Portrait of Founders House COO: “I think I just like to go forward”

Kasper Kim Smidt is the new COO in the Copenhagen office community Founders House, located in  Startup Village CPH.  The new COO is only 25, but already has an impressive resume behind him. And he only looks forward.

By Josephine Maria Hansen

I meet Kasper Kim Smidt at Islands Brygge in Copenhagen’s  Founders House,  a part of the larger startup environment, Startup Village, where he has just been hired as COO. I take an old industrial elevator up to the first of Founders House‘s three floors. Here I meet Kasper, who welcomes me with a big smile and shows me around the office’s landscape,  which includes a Skype room, Turkish carpets, and lounge areas with cushions and bean bags. He shows me up to the second floor where we sit in one of many glass rooms. He has brewed a large french press coffee.

I’ve just shot up to 31. I’m quite astonished,” Kasper says, when we sit. He is 25.

“There is a business here, that I have helped to get two counselors onto their advisory board.  They did not believe it was possible that I have already done so many things, since I am so young, ” says Kasper with a grin, revealing a hint of pride, but most of all, astonishment.  In Kasper’s eyes, 25 is not necessarily young.

I think I just like going forward,” he explains.

You don’t need your clothes washed by your mother at age 18


Kasper’s story starts with his sabbatical year after high school. At age 18, he graduated from Ordrup Gymnasium in the Mathematics-Physics-Chemistry-line. He did not know what he was going to do, only that he did not want to continue his studies right away. Like many of his friends, he took a sabbatical year where he worked at a full time job.

“I took a job because my mother told me I needed to pay rent and help out at home. And I think, was a real kick for me. Something that got me started, “says Kasper, who at that time, lived alone with his mother in Copenhagen. His parents are divorced.

I wrinkled my nose with the mention of rent, but Kasper feels it was quite fair.  

“It was cool. When you’re 18, but choose to stay at home,  you’ve got to pay rent and help with the household chores. It’s not good, to have your mother doing your laundry when you are 18,” says Kasper, with a twinkle in his eye.

Proposing to a woman with a newspaper
Together with a group of friends, Kasper became a street vendor for the newspaper Berlingske Tidende.  Or,“Those ann
oying people who chase you down the street,” as Kasper puts it.

“It was my first experience, and I think it was hilarious.  I was straight out of school and didn’t know what anything was even.  Then I was thrown into this life where I had to stand on the street and interact with a lot of strangers. Which I quickly found out I really liked,” says Kasper.

“I was conversing with people I didn’t know – and the fun part was in making a sale.  It really excited me.”

On his first day, he sold more than his coach, and after a short time, he had been appointed the top seller, something that would later prove to be the rule rather than the exception in Kasper’s career.

 “I don’t know why, but I just don’t have that barrier when it comes to meeting strangers.  For instance, I can easily kneel down on the street in front of a woman and ‘propose’ to her with a newspaper, just for fun.  So she stops there, and you can just get a dialogue going,” says Kasper, and holds out his arms with a smile.

I do not know why, but I just do not have it that barrier when I have to meet strangers. For instance I could easily find to kneel down on the street with a newspaper to a woman for fun, like I proposed to her. So she stopped the. And then you could just get a dialogue going then, says Kasper and beats out his arms with a smile.As the top seller, Kasper got assigned the “top spot”, a highly trafficked area in front of the department store Illum.  He stood here for about a year, throughout the cold winter of 2010, wearing ski clothes and two sets of underwear, but never losing his courage or good humor.
After a year, he had saved enough money to travel to Canada and be a ski bum.  When he returned home after a few months, there was a job offer from the newspaper’s newly established mobile platform waiting for him.

“I said a flat no.  Phone sales was not something I wanted to do.  I was more about face-to-face selling.  But I was eventually persuaded to come in as a salesman at Onfone,” says Kasper.

Within two weeks, he was one of their best sellers.

“In my world, there is no such thing as overtime”.  Kasper leans back in his chair and looks up into the air.

“I’m a working man.  I see work as both a private thing and a work thing.  So when I get into a new business, I just want to set the pace,” he explains, in response to how he manages to become so good so quickly.

“Where others may choose to take longer smoking breaks or lunches, I prioritize work.  If the boss at Onfone, for example, asked if I could work in the evening, I said yes.  It also meant that during the first two weeks I worked for an average of 10 hours a day, ” says Kasper thoughtfully.
“I mean to show that I was fully into it.” Kasper’s high drive and work ethic has followed him through all his projects.  It is also what made him him the boss at Onfone.  The then 23-year-old Morten Strunge soon saw the potential in Kasper, and set him up with the task of testing the commercial segment at Onfone, although he was only 20 and had no prior experience in this type of sales.  Attracted to the responsibility of the position, Kasper said yes, and was soon a team leader with 15-20 employees under him.

“It was a tough process.  Sales and management are two different things, so it was quite an ordeal.  But I really learned a lot from it,” he explains. 

