Jonathan Liemann, Venture Architect at Stryber, on his definition of success, his biggest challenges, passions and where he get's his news from.
Summarized, I am a Venture Architect. On a day-to-day basis, I am involved in the process of identifying new and exciting business models, validating their value propositions, and eventually turning them into real (pretty awesome) companies.
That is of course an oversimplification, and there is no way that I could achieve this alone. Operationally, I work within a team of experts; Product Managers, UI / UX Designers, and last but definitely not least, Growth Marketers. As the Venture Architect (the generalist amongst the experts), I am the operational person, who tries to keep all parts moving in tandem, while gently nudging the experts here and there to ensure that we execute to plan. On occasion, I may just come up with a good idea and execute upon it, but most of the time I am trying to enable the experts, and let them do what they do best by removing the (many) roadblocks.
This one is super simple, and I don’t think that I need to overcomplicate the answer. Basically, I get to build cool ventures each and every day! I personally don’t think much else beats that.
I personally think that there are two key qualities that define a Venture Architect (Google may have slightly inspired me), with a handful of secondary qualities that of course don’t hurt. As to those two key qualities, they are curiosity and perseverance.
When it comes to the quality of curiosity, as a Venture Architect you genuinely need to be curious, while being always open to learning new things. Our job entails looking at numerous business models, sometimes on a daily basis, which my not at first glance seem to be the most inspiring. If you are curious, it is always possible to look that little deeper, and genuinely find something of interest that offers an opportunity that others have overlooked.
As to perseverance, I agree with the old adage that “nothing great ever came that easy”. Hard work does eventually pay-off, and in order to get to that point, you need to persevere. This is especially true when building a venture. There are days when nothing seems to change, and the needle seemingly stays stubbornly stuck at zero. This is when it is most important to display this quality, and truly push until a breakthrough is achieved.
As to secondary qualities, there are numerous. But generally, gain those experiences which would most likely contribute to building any new venture, especially when it comes to successfully executing on a strategy. I will refrain to detailing them here, as I expect you to display at least one of the above qualities, in order to independently discover them ;).
As I highlight in a following question, Stryber has a highly defined framework, within which we work. This framework ensures that we eliminate as much risk as possible before we even begin building a venture on behalf of a client.
In my personal opinion, the point at which we start building a venture is where the true challenges begin to become evident. Of those challenges, the main one that concerns me is execution. I believe that this is true of all ventures, no matter if they are an internal venture within a corporate, or a standalone startup. In order to be successful, you need to continuously execute on strategies that have been defined, and if this is not always possible, reiterate until you find a clear path and execute again (and effectively).
Referring back to my previous answer on qualities, if you continue to be curious (continuously search for new solutions) and persevere (stick to a plan and continue to iterate on it), execution becomes less challenging. However, if I were to say that the challenge of execution can eventually be negated, I unfortunately don’t believe that this can be achieved. However, they can become less so of a challenge over time.
Success is very much personal, and there are many levels of success.
For me personally, success would now be achieving the nearly fabled big exit. In this case, founding a company that is sustainable, successful, and of course validated by an acquisition. The results would, of course, be monetary (I would be lying if I said this wasn’t important to me), but more importantly, the validation that I could personally define and build something that people want, at scale.
It is essential to remember that this is personal to me, and also note that success for myself have also been fluid. I once read a book on investment banking and found the idea of working within the industry as the most exciting thing in the world; and of course financially rewarding. Over the next five years, I made it my mission to get into that industry. I did, and honestly, it wasn’t necessarily the most rewarding moment of my life. Hence, my idea of success changed again. Don’t be afraid of this change, but make sure at the end of the day you are the one to define your own success.
There definitely is, in that there is more structure, especially when it comes to employing methodology and execution.
Before Stryber I was a founder of a Fintech, and in all honestly, it felt like I was running around like a headless chicken for three and a half years. The learning curve of founding, running, and unfortunately failing a startup (in my case), is phenomenal. However, you are basically going through a never ending interaction process of trying, failing, and in some cases succeeding. With Stryber, this is also true, but in a more productive way that doesn’t take three and a half years, but a couple of weeks or months.
With Stryber, the framework we have in place eliminates a majority of the risk that startups face from day one. By using the framework, which itself has been iterated on a number of times, you jump a number of steps that most first-time startup founders face. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a notable amount of risk, but a large percentage of it has been eliminated before you get to even writing the first line of code for a new venture.
As this is the case, I would say Stryber sits at the perfect intersection of corporate and startup mentality, in that they successfully marry the best elements of both. Yes, corporates get it wrong (and startups most of the time too), but by following the framework Stryber has developed, success becomes a greater factor.
In a former life, I was an investment banker, and as they say “old habits die hard”. Therefore, I stay very much up to date with global and financial affairs by reading Bloomberg and the Financial Times daily. However, this is not where I stop. I am an avid reader (and notable "oversharer" within Stryber) of technology and startup news, which I usually uncover via TechCrunch, Sifted, and a number of other tech and startup news outlets.
I also subscribe to a number of newsletters, which keep me up to date with industry trends. I would highly recommend both Heartcore Capital (for consumer related startups) and Overlooked by Alexandre Dewez (for broader startup industry updates). Another hack I use, is to follow as many Venture Capital firms as possible on LinkedIn. These guys love to tactfully boast about their most recent investments, which gives the reader a pretty good indication of emerging trends within the industry, and to some extent how the future will look.
This is a hard one, in that I genuinely think advice should be unbiased. In any case, I am super biased, in that I fundamentally love what I do as a Venture Architect, and that is building awesome companies.
However, if this is also something that someone really loves, and doesn’t think that it just sounds exciting (remember what I said about investment banking!), I would advise them to get as close as to the venture building process as possible. Personally, I would advise joining a startup, the earlier, the better. They will develop all the skills required of a Venture Architect, and the learning curve will be phenomenal. Once they have gone through that painful, but rewarding process, I think they would have developed the skills and qualities required of a Venture Architect.
However, this is not the only path. Working in a corporate environment is also valuable (I did so myself for a number of years), and although we love to give them a hard time, some corporates do an extremely good job at innovation. They just have to find the right teams and departments within which they can develop. Then, if they are still interested, I look forward to seeing them joining me at Stryber!
On a last note (an eye roll here is more than welcome), really do what you love and don’t waste time before you get started. Even if it is building your own venture!