Know your market fit: We were very aware early on which verticals and company sizes we were suited for. We knew we were a great fit for e-commerce, food tech, transport, insurance, gaming etc., and doubled down on the companies whose pain points and growth ambitions we could address and solve with our product.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mads Fosselius, CEO and Co-Founder at Dixa, a customer engagement platform that creates value for brands and customers in a conversational, friendly, and engaging way called Customer Friendship™. Mads is a serial entrepreneur, passionate about building companies and software that empower customers and businesses to build stronger bonds — much like the connection between friends.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I entered the contact center industry in 2000, first as an agent, later as a customer service manager, then began working as a software engineer and finally as Head of IT & Engineering (CIO) — before starting my first company. Taking on different roles within the industry gave me a deep understanding of the technical side, as well as exposed the many flaws and limitations agents were faced with on a daily basis.
This led me to consider potential solutions that could improve the experience in the call center. In 2004, I shifted to the strategic and managerial side, and founded my first company, 3pas A/S, a solution for stitching together legacy systems, like Genesys, Avaya and so on. We were acquired by the French/Nordic cloud company Cirque, which was later acquired by the Nordic telecom giant TDC in 2016. In the meantime, I also founded a crowdsourced live chat platform Weply in 2013.
Shortly after that, in 2015, I founded Dixa with three good friends from Cirque with the goal to bring customer service to a whole new level. We had realized that you can’t simply glue solutions together or create an overlay, in order to get it right you have to build a platform from scratch.
We wanted to create a platform that would mitigate the increasingly impersonal and transactional nature of customer service and help companies form real bonds with their customers. It took us one year to have a beta version ready. We soft-launched in 2017 for a few customers, and then launched globally in 2018. At the same time, I was brought in as CEO and have been leading the company through a very intense growth journey ever since. The rest, as they say, is history.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The big aha-moment was more an amalgamation of my own and my co-founders’ frustrating experiences with customer service, and building customer service software. But also great experiences! We wanted to build a platform that supports interactions that make you return to a brand or recommend it to friends and family. It quickly became clear this type of platform would make work more enjoyable and effortless for the people on the other side, the agents. And a better experience for agents and for customers equals more business for brands. It’s a no-brainer, really.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
In terms of establishing Dixa, my three co-founders played a big part in building the product we have today, as well as its culture. I’m very proud of what we’ve built and there’s no way it could’ve been done without our combined skill sets. We were also very fortunate that our earliest customers really believed in us and the product. We approached a few pioneering eCommerce brands in the Nordics, like saxo.com and Interflora, and worked together almost like a joint venture, to build, refine, and further develop our product. This allowed us to create something that would deliver optimal results based on real-life input and experience. Using this model, we gained traction early. I also owe a large part of Dixa’s success to my family and my very supportive wife. She’s been a tremendous pillar of strength to me and our three sons through the classic start-up period with very long days.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Dixa stands out because we’ve built our platform from scratch.
There was a reason none of our competitors had done it before. We wanted to completely disrupt the call center, ticketing, and live chat industries. It was an ambitious idea but we can now see how our customers have benefitted through providing better experiences for their customers and agents with Dixa. When we launched it quickly became clear that nine out of the ten brands we approached had three to five different systems to manage their customer engagement and it just made for a very scattered incoherent experience.
Another aspect that makes us stand out is our people. From the very beginning, we decided we were going to be a people-first company, with a company culture that stood head and shoulders above other companies. We believe it’s no longer enough to set up a foosball table and a craft beer tap in the office and call it a day. Employers need to focus on their employees’ mental health, flexible workspaces, clear career paths, the opportunity to grow and learn, and employee shares. This is crucial to be able to attract and retain a sufficient talent pool in a very competitive space.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A large part of what we aim to do is bring happiness into the work equation. Higher levels of happiness improve the quality of life. It stems from the compilation of interactions that people have with their family, friends, and brands — as in today’s interconnected world especially through social media, brands have a bigger impact now than they did even a decade ago. If we can be a platform that genuinely adds to the betterment of people’s lives I feel like we are doing our part in adding to the world for the sake of others, not for ourselves.
I believe Dixa creates a positive change in the world by upending the cold, transactional way most people interact with their favorite brands. People, in general, are so atomized and isolated, especially after COVID, and I like the way our customers are able to create warm and meaningful moments for their customers.
In addition, I try to be a positive influence to other founders in the same space and spend as much time as possible giving back to the ever-growing startup ecosystem by sharing advice and experiences, doing 1:1 sessions with founders, and making angel investments in B2B SaaS.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The character traits that have helped me the most are resilience, humility, and having a strong vision.