A particularly challenging task for Kasper was finding himself in a leadership role, and finding the right style of leadership.  Since he has never tried management before, and some of his employees were 15 years older than him, he decided to use a tougher leadership style.  It was his way of winning authority, he explains.

“I decided to be tough.  Because I was so young, I think.  I did not support consensus.  I required medical certificates if people called in sick and so on,” laughs Kasper, who today is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

“I had seen all these movies, like Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room, where the  bosses acted that way.  Shut up, keep up, and follow directions.  But I soon found out that it is not the best way. And it shouldn’t be.  So I changed over to a more participatory management style, and it worked.”

 

It changes you, to see a 25-year-old-guy score 300 million kroner
After two years at Onfone, Kasper slowly began to realize that it was not the sale that motivated him – it was the responsibility and opportunities. After he witnesses his boss, 25-year-old Morten Strunge, sell Onfone for 300 million, he began to think about he would like to see himself as a 25-year-old. 

As Onfone slowly began to split up after the sale, Kasper began to seek new opportunities, and along with a former colleague, was headhunted by DanksNet to improve sales and customer service. 

“It’s so not on my resume,” says Kasper, with a wry smile.  “It did not end on the best terms.  But it is what it is.  We built a good sales department for them, and it was fun to have that experience.  But it doesn’t go well every time.”

weCrowdfund.com

Kasper decided to take the plunge and start his own business.  He teamed up with his old colleague from Onfone, Tai Kjeldsen, and started a crowdfunding site,

Kasper then decided to take the plunge and start their own business. He teamed up with his old colleague from Onfone, Tai Kjeldsen and started the crowdfunding site weCrowdfund.com with deposits from his own savings.

Drawing on his experiences from sales, Kasper and his partner quickly progressed.  They got together a good team, and made a lnding page that got 78,000 kroner in funding. 
“It was eye opening.  You can do anything if you just take the chance and call people.”
Alongside weCrowdfund, Kasper and his partner Tai were offered another job with their old employer Morten Strunge, who was starting up the book platform Mofibo.  They were happy to come onboard with their old guru, and took on this project alongside their own. 

“We were not sleeping much during this period,” laughs Kasper.

But it was fantastic.  Kasper and Tai built customer service and sales up until Mobifo went international and sales became outsourced.  Unfortunately, so much space for Kasper and Tai.  They were offered positions as project managers, but Kasper had no desire for this position.  He went on to work for AB Group, a platform for craftsmen, for half a year, until he came upon an announcement that got his blood pumping.  It was as the COO in Founder’s House.

“The posting had my name written on it”, said Kasper.

 

The road to Founders House

Founder’s House is an entrepreneurial community for tech startups with a high barrier for entry.  And it enticed Kasper.

 “I felt it was a platform where I could both have the opportunity to grow as a person, and also use my knowledge to help others.  So I rang Zenia Francker (the general manager of Founders House).  On the phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, wherever I could get a hold of her, to get this job.  I just knew,” says Kasper.

The process was long.  It was important to have steady nerves and not be afraid to be intrusive.  Despite the fact that Kasper finally got in touch with Zenia and was called for job interviews, each time he had to take the initiative himself to call back, press on, and hear how the hiring process was going.

There were many applicants.  Furthermore, many were heavyweights, with several years of professional experience. Kasper was the wildcard, explains Zenia Francker – quite different from the other candidates, who typically had CBS backgrounds.  But his tenacity paid off.  Before long the pile of candidates had dwindled from 35 to 5, and he was one of them.

 As a final test, the applicants were given a mission to make a business case that had to be resolved within two days.
“The the job did not say what we had to do.  Only that it was a business case involving moving to new premises, which can include anything,” says Kasper.


So he canceled all his plans, worked hard, handed in his task, and again heard nothing back.  After a week, he decided to call Zenia one last time.  She said she would return, and when she did, it was to tell him he had been chosen.

“I broke down crying”, says Kasper.co

mmit yourself fully

Commit yourself fully

“I’ve been running around a long time now, I’ve been in many startups and have – according to other people – a pretty good resume.  I have built up so much sales experience, I can easily call any sales department and get a good job there.  But over time, I found that sales are not what drives me.  It is more about having responsibility and helping to produce results.  And that’s exactly what I feel I get here at Founders House,” says Kasper. 

“I have now also found out that the network I built up through weCrowdfund has a great connection with what I do now.  Also, my interests, and open way of being.  So, I feel like this is the right place for me, I’ve arrived.”
Kasper has committed to working at Founders House for three years in the job of COO.  And this suits him well.  He is looking for development opportunities within the company but has no plans to seek a new position.

“People have of course called me with offers, but it’s not something I think about.

“People of course called me with offers, but I did not consider them. What caught my eye about this announcement was that I had to commit for three years, because there are development opportunities within the company.  And when there is development in-house, I can’t see why I should ever stop.  There’s no one out there today who – hopefully – is sitting in a job they wish they could switch out of. It is certainly not my mindset. It is unfair. You better not eat the ducks before they are shot. Or shoot them, or whatever it’s called,” laughs Kasper.

“It’s not my style.”

 

 

 

 

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