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[E4C53] From the Beaches of South East Asia to the Offices of Y-Combinator – Henrik Zillmer of Airhelp

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Today’s special guest is Henrik Zillmer, a serial entrepreneur with a military background as a former 1st Lieutenant in the Danish army. He is the founder of Airhelp – an online legal service company that helps flyers get compensation from different airline companies whenever their flight gets cancelled, delayed or overbooked. Among his numerous accomplishments is building 16 webshops, in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia in a span of 12 months.

In this powerful interview, Henrik will share with us:

  • What Airhelp does and how they help passengers get money out of the hassle they experience for a cancelled, delayed or overbooked flight.
  • The different influences in separate periods of his life that led to the birth of Airhelp.
  • His technique in acquiring data during his bootstrapping days to build their system.
  • How he established his team to expand Airhelp’s service to cater to more countries.
  • His recommendations on where to stay in Southeast Asia to work as a location independent entrepreneur while living a lifestyle of your dreams.
  • Do’s and don’ts that he had learned from his entrepreneurial journey.
You can achieve great things if you have the desire and will to do it. – @henrikzillmer

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Download the Audio Master Class

Y-Combinator is a highly sought out seed accelerator in Silicon Valley which provides funding, advice and connections to various startup companies. In the Master Class, which you can download for free at www.EntrepreneursForAChange.com/53, Henrik will share with us his experience in applying for Y-Combinator and the secrets to his success into getting accepted into this prestigious program.

In this Master Class, you will learn:

  • What Y-Combinator is in-depth and how it helps startup companies.
  • The top benefits of getting accepted to Y-Combinator.
  • The processes involved in vying for the program and his tips on how to present a strong application.
  • What happens after undergoing the intense 3-month program.
  • Henrik’s tips on how to raise venture capital funding.


Mentioned in this interview

  • Air Help
  • Y Combinator
  • AirBNB
  • Dropbox
  • Heroku

Links to Henrik’s Presentations and Videos

  • AirHelp Fundraising Presentation
  • Y Combinator Funding Sample Application
  • FOX News
  • Disrupt
  • NBC
  • CNBC
  • TechCrunch
  • Wired
  • Fast Company
  • Mashable
  • VentureBeat
  • BusinessInsider
  • Yahoo

Where to Find Henrik

  • Visit Henrik’s  Website
  • Join Henrik’s Facebook Page
  • Follow Henrik on twitter
  • Subscribe to Henrik’s Youtube Channel

Full Episode Transcript

0:01 Lorna Li: Okay, Changemakers. Today, I’m here with Henrik Zillmer who I’ve had the pleasure of co-working with in Bali for one month as a part of Project Getaway. Now, Henrik who is a former First Lieutenant of the Danish Army is a true believer of location independence. And it’s not surprising from his school days in Hong Kong and New York to his entrepreneurial ventures launching web shops in Europe, Australia, and Asia to his latest venture, launching AirHelp from Bali, Indonesia. So I consider Henrik to be a true world citizen.

So, he’s going to share with us what his entrepreneurial journey has been from the beaches of Southeast Asia to the offices of Y Combinator. Also, he’s going to share with us his keys to getting into highly-competitive Y Combinator for our Master Class, which you can download from our show notes for free on www.EntrepreneursForAChange.com/53. Henrik, I’m so glad to be here with you today and to have witnessed the birth of your startup AirHelp. Can you tell us more about it?

Henrik Zillmer: Yes of course, Lorna. Thanks for that fine introduction. It’s been a two-year ride now. Well, I guess I’ve been building up to this for many years since I already always wanted to launch my own thing. AirHelp took birth on Bali at Project Getaway, an event where entrepreneurs, people with their own businesses, they gather every year for one month and they share ideas or work on their own startup or maybe create a new startup together.

I did this after I’ve been working in startups for most of my life but now I wanted to start my own thing from scratch. Actually the idea came about in Bali at Project Getaway sitting by the pool and thinking about all the times that I’ve been flying either connection to my work or for leisure and all the times that I’ve been delayed, all the times my flight had been cancelled. Not knowing that I was actually entitled to a lot of money in compensation from airlines.

When I did some research, I found out that there’s a lot more people, actually 26 million other people who had experienced the same thing every year and they were not getting any compensation. So AirHelp kind of started from the world of traveling starting to help people get money from airlines when they screw up your flight. So that’s where the whole thing started.

