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Be a servant leader; Stay calm and don't be hasty; Many things that seem urgent aren't that urgent
If you read through our popular Meet the VC series, which profiles hundreds of VCs, you’ll see that an overwhelming majority say the founder and his or her founding team are the biggest factors they consider when investing in a company.
Many want to find that soft skill that’s often not reflected in a resume. For instance, VCs always look for founders who are “resilient” “intuitive” and “courageous.” At the same time, they want to find teams that work well together and complement one another. Team dynamics can make or break a company.
In this new series, we’re profiling startup founding teams. We want to know why they chose to work together and why they work so well together.
This week, we are featuring Ciara. Ciara provides inside sales teams with interactive guides, proven playbooks, and smart objection handling, helping them to structure their phone conversations and increase their success and productivity.
Ciara is founded by Konstantin Krauss and Martin Heibel. Konstantin Krauss and Martin Heibel met in 2018 at a startup event in Munich, Germany. After talking, they realized they had a lot in common and were both ready for a new project. They knew that the inside sales industry was growing day-by-day and after conducting market research they launched Ciara, the virtual assistant for inside sales representatives, together in January 2019.
Konstantin Krauss has been active in the technology sector for more than 14 years. He got his start by co-founding Travian Games, one of the world's leading providers of online games. Shortly after, he sold his shares and served as CTO of Propertybase, the leading global cloud platform for real estate brokerages, for nearly nine years. Using his skills acquired in business startup and technology, he then co-founded Ciara in 2019. Read more about Konstantin here.
Martin Heibel has been a technology entrepreneur since starting his career in 2004. First serving as the general manager at the LMU Entrepreneurship Center while earning his Ph.D. in entrepreneurship from Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München.
After immersing himself around entrepreneurs he founded IntraWorlds. He served as managing director for nine years and was able to garner top US based customers such as KPMG, AT Kearney, Davis Polk, and PWC. He currently still serves on the IntraWorlds advisory board.
Vatornews: How did your company come together?
We met in 2018 at a startup event in Munich, Germany - so a bit by chance. After chatting, we found out that we both had prior SaaS experience, both were currently running startup programs at the two big Munich universities, and both were ready to take on a new project. It was the perfect recipe for the launch of a new company!
Given our background in software, we started discussing where we thought industry trends and needs were heading, specifically in the enterprise and sales sectors. The sales industry was ready for something new, and the idea of a productivity assistant dedicated to inside salespeople was created. We started discussing this idea of a personal digital assistant with friends in sales and first possible customers and discovered that there was a huge untapped potential in this market.
And that is how Ciara was born. We never stopped thinking about putting Ciara into action because we knew from our own sales experience how much value Ciara could bring to sales teams around the globe. Especially in the US market, where 47.2% of sales teams are in inside sales. So, we worked very early on and very closely with our first investors and launched Ciara in early 2019.
Vatornews: What are the complementary skills you each bring to the table?
The basis of our partnership is definitely built on our entrepreneurial spirits. We both come from a background of various entrepreneurial ventures where we have gained a lot of experience in building and scaling companies. Because of this, we are able to learn a lot from each other.
In terms of skills we bring to the table, Konstantin is definitely more creative and comes up with unconventional ideas, which is why he is strong in product management, development, and design. Martin is more of a structured, rational type, heading up the sales, operations and HR departments.
We don't always agree, but that is why we work well together. We make it a point to always hear the other person out because we want the best idea to prevail - and it usually does.
Vatornews: What are the characteristics/qualities you look for in a founding partner?
There are a few areas we agree that work best to consider when looking for a founding partner, which are:
Personality - Can you imagine working alongside this person? You don’t have to be best friends but is important that you are able to spend a lot of time with them and seamlessly make key decisions.
Hard facts - Are their skills complementary to yours? Can one handle the tech side while one handles the market entry side? (i.e. it doesn’t help having two sales guys head a technology-based company)
Availability - Is the time right? Do you both have the capacity (e.g. consider other commitments/current jobs)? Do you have a location that is suitable to get started (e.g. are you living in the same city or can someone relocate?)?
Founder Spirit - Is it someone who really wants it? Do they really have the motivation and energy to implement their entrepreneurial interests? If this element is missing, it could be difficult to get something off the ground.
Vatornews: How do you make sure you don’t get on each other’s nerves?
The first way we combat this is that we both have a strong lead on given areas of the company, as previously stated. Konstantin is in charge of development, product management, and design, and Martin is in charge of the go-to-market strategy, sales, operations and HR. We are able to each have our own areas to lead and shape within Ciara, which allows for easy cooperation between the two of us.
However, we do get on each other’s nerves at times - after all, it’s human nature! Especially when we consider something of high importance, yet disagree on the best way to go about it. However, we have developed a good culture of being outspoken and transparent about our views with each other, and will always commit to a joint way forward.
Vatornews: What are some lessons learned about working together?
We have learned many lessons about working together and what works best and what doesn’t. The three main points we’ve taken away so far are:
You need to be aligned with your work ethic. This means always knowing 1.) what you prioritize, 2.) how hard you work, and 3.) what you consider a good enough result.
You should allow your co-founder to take the lead on a topic and make their own independent decisions. Be ready to provide input whenever asked, but you don’t need to give unsolicited advice at every turn. It takes time to find the best balance, but it’s important that you do so in the beginning. You should fully trust each other and not worry if you don’t have any control over some decisions. You partnered up for a reason, and if you can’t trust one another, your partnership may not work out.
Vatornews: What’s your advice about teams and founding partners to entrepreneurs looking to start a company?
- Strive for your big, long-term vision, and make sure to take care of operational excellence at the same time.
- Be a servant leader and stay out of your best people’s way.
- Any success is always a team success
- Stay calm and don’t be hasty. Many things that seem urgent are actually not that urgent at all. Keep your focus on the things that matter most.
- Hire slow and fire fast. This is an old one, but everyone has to learn it on their own. It’s hard to fire people if you are a first time manager.
- DON’T forget to talk to your customers. I’ve seen so many teams build a product for years, in secret, and then when they finally bring it to life, nobody wants it anymore.
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Ciara, your personal assistant, has your back. Designed for motivated salespeople, Ciara allows you to focus on what you do best - talking to customers and closing more deals. You are guided through your calls with access to winning playbooks and equipped with context-aware, real-time objection handling. After your call, Ciara removes the monotony of note-taking by having already transcribed everything for you. Then, with a click of a button, automatically updates everything in your CRM. By combining all of these features, Ciara, for the first time, lets you achieve a true all-in-one conversation. Level up your sales game. With Ciara.