Welcome to our “Founders series” where we interview Founders from Scale Capital’s portfolio. In the first interview, we speak with Janus Jagd – founder and CEO of Cylindo. Welcome, Janus. Please tell us a little bit about what Cylindo is.
Cylindo was founded in 2012. And in short, Cylindo is the fastest growing product visualization platform for commerce. We have a 3D technology that helps retailers and brands, visualize all their product configurations, and then it helps them offer immersive shopping experiences across the entire consumer journey.
You are one of the tech startups out of Denmark that has successfully expanded your business to us. What motivated you to take the business to the US? And how important has it been for Cylindo?
I think it really comes down to two things. First of all, the US is the biggest homogenous market. And secondly, it is also easier to raise venture capital there, or at least there’s more venture capital available to the right companies there.
I think for us, for Cylindo, in the beginning, it was important to gain traction on the US market both to accelerate revenue, but also from a fundraising perspective. And if you look at the Cylindo business today, the North American market is still by far our biggest market today.
Do you recall some of the most critical steps when building the business in the early stage?
I would say finding product market fit has, without a doubt been one of the most critical steps and operating a company with product market fit is much easier than operating a company that does not have it. It took us three to four years, before we really nailed product market fit. And back in 2016, we had to restructure the entire company. We changed the strategic direction, closed an office, laid off a big part of the team, including most of the management. That was a really, really tough time, but it was the right decision. And I think if you look at our year-on-year growth rates ever since that decision, it proved that it was the right one.
So how would you characterize your own leadership style? And what do you consider key when recruit recruiting and retaining talent?
You know, around the size we are now in Cylindo, where we have roughly 130 people, I think my most important responsibility is to attract and retain talented people and make sure they are culturally fit, so they fit into the organization and work well with the rest of the team.
I do not think it is my job to tell talented people how and when to work, they clearly know that already. That is why they have been doing so well. So, my job is more around making sure they are aligned with our strategy, our values, and then to show them trust and empower them to do their thing. That is my leadership style.
So how do you measure success?
If you ask me personally, I would say whether I’m happy. You know, work is obviously a big part of your life so if you do not enjoy the weekdays, and the Monday through Friday is right, then then you’re doing it wrong.
If you ask from a company perspective, we are an extremely metrics driven company. So, we measure success in a lot of different ways. If I had to boil it down to one metric, I would probably say client retention, because that tells you a few things. It tells you that clients love what you do, they keep sticking around and buying more. So that tells you something about that we have a compelling platform, a strong product offering that meets client expectations, but also says something about our team; that we have really good and talented team members that can help guide our customers to be successful across the entire Cylindo journey.
Could you share some of the learnings you have from navigating under uncertainty?
It is going to be all right. Trust me, it is going to be alright. Sleep on it.
I think that navigating under uncertainty is one of the things you practice most as an entrepreneur. I think startup life, especially in the early days is a series of uncertain events. And I think when you are in in times of uncertainty or crisis, it is kind of human behavior to let the reptilian part of the brain take over and focus on survival, and that has a tendency to often you know, lead to short-sighted decisions. So, my advice would be to, you know, even though things are uncertain to try to make the right mid- or long-term decisions instead of focusing on short-term fixes, unless it is about fixing cash balance — because then you need to be shortsighted to make payroll the next month.
So final question, Janus. If you were to provide three pieces of advice to aspiring tech entrepreneurs, what would those be?
I would advise them to surround themselves with smart people. You do not have to be good at everything, but you have to be conscious about your weaker sides and what you don’t know and what your knowledge gaps are. And then surround yourself with experienced people who you can go to for advice.
Secondly, I would say, always trust your gut feeling. You know, advice is good, but there is nobody like the founder that knows the business. As a founder, you are the most qualified person to make an important company decision. So always trust your gut feeling. I think that is probably the most important piece of advice I could give to any aspiring tech entrepreneur.
If I had to mention a third one, I would say – make sure you have a founder vesting program, it can bite you in the ass down the line if you do not.
Can you just expand on that a little bit, to really understand what a founder vesting program is?
So essentially, you have this great idea, you meet two co-founders that you want to found a company with. It is all going to be great, but for some reason, it may not be that all the co-founders are part of the journey. You might find out after one year, one founder is not the right fit for the business, or they decide to do something else.
If you have a founder vesting program, then they vest the shares or the equity they have in the company over time. So instead of just getting a third of the company to begin with all three co-founders, then you vested over time when you put in you know, your 2–3–4 years in the company, so I think that is important.
So vested is kind of an option pool scheme for employees?
Great. Okay, Janus, a pleasure to have you on our founder series, and good luck!
Janus Jagd is Founder and CEO of Cylindo. An entrepreneur by heart – founded his first revenue generating company at the age of 10. Loves to build and grow things, challenge the status quo and get S#!* done.
Cylindo makes product visualisation easy through automated content creation for 3D assets and photorealistic images that can be leveraged anywhere.