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Niklas Jansen on how Blinkist built an inspiring high-performance startup culture

Niklas Jansen: “Culture becomes important when you want to grow as a company. When you want to succeed at scale, you have to leverage every person in the company. Everybody has to influence and own the culture. Only then, a ‘winning culture’ can emerge.”

From Corporate Job to Founding Blinkist

Niklas Jansen started his professional career as a consultant at KMPG after he graduated from university – only to realize less than two years into his job that it would not be what he intends to do for the rest of his life. As a consequence, Niklas and some of his old friends from university gave it a shot to resurface a problem that they wanted to find a solution for and already brainstormed about while they studied together – to be able to learn from more books by reading only short summaries of them. The idea for Blinkist was born and Niklas and his friends co-founded one of the hottest startups in Berlin.

Started in 2012, Blinkist summarizes the key insights of over 2,500 bestselling non-fiction books in short 15-minute reads and audio format. With this offering, Blinkist has successfully raised over 15 million US$ from German and international VCs (e.ventures, Greycroft Partners) and already reached over 3 million users all around the world. Apart from its impressive growth, Blinkist is also known for its outstanding company culture. On Glassdoor and on Niklas’ personal LinkedIn profile, you can find comments like “I love going to work every morning” and “This environment helped me to explode in terms of personal development” – an achievement that not every startup can be proud of.

Niklas Jansen on Startup Notes

In this episode, we accordingly dive deeply into the topic of ‘company culture’ with Niklas being the architect of Blinkist’s HR philosophy. We talk about why culture is so important for Blinkist, how the management measures it and how the startup’s culture impacts hiring and firing decisions.

Out of the many points discussed with Niklas in this regard, there are a few that stand out. One is his view on ‘giving feedback’. According to Niklas, “feedback should never be mixed up with complaining”. It should be always actionable and constructive, so that your employees do not feel bad about it afterwards. Time matters in this regard as well: If you address problems related to the startup culture and things that did not go well immediately, this is a crucial instrument to sort things out and keep your culture intact right away. On the other side, feedback related to performance can wait a bit – but it should be more focused on the development of a person and their performance instead of only the (immediate) results at a given point in time. According to his own words, Niklas is a firm believer in the potential of people and tapping into it the right way. That is also why one should not fire too fast when it comes to performance. But if there is a fundamental difference in an employee’s values and views on the company’s culture, the management should always act as quickly as possible to not compromise fostering the culture for the rest of the team. A structured interview process for hiring helps Blinkist to minimise the probability of these cases though.

Here is the full list of topics that we cover with successful ‘startup culture’ expert Niklas Jansen:

[01:05 – 03:12] On Blinkist and the founding story behind it

[03:13 – 06:04] How Niklas as a founder of Blinkist defines “company culture”

[06:05 – 10:36] Why culture is so important for Blinkist and how the founders came up with theirs

[10:37 – 12:36] How the company culture at Blinkist is managed

[12:37 – 15:10] The KPIs that Niklas and his team use to manage their company culture

[15:11 – 17:36 ] On the importance of being intentional about culture to be successful as a company

[17:37 – 19:30] How culture influences business decisions like hiring

[19:31 – 22:38] How Blinkist executes the importance of its culture during its hiring process

[22:39 – 24:14] What it means when ‘everyone owns the culture’ in a startup

[24:15 – 27:41] Niklas’ view and best practices on firing decisions

[27:42 – 31:12] How Blinkist fosters personal development among its employees

[31:13 – 34:03] How to to give feedback the right way

[34:04 – 35:37] Open job positions at Blinkist and tips on how to apply

Podcast Host: Thomas

If you are interested in hearing more about the importance of a great team and startup culture, make sure to also listen to our episode with Olaf Jacobi who is a Partner at VC firm Capnamic Ventures. If you also would like to find out more about Rocket Internet’s famous ‘hyper-learning mode’ that set its ventures’ teams up for success, tune in to our episode with Uwe Horstmann (former Managing Director of Rocket Internet and Founding Partner of Project A Ventures). And lastly, if you want to know more about what it’s like to found a company with a friend, listen to our conversation with Benedikt Franke who talked about how he founded Helpling.

Subscribe and listen to our Startup Notes episodes also on iTunes. If you do, make sure to also drop us some feedback and a rating! Thank you for listening and being part of the Startup Notes community.

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