balance. Others just want to take a breather but do not want to be bored at home all day. Instead, they are trying to find something fulfilling.

PŠ: My pragmatic opinion is that if someone has not been interested in startups yet, they will hardly make a good angel investor.

How did you two meet?

MV: Through one investor. This led to a series of conversations between us and the rest is now history.

How can executive search and investor platforms like DEPO VENTURES complement each other? Do companies of your type usually forge alliances abroad as well?

PŠ: I have been connecting investors and startup entrepreneurs for more than 5 years, but I have not heard of any similar alliance in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, I see no reason why it should not work and why we should not be the first. Michal’s domain is working with experienced managers, to whom he has provided support for many years, sometimes decades. They know exactly what their specialisation is, the work they have done and what added value they can bring to startups. Startups, on the other hand, do not lack ideas and energy, but usually do not have formalised procedures and structures, which is key for further development. Another view of the matter is that for an experienced manager, a startup can not only be an opportunity to apply their corporate experience, but also a way to grow their assets.

Investing in startups is considered a risky investment. How much property is it reasonable to invest in similar projects?

PŠ: Common wisdom suggests that it is advisable to invest up to ten percent of ones investment capital, with total fixed assets around $1 million as an entry point. In America, it is common to become a startup investor before reaching the age of thirty. In our region, there is also a small number of technogeeks who sold their companies early on and then gradually invested in other projects. However, people in their forties or fifties with experience from large companies offer bigger potential.

How did you get into investing in startups? How much capital did you start with and what are your plans for the future?

PŠ: We initially started by providing consulting services for startups and investors. The entrepreneurial energy and spirit gradually grew on me and before long we became investors. Our first fund´s size was EUR 1.5 million. But rather than a fund, it is now an incubator for angel investors. Our second fund will be a little bigger, but not too much.

Which company in the portfolio is the closest to your heart?

PŠ: It probably wouldn’t be fair to name just one. We have fifteen companies in our portfolio. My favourites are probably the first two investments, SmartGuide and Tatum. They have also come the furthest. I believe in the future of augmented reality, and that is why we also have Beem and Augmented Robotics in our portfolio.

Michal, out of curiosity, which one of the DEPO VENTURES startups do you find the most interesting, and which one would you be willing to put your own money into?

MV: So far, I have always tried to help companies organise their operational and leadership structures, and to find the most suitable people for them. To be hobest, I haven’t considered buying a share in a start-up yet, but the end of mortgage repayments are approaching and soon the time may come!

(End of Interview)

Michal Vajskebr is Partner and Chief Commercial Officer of SpenglerFox. For the past 20 years, he has been working in the HR and Talent fields. He spent six years in London, where he headed up the SpenglerFox office, developing cooperation with the headquarters of American and European companies in Western Europe. After returning to the Czech Republic, he is focusing on expanding the range of services of the company beyond executive recruitment, as well as on supporting corporate clients in the field of HR and Talent consulting.

 Petr Šíma is a DEPO VENTURES partner and a lifelong entrepreneur. He started with an investment fund, and in 1993 he founded a consulting company with his friend that grew to 60 people. At DEPO VENTURES, he helps to invest in start-ups in their seed phase. He leads the Angel Network and the Angel Fund, believes in global investments that know no boundaries. He is a member of the EBAN (European Business Angel Network) board.

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Jacques de Jager

Head of PR & Corporate Communications


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