From Corporate Minion to Startup CTO

By Christian Planck, CTO of Tonsser

In this post, Christian Planck, CTO at Tonsser takes us through his journey from corporate setup to startup life. Christian was nominated as CTO of the year at the Nordic Startup Awards. This topic is extremely relevant in a time, where startups are struggling to find talent. A career in a startup entails many different and exhilarating tasks and is a fantastic opportunity. You are exposed to every possible and impossible challenge on a strategic, tactical and operational level. It is not only really educational and healthy, but it will also turn into a major advantage when trying to understand the dynamics of an organization and prove fruitful when, one day, you are the one outlining a strategic direction for an organization — be that a large corporation or a startup.

Two years ago I jumped ship from a large public media corporation to join an early stage startup. As I reflect on what I have experienced since, I consider it the best career decision I ever made. Here’s why:

Passion — the fuel for great work 🔥

At my corporate job only a few of my colleagues cared deeply about the work they were doing. People were slacking off half the time, putting in minimal effort and clocking out early every single day. As a result the work they created was mostly of the mediocre kind. There were probably numerous reasons for this behavior, but in the end it simply came down to lack of passion.

Call it passion, call it drive, call it energy — it’s what makes people focus on performing their very best to deliver great results. It’s what keeps people late at the office to create high quality output because they simply won’t accept anything that is not the best they can do.

The two co-founders of Tonsser, Simon & Peter, are some of the most passionate people I have ever met. They care deeply about the success of the company and truly believe that we’re going to change the world of football. The great thing about passion is that it’s contagious. It got me when I first started working with them and it continues to shine through our entire organization today. If a startup has passionate co-founders, it probably also has passionate employees.

A sense of purpose 🙏

In a big corporation you feel endlessly small. Maybe you’re doing good work, but it can be hard to see how your contribution makes any difference in the bigger picture. In my case, leadership failed at explaining why the work at hand was important for the company. My boss just told me to get it done, because someone else had told her and so on. This made some of my projects seem close to meaningless and without a clear purpose.

In a startup, you’re on a team with a mission. Everyone has the same purpose: To create something amazing out of nothing. In a small team, the impact of the individual is highly visible and everyone knows exactly why their contribution is crucial. You’re always pushing towards the next level and when you reach it, you can celebrate knowing that it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the hard work of everyone on the team. This is what makes me walk into the office every morning with a great sense of purpose.

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Moving fast and getting shit done

At Tonsser and startups in general, there’s always a sense of urgency. We need to be moving fast, building, growing, learning, iterating and refining to prove our right to exist in 6 months from now. This requires a mindset of execution, where people spend their time on what matters the most — the things that move the needle. Turns out this is exactly what people also enjoy the most. It’s what makes the office buzz with excitement before a new product release or when hitting 100.000 users.

Big organizations have a way of slowing down, eventually entering a state where process takes up more time than actual execution. The urgency is gone. Replaced by insane amounts of meetings and heavy processes that prevent people from getting real work done. Who wants to spend 4 hours on a scrum poker planning meeting? Somebody shoot me.

Scarred by corporate for life, it’s now super important to me that processes are as lightweight as possible and meetings short and to the point.

Learning on steroids 💊

In a typical corporate job your role and responsibility is quite narrow leaving little room for advancing your skills into areas other than those you’ve been specifically hired for. Yep, you guessed it — it’s not like that in a startup!

In the early stages, you’re just a handful of people with a gazillion things to do. Under these circumstances, chances are high that you’ll be forced out of your comfort zone to work on tasks that you have zero experience with. This presents a massive opportunity for learning (and of course failing).

Since the beginning, my main responsibility has been to lead a team of developers and designers to build the best possible product — both technically and strategically for Tonsser as a business. But it’s not enough to build a great product. Successful startups have to build a product that users love and want to keep using until their phones run out of battery.

Working towards that kind of product has made me learn about a ton of new and exciting aspects of product design and development.

For example, it is now crystal clear to me how important it is to make decisions based on user research and data rather than gut feeling. This has gotten us deep into tracking and analytics of user behavior with the purpose of making smart choices about how to adjust, optimize and develop our product. We want everything to be measurable and to have a high impact on key metrics such as retention, engagement and virality.

Another huge area of learning that comes with the role of being CTO has been (and continues to be) within leadership and management. One of the biggest challenges in this area has been to build a team of rockstar developers. The market for talented developers is insanely competitive to say the least. Luckily, we’ve managed to hire some truly remarkable people that I feel very proud to work with. Thanks to them, Tonsser shined in the tech due diligence of our latest funding round, scoring highest out of 23 other Copenhagen startups!

Take the plunge 💥

The last two years of startup life have been an amazing ride of success, challenges, failure and personal development. I often wake up in the morning and immediately start thinking about Tonsser. Come to think of it, I’m probably quite close to being in love with my work.

My learnings about building products and companies have been immense and the cool thing is that we’re just getting started. I really can’t wait to see where we’ll be in two years from now (Hawaii, fingers crossed).

If you’re in the corporate world looking for more passion, purpose, execution and learning — you know what to do!

Are you a happy corporate minion who would never consider joining a startup? I would love to hear your thoughts. Reach out on Twitter and let’s get a conversation going on #CorpVsStartup



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