Building, scaling, and spearheading a global business takes a certain degree of mental strength. You bring a lot of people with you on a journey and the buck stops with you. I feel a great deal of responsibility for the business and the people that pour all of their passion, talent, and energy into building it. As for humility, I think it’s important as the head of a company to hire smart people and let them take the reins in the areas of the business you can no longer manage closely. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, a strong vision and big dreams are crucial when building a company like ours. You need a strong vision and the power to communicate it clearly to the people surrounding you. It’s crucial you’re all on the same page.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Do not hire too senior, corporate, or high-level leaders too early in your journey, with a hope that the company will grow to fit them later on. It can cause a lot of friction if there’s too much of a mismatch between the leaders you hire and the maturity level the company is realistically at.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
We hit a sharp learning curve quite early as we shifted from thinking of ourselves as being a tool to being a platform. There were some growing pains involved in making a shift like that, and we experienced a lot of struggles, but looking back I would encourage companies to try to reach the highest level of maturity as early as possible. This really refined our go-to-market process early on, and ultimately it’s also how we were able to raise our Series B just a year after our Series A. And a huge Series C just a little over one year after this from one of the largest investment firms in the world.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
You need the right people in all layers of leadership to help you through difficult times. It’s an investment you make early on, spending a huge amount of time sourcing the right team, but eventually, it is what will make or break you in hard times. Also, ideally, you’ve surrounded yourself with level-headed investors and board members that you can count on for support. In that department, we’ve been extremely lucky and I’m very grateful for the network we have around Dixa.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Make sure you’re open to and able to learn from your mistakes. And don’t be discouraged by setbacks. They’re inevitable so there’s no point letting them overshadow the progress and good times. As mentioned, a strong network of experienced and engaged leaders, investors and advisors will see you through almost any storm. As for the highs, I’m a firm believer that you have to make a big deal of celebrating your wins — together. We have special Dixa Life Summits for example, where we fly the entire team in from our different locations and enjoy a few days together. We spend time getting to know each other better and tuning into the vision for the company.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Founders should be looking at their own goals to determine whether or not venture capital is the right path for them or not. It can be absolutely crucial in order to scale fast and to reach the highest degree of maturity as early as possible. We saw a big gap in the market, especially in the US, a very customer-centric culture that is lacking in terms of the right tools to support customer service that lives up to peoples’ expectations. With this in mind it was important for us to scale fast and we needed venture capital for that. And I believe you should choose investors that can help you on your journey, with expertise, manpower and connections.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Hire the right people: Make sure you speed as much time as humanly possible as early as possible building the right team.
- Know your market fit: We were very aware early on which verticals and company sizes we were suited for. We knew we were a great fit for e-commerce, food tech, transport, insurance, gaming etc., and doubled down on the companies whose pain points and growth ambitions we could address and solve with our product.
- Put on your sales suit: In the beginning we supplemented the business we got from inbound with our own personal networks. The co-founders had a very hands-on approach to meeting with potential customers, communicating the vision and the brand. It was crucial to winning important clients in our close-market and was how we were able to hit 1M dollars ARR within a mere 9 months.
- Learn to live with chaos: In a scaleup, the only constant is a change. My role as CEO and founder has changed a lot over the past couple of years. It’s been important that I gradually step away from the operational side of the business, and focus more on strategy. It’s important to then have the right people in place so you can act as a facilitator and align the stakeholders around the vision.
- Take culture seriously: Build the type of company that people love to work for. Think about your employees as human beings that need to feel like they belong, and work from that. Having a world-class company culture is imperative to any type of growth as you will otherwise not be able to attract the right people.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Not spending enough time early enough on filling the various leadership roles in the business. You might have an overview as a CEO and founder when there’s 30 employees, but it’ll quickly become unsustainable and you’ll need the right leaders to contribute to this responsibility. You want your leaders as early as possible so you actually feel comfortable around them, because this will be your biggest challenge. As a CEO you need to spend your time on building the brand and the story around the vision.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
It might be a hackneyed trope, but make time for self-care. Go out several times a week to do some sports to wind down. I’ve played soccer for years, since quite a young age, and now my 3 sons join in. You have your chairman, you hopefully have your advisors, but you still need to be the figurehead for your company and your employees. Therefore, be the best version of yourself all the time. And that includes making sure to take time for yourself and surround yourself with great people. Otherwise, you will go insane.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that shared experiences connect people and the world, and I’m convinced the customer-facing employees play a significant role in this. I suggest a great movement would be centered around Super Agents and empowering them to help and create great experiences for others, and it could be the beginning of the new era of human interaction with the brands.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are so many amazing founders and business leaders in truly customer-centric companies I’d love to meet. Someone I find especially inspiring is Emily Weiss, the founder of beauty brand Glossier. She’s created a company that is so firmly rooted in the needs and desires of its own customers, it’s very inspiring. Another is Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, who transformed a very big and challenged business by infusing a growth mindset throughout the organization and by heavily investing in diversity across the organization — human as well as cognitive diversity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am active on my personal LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as all of Dixa’s channels, including the blog. Feel free to DM me.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!