3 lessons from the founder of the series

I didn’t want to be a recurring founder. In fact, when I made the decision in 2016 to step down as a CPO at my first job, concert platform Songkick, I had planned to walk away from life as an entrepreneur forever. As exciting as it is to be grounded and watch your idea come to life, it is also a stressful experience where you feel the highs and lows intensely. This could have an effect.

After Songkick, I spent a year traveling, and that space gave me time to think about what I wanted to do next, what made me happy and what I found important.

For me, that was the goal and the effect. The only way I could get over my fear and despair about the urgency of the climate crisis was to try to do something about it. I started looking for ways I could personally make the most positive impact, and that research led to Supercritical – a platform that increases decarbonization by helping companies reach net zero.

After resuming life as a founder, here are the lessons I am applying for the second time.

You don’t need to be an expert to have a good idea

My foundational experiences were very different, but both stemmed from a strong personal passion and conviction of the importance of the mission, not areas in which I had any prior experience.

I founded Songkick because I loved going to concerts and wanted to know when and where my favorite band was playing. I wasn’t an expert in making software, products, or music, but I knew we had a great idea.

Fast forward 14 years and I found myself having another idea for a business in an area where I had no experience. Having had my first child in 2018, the urgency of the climate crisis became physically tangible for me. It was born one month before the publication of the 2018 IPCC report, with a very clear message that we must reach net zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophe. This timeline becomes very real in the context of the world in which he will arise.

I’ve never been a climate scientist or expert in the nitty gritty of corporate greenwashing, but now I have experience building and scaling a software platform and building a mission-motivated team. The rest you are ready to learn.

My experience building a Songkick gave me the confidence to dive into something new. Once you have an idea, the quickest way to get answers is to roll out the first version of your product, get feedback quickly and then iterate.

The best entrepreneurs I’ve come across are radical and fearless in their thinking – they apply a first principles mindset and question the things the world takes for granted. When I started researching the world of carbon offsetting, I allowed myself the freedom and space to really question the market and its buildings and whether it had any real climate impact.

That’s how I learned How I learn better (vital when you fire up something in a field I’m not an expert in): I do a lot of reading and thinking to get to the heart of the problem, getting advice from experts I respect, reading a lot and applying to my circumstances, most importantly, a fail fast and a learning mindset.

Be intentional and consistent about your values

At Songkick, we were fortunate enough to be supported by the likes of Y Combinator, Index, and Sequoia before we ventured out to Warner Music.

I have come to appreciate the value of your investors and your board of directors and how important this relationship is. At the time, I felt privileged to work with investors who backed the tech giants, and I didn’t have the confidence to ask why I was the only woman in the room, even though it was a fact of which I was very familiar.

The Songkick building experience motivated my ambition to do something about the severe gender disparity when it comes to building a company. As a non-technical founder of a tech startup, I’ve been thrown into the deep end. I had my first experiences with sexism and became very aware, even paranoid, about the assumptions being made about me – I was very aware of always being the one who looked like no one else.

When it came time to fundraise for Supercritical, that was something I wanted to change. I made it my goal to get women to make up half of my investors.

I knew it would take longer to raise funds, but I was fine with that. If only men invest, then only men are required to invest, and only men have the exits to be able to invest in the next generation of founders.

It’s a vicious cycle, exacerbated by the opacity and inaccessibility of investing and the fraudster syndrome that so many women have talked to about investing. Women in C positions in publicly listed companies tell me they don’t know how to help, because they know nothing about climate technology. To me, this seemed completely incomprehensible given their hard-earned experience building the company.

Fighting for a 50% Women’s Ceiling Table was my small attempt to break this cycle and steer the industry toward a more positive change. My position as founder for the second time also made it easy to raise – my track record allowed me to be more selective about who I kissed at my table.

You can be from 9 to 5 founders

My final lesson is that you can, and should, set clear boundaries from the start.

As a young first-time founder, without a family, I was willing to invest in every hour I spent at work. I prioritized work over everything else – my relationships, comfort, hobbies, and interests that make me a complete person.

I’m proud of what we accomplished, but it came at a cost. Eventually, I did develop fatigue—something I realized when I found myself extremely negative, exhausted and unmotivated about every new idea that came my way.

With Supercritical, I had no choice but to do things differently because I became a mother. My priority is to be the parent that my son deserves and to be there for him. For me, that means ending the day at five and spending time with my family until he falls asleep.

This balance is very important to me and is a value we have adopted via Supercritical. We expect our team to take care of themselves and know what they need to work hard. We have an unlimited vacation policy with a minimum number of vacation days. I’m the first to tell people if I’ve seen them email out of business hours. I hope this means we have a more motivated and energetic team that brings motivation and clarity of thought to their work.

Every founder will tell you they found the recipe for success. The second time around, my biggest lesson is not to be afraid to do things your own way.

Michelle Yu is the co-founder and CEO of super critical. Don’t miss it at our next sifted summit on the 5th and 6th of October. Get your tickets here.

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