If you need to raise money in the beginning — you will probably have to continue raising money. You have to make a decision early, so make it wisely and know what being a VC-funded company will mean for you.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Dudler.
Founder and CEO of Frontify, Roger Dudler has successfully led his organization to the forefront of brand management, with a powerful and holistic cloud-based experience. Since Frontify’s beginnings in 2013, he’s been the driving force behind Frontify’s mission and vision, empowering 2,500+ brands around the world to create, thrive, and evolve. In addition to spearheading the company, Roger is the proud father of a 5-year old son and enjoys spending time with his family in the city of St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In Switzerland, we have an apprenticeship system and I began on a path of system engineer that eventually led me to the world of coding. After working in different positions in a variety of companies at one point I realized I’m good at building products that solve complex issues, but are very simple for users to use. I discovered that my passion is the intersection between creativity and computers.
My father is really creative and I never realized how much so when I was young. Looking back, I think much of my interest in building and making things come from him. He has many creative hobbies like woodworking, drawing, and painting.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
At the start of 2013, I was on my own and what I struggled with was having to find customers, build a company and create and sell the product — all at the same time. Since I never studied at university I felt I was lacking skills that I needed as a business owner. I also really missed help with all these micro-decisions. You have no one to get feedback from for those smaller decisions. This created a lot of stress. It was a rollercoaster-like one day you sell a big project and then the next you lose a contract. It was lonely, but it’s the life of a startup at the beginning.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’m an extremely optimistic person, which has helped and I have a supportive family and mentors. During the early struggles, I had their energy and confidence to help push me through.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Although we had already signed important customers like Lufthansa at the beginning, the biggest shift for me and for the company came later when we developed our brand software. This was a big moment where we hit a sweet spot, growth came and things got easier. When you find the right positioning and right product-market fit you feel it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The steepest learning curve for me has been on the hiring and firing side. We made some early mistakes there. We have a great team. We struggled with the concept of promoting people who are brilliant at what they do, but who might not make the best managers. I’ve since learned not to promote your best horses. You should provide great people other ways to advance in their careers besides pushing them into management.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We did a campaign in the city here that was very Frontify. It was a series of outside advertisements that said: “We have the lowest salaries in the industry”. It helped us to attract the unique people we are interested in joining us. The sort who don’t put money first and who is clever enough to see what was behind that ad. We don’t have the lowest salaries in the industry, by the way!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Some people live with the idea that to be a start-up founder you have to give up everything for the company. No salary, no time with family, no weekends. I’m a big believer in smart work. Not just hard work. It gives you a different perspective when you are living a full life and that’s good for the company as well. It’s not easy to say no to people who want your time, but it’s essential to do it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Myke Naef, who is the founder of Doodle and an angel investor in Frontify was the one who first took me under his wing when I wanted to start the company. For one and a half years we met almost every week for a couple of hours. He wasn’t there to just encourage me. He would ask challenging questions when I needed to hear them and would encourage me when I needed it. He also taught me everything about SaaS. He helped me to be more balanced and this was crucial to the whole adventure.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I use my position to promote innovation and investment in this region of St. Galen, Switzerland. I want to serve as an example and mentor to other talented people who have the ambition to found a start-up here.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Reinvent yourself every six months.
- You can’t please everybody — you have to please yourself in the end.
- Once you are successful you are a victim of your own success. Growth has to continue. You either grow or die.
- You will probably end up as a manager. There are ways to not end up that way but the expectation is there.
- If you need to raise money in the beginning — you will probably have to continue raising money. You have to make a decision early, so make it wisely and know what being a VC-funded company will mean for you.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
My young son doesn’t care what kind of a day I have. Being with him is my reset button. I am 100 percent present then and it helps me to put everything in its rightful place.
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. 🙂
In Switzerland, there isn’t an entrepreneurial spirit in the schools. I was a teacher for a year or so for developers. I think in schools they are very married to a sort of playbook. There need to be more modern ways of implementing this kind of education to students and I’d like to help that come to fruition.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!