Lorna: I had no idea that I’m entitled to money for all the flights that have been delayed. I’ve been sitting around for hours in the airport. What’s going on with that? Can you help us explain how can we get that money for the inconvenience because time is money, right?

Henrik: Yes. I didn’t know either. No one knows and the reason for that is that the laws are very complex. There’s different levels of laws. There’s International Air Passenger Rights, then there’s Regional Air Passenger Rights that the US Department of Transportation set forth for the US, and EU Commission of Transportation has in EU. Then there’s National Air Passenger Rights in each country. So there’s these different levels that apply and if you’re flying from one country to another, then which law applies?

So it’s very difficult for air passengers to understand if they’re entitled to anything. Basically, what we did was we said “Okay, all these laws we’re going to put into code. We’re going to put it into an app for Android and iPhone. We’re going to do a website. Here, people can then type in their flight number and the date of their flight and then we basically look up their flight, look up the status of the flight, match it against the relevant law, and then we provide an instant answer if you’re entitled to money. That can be up to $800 per passenger.

That’s a lot of money if your flight is delayed and this triggers basically on average after three hours of delay or if your flight’s been cancelled. So it’s a lot of money and less than one percent a day actually gets that money. The rest don’t know about it. Even if they knew about it, they’re not going to bother filling out all the paper work and calling the airlines and waiting online. They just simply don’t want to do it. So AirHelp takes that hassle away and offers to go and get that money on your behalf.

Lorna: So that’s interesting because when I think about getting $800 back, that’s worth it to me unless the hassle factor is so frustrating it leaves me angry. I don’t want to go through it. So not only do you identify whether that person is eligible for money back from the airline, does AirHelp tell them how much they stand to gain and does your company also get the money for them?

Henrik: Yes, exactly. We tell you immediately how much money you’re entitled to. Then we say “You can go and get it yourself if you want or we can also do that for you.” If we get the compensation, then we keep 25 percent of the compensation and we transfer 75 percent to you. That’s our revenue model that if were taking all the hassle and we get the money for you, then we keep 25 percent. If we don’t get the money for you – because that also happens sometimes if there are extraordinary circumstances where the airline cannot be obligated to pay compensation. When in those cases, then we don’t get any money, but you haven’t paid anything for the service so you basically have no costs of using AirHelp.

Lorna: My God, that’s such a great idea. It’s so done like “Henrik, do it for me, please.” Wow. This is so interesting. Just looking under the hood of your business and your app, so basically what you’re talking about is you have two relational databases that your app is built on – one that has the countries and the laws and one that has the flights. Help me demystify how one would go about creating a solution like this. I find it so fascinating.

Henrik: Yes you’re actually very correct on that but there’s also a lot of calling APIs along the way. First of all, you were right. We take the law, so we apply the law which is basically just attempt it on top of the database and saying “Would these flights be eligible according to where they’re going, how long, what distances, and where is the carrier from?” Then when we have figured out if these flights or routes are underneath this law, then we look up the flight status. That’s another database where we have all the eligible flights in the last three years because you can actually compensation three years back.

So that’s why we have all the data going back three years from all flights in the world. Basically if you’ve been flying from San Francisco to Bangkok few years ago, I can tell you if that flight was delayed with 10 minutes. That’s flight status information so that we can see “Is the flight actually delayed or was it cancelled?” Then we also need to go one step further and see were there circumstances that the airline could not be held responsible for?

It could for example be an airport strike. It could be a volcano eruption like we had over Europe. It could be an ill passenger on the flight where the airline had to do an emergency landing. It could also be a bird that flew into the engine. So there’s a lot of this extraordinary circumstances where we have to call other APIs, other services to see if these circumstances are happening which would mean that you would not be able to get any compensation.

So it’s not only two databases, it’s also getting a lot of information from a lot of different sources to create such a comprehensive picture as possible. So when we present this to the airline, we have a good case of actually getting you money.

That’s also the big difference of using us and doing it yourself because in many cases, the airline can just say “We disagree. This was due to weather conditions.” What would you do about that basically, right? Would you, as an individual passenger, say “I’m going to take you on court on that one.” It’s not going to happen.

