Lars Nordenlund’s advice to startup founders & CEOs
Lars Nordenland is CEO Quest’s newest Managing Director, CEO Practice. He serves CEOs of post-Series A companies both in the United States and abroad.
Lars’ philosophy for working with tech CEOs is simple — it’s all about the realization of a company’s growth potential.
“I’ve found technology to be the biggest enabler of growth and change in the world, but changing the world is a lot more achievable if startup teams are designing and planning for it from the beginning and realize they have to redesign strategy as they go through the growth stages”
For a lot of entrepreneurs, especially first-time founders, a growth strategy is almost as hard to envision as it is to implement. Some gamble on going viral overnight, failing to recognize that for most accomplished tech companies, success is derived from strategic planning, careful execution, and measured growth.
“What I hear a lot from companies, especially from engineers and founders, is that they don’t think big or bold enough to begin with. They don’t think ‘scale’. They may have a great technology, but there is no long-term vision or a plan to realize the company’s full potential.”
Tech products and services are unique in their scalability and reach. The most common pitfall that founding teams face, Lars warns, is the prioritization of product over enterprise.
“Entrepreneurs always talk about minimum viable product, but what I’m interested in is minimum viable business. It’s not just the product which must be accounted for, but also the commercial strategy, infrastructure and operations surrounding it.”
Prior to joining CEO Quest, Lars worked for a variety of established technology companies and consulting groups. Served as a Senior Director at Microsoft, and was CEO & founder at a number of successful enterprises, including Mondo Online Solutions and Instrate Advisory. From 2012 to 2017, Lars was Vice President, Incubation & Ventures Business Unit at Milestone Ventures, part of Canon Group, where he successfully rolled out two new product lines to address a $2.4 Billion opportunity in embedded video surveillance. Most recently, he was founder and CEO of Arcules, a venture created to reinvent the video monitoring industry with AI cloud and IoT first solutions.
Lars advocates for thinking — and talking — about growth from company inception. At Arcules, Lars and his team identified who they wanted their future partners to be early on. He reached out to key players soon after inception and told them what his vision for the company was, including the desire to eventually partner with Google. Two years later (and just a few of weeks ago), Arcules debuted as a Google Cloud Platform Partner.
CEO Quest: an opportunity to elevate the next generation of tech CEOs
“Looking for ways in which technology can improve quality of life, and then working with people who share those same ambitions — that’s what is most important to me.”
For Lars, the opportunity to share his experience and work with the next generation of high-performing CEOs as they deploy disruptive technologies contributed greatly to his decision to join CEO Quest.
“Every tech CEO struggles to grow a start-up company, especially when they haven’t done it before, but that’s why I’m so excited about what we’re doing here at CEO Quest. You have a team of coaches who have been there before and can help companies that may have lacked focus, or a proper plan, to achieve their fullest potential.”
Drawing again on his experience at Arcules, Lars identifies three key areas of advantage that the company had over competitors — key areas where he will focus his attention when working as a coach and advisor.
1. Strong vision and compelling strategy
“We had a comprehensive understanding of market needs, and we put together a compelling strategy which resonated with both investors and employees; this allowed us to gain traction early on.”
2. Securing funding
“Arcules was a fully funded project, meaning we could invest heavily upfront. We were then able to scale the team and infrastructure in order to grow at pace. Specifically, we secured up-front funding for 36 months, giving us a definitive runway on which to build our revenue engine.”
3. Getting the right people fast.
“Getting the right people on board early was essential to articulating our vision and turning it into something that truly resonated. It’s people that drive the entire organization, so as a Founder and CEO, it’s essential to ensure your strategy is bold and attractive for people to join.”
Lars believes in the effectiveness of forming self-controlled agile teams within an organization that have the freedom to quickly identify problems and come up with solutions. This keeps people highly motivated and gives them a sense of ownership over projects. The concern in this system is that there is less control over whether or not overall goals will be met, and so it is incredibly important to quickly identify key players and to have a strong unified vision, from management through to R&D.
“It’s really about the 80/20 rule. The top 20% of your workforce contributes 80% of the value to a team. If you can identify who those key members are, you can adopt a leaner, more agile approach and avoid getting in each other’s way.”
When it comes to his personal philosophy regarding working with executive teams as an advisor, Lars has one last thing to add:
“I think there is a big difference between coaching and directing. I’m not there to tell a company what to do. Rather, I would like to help facilitate their path to solutions. Of course, if I see a company heading for a brick wall, I will tell them to turn left and change their course of action, but I believe it’s important to allow those I work with to go through their own processes to find answers. The goal is a balanced relationship focused on helping companies direct themselves. At the end of the day, if a CEO says, ‘you helped us get here,’ that’s great — but when they reflect on their accomplishments and are able to look at their team and say, ‘we did this,’ that’s when I really know we’ve been successful.”
Lars is passionate about supporting organizations and leaders with an ambition to maximize growth and value creation in all stages, from start-up to exit. In his career — from management consulting to leadership roles in major enterprises like Microsoft and Canon group — Lars has always aspired to handle challenges through strategic leadership, innovation management, and scaling through global expansion.
For more about Lars and CEO Quest, click here.