We asked CollectiveCrunch Co-CEO Rolf Schmitz about startups and external advisors—you need to recognize your gaps and have the humility to seek outside insight

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Takeoff Partners’ portfolio company CollectiveCrunch has jumped on an impressive growth trajectory in the recent years, profiling itself as the AI leader of the forestry industry. While this success amounts to many factors, above all a stellar team and product, Co-CEO Rolf Schmitz believes part of the success lies in the founding team’s willingness to seek external advice when needed.

February 2022

When talking about the dangers of lack of diversity when it comes to insight, CollectiveCrunch Co-CEO Rolf Schmitz has a story:

“I once spoke to a founder whose startup was in a zombie stage and in deep financial difficulties. His description of the situation was rather depressing. At some stage, I asked ‘what happened?’ He thought deeply and after a long pause he said: ‘Well, we’re all engineers. We think alike.’ Of course it’s an extreme case, but this conversation has stayed with me as a scenario to keep in mind as a warning. Building a product takes effort, but generally start-ups don’t fail because of technical abilities. They tend to fail because they miss something important, usually external.”

This encounter, along with other similar ones, has made Rolf pay much mind to ensuring diversity when it comes to their own business, starting from the co-founders. Himself, Jaakko Lipponen and Christof Danzl who founded CollectiveCrunch all come from different backgrounds.

“I think it’s very important to have more than just one founder. There’s so much complexity involved in founding a startup, so it’s very easy to get blindsided by something. It’s important to build a skill-set that goes beyond one person.”

Most startups, in their early years, go through iterative phases, and inflexible thinking is not a recipe for success in that environment.

“It all comes down to humility and being honest. If you’re too stubborn about your vision and stick to it no matter what, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

This line of thinking seems to have paid off. CollectiveCrunch found its product-market-fit within the forestry industry where AI-powered data can immediately not just save time and money but improve practices and enhance operations, and this is even without mentioning the carbon capture market which is only just becoming aware of the opportunities presented by CollectiveCrunch’s AI. The startup—or scaleup, now, rather—has established a solid foothold in the Nordics and making headway in other markets including Southern Europe, South America, the USA and Canada.

External advisors can bring in important insights

Besides the internal team, finding the right advisors matters as well. Here at Takeoff Partners, we have seen CollectiveCrunch handling this aspect of growth particularly well, so we asked Rolf’s insight on how he and his team have approached the topic.

Rolf highlights that it’s never realistic to presume you can find all the insight you need in-house, no matter how strong a team you have assembled. That’s why you, as a business leader, need to actively seek external insight. It can come from investors, board members, external advisors or even in a more informal capacity, through off-chance meetings and encounters.

He says that Takeoff Partner’s Markko Vaarnas contributed greatly to CollectiveCrunch’s early growth.

“He shaped this company in a significant way. He helped us successfully through our first funding round and even the next rounds were largely based on his network, the people he introduced us to. I realize it’s a sensitive thing to do as a sponsor because your own reputation is also on the line.”

Indeed, network is Rolf’s answer to how one should go about looking for additional insight. It requires proactivity and initiative—you need to really focus on finding the right people.

“At the same time, however, you need to be careful about solely relying on outside vision. Sometimes young entrepreneurs come to us asking how we got where we are, and I always tell them that you need to listen to advice but not take it as face value,” he explains.

So it’s all about striking a balance between retaining the vision and ownership of your business but remaining open to advice and being ready to revisit your views when deemed necessary.

More information

Rolf Schmitz

Co-CEO and Co-founder

Email: rs@collectivecrunch.com

Phone: +49 151 1972 6650