So we stand a little stronger when we can provide all this evidence which means that the airlines have a very difficult time to reject it. That’s also a big plus.

8:14 Lorna: This is truly brilliant because I can tell you I’m so never going to do that. I’m so never going through the hassle because it just seems like such a headache that I could imagine most people just won’t want to go through the hassle even if it’s $800. So with the information with the data that you have that you’ve been able to pull, where does this information come from? I can imagine that you guys didn’t go out and hire a legion of mechanical turks to comb the sources of the interwebs or did you?

8:44 Henrik: Well, to be honest, I was sitting on Cấu tạo, Thailand for three months. During those three months, we’re building the flight database. I was scouting Freelancer for very good web scrapers, who will basically be scraping a lot of airport websites, also different sources of flight data and compiling all of these into the database. At that time, we couldn’t afford the top quality flight status providers of the data. We have to go out and get it by other means. This was the boot strapping days, it still is.

Back then, I was spending weeks sitting by the pool but spending most of my time on Freelancer finding web scrapers and giving them small tasks to see if they were good or not. So that’s actually how we built the flight database to begin with.

9:32 Lorna: Now that you’ve raised startup capital which I am looking forward to hearing about in your Master Class, are you guys basically now purchasing this premium data or are you still web scraping?

9:48 Henrik: It’s a combination of many different things now. You’ll never reach 100 percent of all flight status. The thing there will always be small airlines that won’t share that information with anyone. So unless they give it to you directly, then you have to go out and get it directly from the airports or from other sources locally. So we’re doing scraping. We’re purchasing data. We’re getting data from collaborators, partners. So it’s a big mix. This is taking a long time. Basically, at least one and half years to reach the level where we are right now, and there’s still a lot of work ahead of us to reach a full coverage. There’s many different sources.

10:26 Lorna: Okay. So then now what about the human resources part of it? So you’ve got this big data component of your startup and now you’ve got the people that are going after the airline companies, right? So how do you build up a team and handle the service part of this?

10:45 Henrik: That’s also been going very fast. We started this again one and half two years ago and today, we’re 42 people. It’s increasing very drastically. The funny thing is that we thought this was going to be automatic and then we were not going to hire that many supporters. But we realized that the air passengers are not really getting any help from the airlines and they’re not getting any help from the travel agents where they bought their flight ticket. Insurance companies are not aware of the air passenger rights, believe it or not.

So basically AirHelp quickly became like an advocate or flight expert to ask if you were entitled to compensation. Also, if you lost your baggage or if you bought a ticket and you wanted to change your name on that ticket. We just became kind of the support center for everything that can go wrong when going flying. Now, we’re actually 10 supporters who are answering chat, e-mail, phone calls from the stranded air passengers around the world in all airports basically.

To date, we’re just doing for the good of flight traveling and but of course some these requests also turn into claims. We actually have a big support department. Then we also have a big IT department. Then in our quest for expanding our service and offering it to as many air passengers as possible, we’re now in 14 countries with a person in each country. There’s country managers everywhere also. The HR is managed virtually. You can imagine if you’re in 14 countries and spread out in three continents, then Skype and Slack and lot of other tools are basically our lifeline to all of us. So that’s how we manage the HR today. People are very spread our but very close online.

12:43 Lorna: It sounds like these people are based in different countries, correct? Are you relying on a call center in the Philippines or India for a large part of it?

12:54 Henrik: Call centers are in Poland. I have worked in Southeast Asia for many years and I was looking at Philippines. I was looking at India. I was looking at different places in Southeast Asia. But at the end of the day, I actually found out that price level wise, Eastern Europe can actually compete with the price that you can get in many call center providers in Asia. I also believe that Eastern Europeans have a little different mindset than Southeast Asia. Not to criticize anyone but I think their level of education is higher and I think their way of thinking is also more aligned of how we think maybe in the US or in Europe.

So it makes sense for us to place the call center in Europe because at the end of the day, this is the law. Someone has to apply the law on each situation and understand how that works. The call centers are in Poland. A lot of developers are also in Poland but there’s also some in Bulgaria. Then we have data entry in Bangladesh. There’s also people there sitting doing some of the more tedious manual work that’s not been automated yet. So we have people in those places. We have some product designers in Singapore. We have country managers in all European countries, and then we have a sales office in San Francisco. Now, we’re putting an office too in New York.

So it’s really spread out all over the world. I think the last time I checked we were eight/nine different nationalities. We offer the support in eight different languages today as well, so truly a born global international company.

14:33 Lorna: Yes, that’s amazing. You’re definitely worldwide for such a small startup in fact. You’re not one of those Global 500 corporations with offices in all of the different countries but yet you have such a wide reach. I’m curious. It seems like it’s such a reflection too of your international background. Do you find that beyond your experience of being delayed in airports as you were growing up and studying overseas? Was there any other aspect of studying or working abroad that influenced how you launched and grew the startup?

15:08 Henrik: Like influences along the way or influences in general from some of the countries I’ve been in?

15:14 Lorna: Yes just influences along the way. Obviously as a founder, you create the culture of your company. So I could see how your experience being delayed in airports resulted in you coming up with a solution to the problem that not only helped you but helps millions of travelers worldwide. But is there any other aspect of your background that has really influenced how you’ve grown your startup?

15:38 Henrik: Yes indeed. So to begin with, my brother is a pilot. My sister is a pilot. My cousin is a pilot and my uncle is a lawyer. You can say from family dinners on Sunday, we were kind of talking aviation, transportation, and law. That combined kind of pointed towards that direction. But since I’ve been doing a lot of other stuff, so I never really knew that AirHelp was going to become AirHelp or I was going to start something like AirHelp. But I’ve been doing many other different things also figuring out what’s interesting to me. As you also said in your introduction, it started in the Army of all places where just to try out borders, try yourself, see where your limit goes.

This was exciting three years where you also learn how to get people to help you reach that common goal. Even when you maybe haven’t slept or haven’t been eating or when times are tough which is directly linked to what it is also to be in a startup in the very early days where there might not be any money. There might not be a lot of free time because you really have to move the product, get something done to begin with or else there’s not going to be any salary around the corner.

To basically push through all obstacles that there are knowing that it will become better or when the obstacle is done, then you are this step further. You don’t take no for answer or any challenge is not big enough. I think that has a direct link on what I learned in the Army to how to start a startup, definitely.

17:21 Lorna: You know it’s so interesting because I kind of have this thing for guys who runs the military. From what you can say is that I know of a number of people who are entrepreneurs in the Bay Area who were also in the military. One thing that I do notice in common with all of them is this certain sense of leadership, which I guess is the natural outcome of being in the military. I think that’s really is such a great skill to have if you’re leading a company because people need to be inspired. They need to be motivated to follow you.

It’s fascinating how much the culture of a company is really established by the founder. So when you have a founder that knows how to lead, then you have a motivated team working for you and that creates much more productivity in your company, I personally believe.

18:13 Henrik: For sure. So one of the things I’d say is directly related to this also is keeping people informed. Keeping them in the loop of what’s the goal, where are we, and where we’re heading and why do we need to do this. Especially when you’re also spread out all over the world, if people are not kept on the loop if they are not informed of what’s the bigger goal here, then eventually, they will lose motivation and interest. Then they will alienate themselves from the company and then maybe the greater goal. No startup will survive if that happens.

So you have to keep it tight. You have to keep people involved and informed. That I think is something that’s also directly related to the Army. But then again the Army is probably the least innovative place to work. So there’s not a lot of entrepreneurship I think happening in the Army. So it is a different mindset. You need another building block on top of all of that to create a creative surrounding and platform to grow and start up and to develop a new product. You have to think outside of the Army box.

19:16 Lorna: Absolutely. Not just take orders and hang out until someone tells you what to do right?

19:23 Henrik: Yes, exactly.

19:24 Lorna: So I’m curious to know because it’s been so great to witness the part of your journey that started in Southeast Asia. So you started off in Bali where we’re hanging out in Gili Islands, working from bean bag chairs on the white sand beaches. Then you went off to Ko Phangan, which I’m very curious about checking out. What was is it like to work from Ko Phangan – I don’t know exactly how you pronounce.

19:53 Henrik: Ko Phangan? That was fantastic. So I spent four months on Cấu tạo, Ko Phangan and that was a great spot. Internet was very good.

20:03 Lorna: Really?

20:04 Henrik: Yes. Food was also good. Internet, I mean 3G. I don’t mean local Wi-Fi.

20:11 Lorna: Right, the Wi-Fi is always like that it seems.

20:14 Henrik: That’s bad. But 3G was working. Of course, it’s not your 30 down 5 up connection but not at any point that I have very big hassle doing a Skype call.

20:27 Lorna: So were you using a modem or a Tether-X?

20:30 Henrik: I was actually – I was tethering most of the time, so I was just using the 3G. Then you have to maybe aware what provider is best on this island.

20:41 Lorna: So what provider is best on that island?

20:44 Henrik: Cấu tạo is a little different than Koh Phangan and now I always get mixed them up, so I really don’t want to come with a recommendation. But I can definitely send that to you afterwards so you can distribute it. I was mixing them up so now I’m sure which one is best at that island but I can send that information too. That’s what I did with the 3G. For example in Cấu tạo, you want to go to the most secluded beach and there wouldn’t be Wi-Fi, then sometimes stop over at a café or something that has Wi-Fi or maybe you can even sit on a beach and then you can grab the Wi-Fi of some distant restaurant.

What I have was one of this extended cords or antennas that you can buy, which reach I think 300 yards something like that. So actually I was sitting on Cấu tạo on one peak or one mountain top and catching Wi-Fis on the other mountain top which was like super far away. But I’ve actually picking them up so it was really a good connection. So I have different options and it wasn’t really a problem anytime. So I can definitely recommend those places for work and it’s also just very laid back atmosphere. I think the option to choose a new beach everyday to go to and a café close by that you can work from with a shade and with your coconut shake, it’s paradise.

All the angry e-mails turn into happy e-mails. I would definitely say that’s something that I would like to do every year. If you stay there all year round, you’ll get into a different vibe and I also think for startup and what our startup have now become, you would eventually lose momentum. I don’t think it would be possible to really keep that close startup feel if you were spending 12 months on Cấu tạo, for example. If you brought everyone to Cấu tạo, then it might be possible but I think at some point, you have to say “Okay maybe it’s not going to be 12 months. Maybe it’s only going to be three months a year I’m going to be able to do this.”

22:55 Lorna: But that’s great if you can do that three months a year, that would be amazing. I know that I want to experience working from Koh Phangan and I’m contemplating doing that in about a month or so. What is the cost of living there? Where should I go?

23:10 Henrik: Go to The Sanctuaries where you probably been yourself which is very good. It’s in and out full of very exciting people and you can eat healthy food. It’s a good area where people stay for longer time too. Then there’s a little place next door which is called Coconut Resort or something like that which I used to stay at. The last time I was there for two weeks and then I got the bill which was like 5,000 Baht and I’ve been eating three times a day and drinking unlimited amount of shakes. 5,000 Baht is what $200 for two weeks?

23:47 Lorna: Yes and all the food, too. So you can literally live there for a month on $400 with all your food included.

23:56 Henrik: Easy.

23:57 Lorna: How about working? Is there a simple bungalow room with a fan and mosquito net? Or is it kind of nice and you have like a little veranda and hammock and desk you can work from?

24:08 Henrik: You can have if you book. There’s some really good huts. There’s no air conditioning in any of them but there’s a fan. If you get the ones down on the rocks out towards the ocean and the sunset, then you get the ocean breeze in every time and then you can line your hammock on the porch. You’re basically on the side of the rocks and the breeze coming in so then you don’t really need air condition.

That’s the best place to be I think and you’re not really paying much for staying there anyways and there’s not really any mosquitoes there.

So I really like the place. If you want air conditioning and more luxury, then you can go to The Sanctuary as I was saying which is much more expensive but also a very special place. It’s like scattered across a mountain side of jungle. You’re basically living in the jungle with amazing views, too. It’s become more expensive lately so I’m used to staying at the next door resort.

25:03 Lorna: I hear there’s two very active night clubs there now, too. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to Koh Phangan. Is it noisy or is it still tranquilic?

25:13 Henrik: There are lots of hippies and those hippies also tend to do some pretty crazy techno parties.

25:21 Lorna: I love it. It’s a trance mecca of Southeast Asia. I’m still there.

25:26 Henrik: And there’s two spots there, one is called Guy’s Place which is a walk-up in the mountain, up in the jungle. It looks like there’s a little courtyard where that is turned into an outdoor dancing scene every second Saturday or something like that. People actually take boat to get there. So this beach we’re talking about right now, there’s no road to this place. We have to take a boat to get there.

25:50 Lorna: Still, that’s so great.

25:51 Henrik: People take a boat to get there and also because there’s no roads. There’s no cops for the good and bad things. That also means that you can pretty much get whatever you want. That’s the Guy’s Place and there’s another place called Garden of Eden, which is in between Sanctuary. It’s a place I used to stay at which is also fantastic. There’s bunch of interesting different people from all over the world meeting together for a party that usually ends 9/10 in the morning where everyone is dancing at sunrise. So it’s really a special place.

Usually, if you stay there for longer time, you will kind of go around the parties. If you don’t want to go to the parties, there’s not going to be a lot of noise and lot o drunk people going back and forth. You can basically go on a big circle around it. You can’t do it every week anyway. It’s up to whatever you feel like. You have those choices and there’s a little bit for everyone so I really like the place and Koh Phangan and itself is also a fantastic island. It’s a bigger island in Cấu tạo right so you can get to some of the very good places where there’s not that many people and go exploring. It’s a nice place.

27:02 Lorna: Wow. You’ve painted this incredible picture of having a lifestyle business. I find it so hard pressed to leave all of that to leave the absolute freedom to then having to go and become and getting investors in Silicon Valley and then to become more location based which I understand that’s your situation now. So explain to me what exactly happened. Why did you give it all up?

27:32 Henrik: Everything was being run from Thailand and Indonesia and on Bali. So that was a perfect setup. I really had a good time. Then for the fun for it, we apply for an incubator program in Silicon Valley which is called Y Combinator, which is basically the most prestigious incubator in the world. It is that because the people who are partners in my company, the people who are running that program are the big internet hot shots of Silicon Valley. So these are the guys that all have started something in tech and they sold it and they’re all millionaires and profits within the tech industry. They are then making these investments in new startups because they believe that that’s going to be the next big thing.

So some of the companies that gone through this program are Dropbox, Airbnb, Heroku, it’s just like a hosting service. There’s Home Joy. The list is very long of successful startups that have gone through the program and Y Combinator have invested in them. So we just applied for the fun of it. 10,000 applied, a 100 get in.

28:45 Lorna: So competitive. I can’t wait to dig in to your secrets on how to get in there in our Master Class for Episode 53. Did they make you [crosstalk]?

28:55 Henrik: When you get in, then you have to go to Silicon Valley. We have to then move the company to the US and we had to stay in San Francisco.

29:06 Lorna: For how long?

29:07 Henrik: The Company is now a US company. So basically when you get in, you have to move the company or else they won’t invest in you. Then the company was moved and then we moved to San Francisco, and that’s where we’ve been since. The program itself is only three months and after that there’s a lot of meetings, a lot of investors who would like to talk to you. Then you’re basically positioned on this path to greatness, where there’s lot of work and a lot of interesting people who want to help you or who want to maybe invest in you.

You get to that whole ecosystem which is fantastic, simply fantastic and completely it changes the world of difference for a little startup. We could not of course say no to that. But when you say yes to that, you also make sacrifices. The sacrifice for that is you give up your location independence to some extent because you’re now taking in money from Y Combinator and from a lot other investors to grow your company and build the success and in our case help as many air passengers as possible which was the goal.

But then you also have to compromise and build an office, get people in the office, be available for those people who have interest or stakeholders in your company. Then it’s a different setup. It’s a different future now but much more exciting I would say but maybe also a little less beach time.

30:35 Lorna: Wow. So are you based in San Francisco now or are you in Denmark? I’m a little confused. I can’t keep track of you.

30:41 Henrik: I travel a lot too but most of it is business now. But I’m in Denmark right now because of some holidays and but base is in the US.

30:53 Lorna: Okay. So you do go back to San Francisco, now?

30:56 Henrik: Yes.

30:57 Lorna: Wow. Okay, great. I just want to say that we’re coming to the end of our segment and I can’t wait to ask you more about how did you get in to Y Combinator which is so competitive and how do you guys were able to raise Venture Capital? But I want to leave you with the last couple of questions that I love to end our interview with. Let’s see. In your entrepreneurial journey, are there any general dos and don’ts that you’ve learned?

31:26 Henrik: I think first of all you have to be very careful on choosing your right co-founder or partners to help you. You can’t do it alone. You have to be sure that the people you choose are very good at their particular area of responsibility. You have to do this. People call this gap analysis. Basically it’s just deciding who’s doing what. When you’ve decided who’s doing what, then you need to be sure that they are good at what they are supposed to do.

I see a lot of people that are just choosing people because they’re good friends or they can work together. But if it’s three sales people then the company is not going to be a success then it doesn’t matter anyway. So you have to be very strict on choosing the right people for their particular area of responsibility. I think that’s very important to start out with.

Another dos and don’ts also for the investors now we’ve been raising funding. Be also as picky with your investors as they are choosing you and doing the due diligence on you then you have to do your due diligence on them and see if you want to enter into marriage with that investor. We’ve unfortunately burned our fingers with one investor who turned out to be completely different than what we expected. This is difficult to get out of because it is kind of a marriage. They are owning a part of your company so be very careful on choosing the right people who are investing in you because it can lead to a lot of pain if you’re not happy with that marriage.

It’s really dangerous. So that’s an advice also on the don’t, I would say, or maybe a do to do the due diligence on your investors. Then I also think for dos and don’ts, make sure that you create a startup spirit in your company. As you’re hiring people, you need to make sure that the people are willing to make the sacrifice to come on the boat, on the flight with you on this journey that the mindset is there. That it’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s something that might be 100 hours one week and then maybe it’d be 30 hours next week, but it’s definitely not your 4-hour workweek.

A 4-hour workweek in five year’s time hopefully it will but to begin with, it’s not going to be a 4-hour workweek. Then you have to have the right people who’s dedicated and smart and who’ also can do it within a bootstrapping surrounding so you don’t have money. You have your hands and you have your brain and with that, you can achieve great things if you’re aggressive and you have the desire and will to do it. Those are the people you want because there’s not going to be anyone to hold their hand and guide you through everything because you’re on undefined territory. Everyone has to go and explore on their own and figure out what’s the best solution.

Then also just promote mistakes. If you are doing all this in territory you don’t know, then you will make mistakes. You have to make mistakes. But make those mistakes as fast as possible because you got to make those nine mistakes before you get it right on the 10th. But you don’t want people who’s afraid of making that mistake or afraid of making the decision or afraid of doing something without permission. Always ask for permission afterwards or forgiveness afterwards if you made a mistake.

So those are the type of people you should look for and you can actually go very practical approach on this because you can do some of this DISC analysis or persona analysis where you could define, this is the entrepreneur someone who you probably made it before I’ve worked with and who is something be good at a startup and then you can get them to do the profile. Then you use that profile or use that when you enter new people to see are they kind of the same mentality or type for that person you want in your company or for that role, too. Of course there are different personas with different roles.

So I’ll also be careful about that because at the end of the day, the company are the start of this the people who’s surrounding it and the skills and expertise they have. So that’s very important.

35:23 Lorna: That’s really powerful entrepreneurial advice. Thank you, Henrik, for sharing that with us. How can we best stay in touch with you?

35:31 Henrik: I have just started a blog so that’s just actually my name HenrikZillmer.com. Very little information right now but as the company is getting more interest then I started to put some of my learning up on that blog. So HenrikZillmer.com is where I’d be posting a lot of learning along the way.

35:52 Lorna: Can you spell it for us please?

35:53 Henrik: Yes. It’s H-E-N-R-I-K-Z-I-L-L-M-E-R.com. That’s basically my name.com.

36:06 Lorna: Okay, great. Thank you so much and you have a beautiful day in Denmark.

36:12 Henrik: Thanks, Lorna.


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Lorna Li

Chief Evolutionary Officer at Entrepreneurs for a Change
Lorna Li is a business coach, entrepreneur and Amazon rainforest crusader, with a passion for green business, social enterprise, and indigenous wisdom. She helps changemaking entrepreneurs harness the power of the Internet to reach more people and make a bigger impact, while designing the lifestyle of their dreams. She is an Internet marketing consultant to changemakers, and works with innovative tech startups, sustainable brands, social enterprises & B-Corporations on SEO, SEM & Social Media marketing.
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