How ending a startup leads to a business of self-discovery - Interview with Ansis Farhad Lipenitis
This article is referred from Labs of Latvia.
Ansis Farhad Lipenitis is a well-known figure in the Latvian startup scene, having co-founded startup “Motivio” with 2 products – Motivio Meals and WiserState, both demonstrating promising potential and garnering both client and investor interest. But last year, the startup came to an abrupt end.
To many onlookers, it looked like Covid-19 had taken its toll. We contact Ansis to discuss what happened to this growing startup.
Spoiler: it’s not what you think.
So what is your startup’s current status? Did Covid get the best of it?
It’s a ghost. (laughing)
You asked me, is it because of Covid? That would be the easy excuse. The decision to close Motivio came a while before Covid.
Let’s look at it chronologically:
We (my co-founder Juris and I) started initially with employee benefits for subsidizing meals, 2018, which was Motivio. In late 2018 we started working on a different, more scalable product, more aligned with what is dear to me – personal development, psychology. That was WiserState.
For WiserState, we had verbally closed an investment round, based on our MVP. But in August of 2019, the investors turned back while we were in the process of settling the documents. They said they pulled back from all investment deals and decided that 2020 would be a crisis year. I don’t know what kind of crystal ball they have. (laughing)
We were left with no money, which in itself wouldn’t be a problem. But it coincided with the Startup Wise Guys alumni getaway in Spain, then I took 3 weeks off to go to Uzbekistan, where I spent a lot of time reflecting. In the months after coming back, Juris and I had openhearted conversations, where we both concluded we can remain good friends, but lack a feeling of shared purpose for the same things. For me – psychology, mental health, self-discovery. For him – sustainability, ecology. We decided there wasn’t a shared purpose of fighting together. Because at that point, it was a question of fighting for survival.
Then we decided to go separate ways in a business sense.
We looked for ways to sell it, to find partners that would be interested in maintaining it. And then Covid came.
We actually did find one partner. But because of the Covid circumstances, we concluded that it would be too tough for her to continue the business at that time. It was a question of needing to reinvent everything – the product, the services, the format. It would essentially be figuring out a new business.
While it might look like Covid ended it, there were other circumstances at work. Why I wanted to share this is because “Covid ended it” is a super easy excuse.
For other potential founders, it would leave an impression that conditions like Covid might kill you. But what kills you is the moment you decide not to fight anymore.
We know both with Juris, that up until we wanted to fight together, everything would be ok.
What came next?
In my searching, I came to the conclusion that the more you understand what is close to your heart, the better you understand who to proceed with.
I had gravitated together with a community from Estonia, running founder mentoring services called Cocoon by Contriber (Cocoon is one of the companies in the Contriber’s group of companies) – I was also their client. The more I worked with them, we came to the mutual conclusion to work together as partners and shareholders in early 2020.
That was one line of events unfolding. The second was the inner path that led me to joining Cocoon as a shareholder and CEO – which is based on reflections on how self-discovery in B2B could and should be delivered. We look at the core principle to support people in business environments to 1) evolve as a human and 2) run, manage, build services, which are aligned with who you are as a person. This is similar to WiserState, but starts from the leadership level.
As the Latvian saying goes, the fish rots from the head. Consequently, also the opposite is true – the good change shall start from the founders of the company. The best approach for success is for business to be aligned with values and authenticity, and to achieve that, it’s better to start from leadership, which creates a ripple effect throughout the company.
We see that it’s already happening – as clients’ companies grow bigger, the founders who work with us want to provide the same support to their management team. We’re seeing that with companies like Click and Grow from Estonia and Interactio from Lithuania, startups that are on the path to unicorns.
What I hope is that after providing support to the management team, there will come other team members as well in the future.
What does the future hold for you?
It’s hard to predict, because of a funny story:
For the past 4 years until autumn of 2020, I had a concept that I wanted to build a startup.
I started to reflect on why I have this desire. There are surface area reasons and deeper. I discovered a neurosis – a certain internal pain, in this case mine, which people deal with by subconsciously looking for an external solution and running toward it at full speed. But when you uncover the neurosis, the need for the external structure collapses. In a way, one becomes free.
And so my desire to build a startup lost its “must-have” form.
My aspiration remains to create and provide value to clients, but there is less internal pressure to the particular form and scale of a business, and to go after the fixed journey of raising round after round and then exit. So without that pressure, I don’t know where exactly life will lead us. Perhaps it leaves more space to explore.
Tell me about Cocoon – what does it do?
Cocoon works mostly with Seed to B-round CEOs and founders. What I shared are some examples of personal discovery, which we work toward with our clients. We work on uncovering personality traits, fears, shortcomings, which impact the way they do business.
It’s not “let’s decrease your level of anxiety by talking or meditating”, it’s “you have challenges at work, let’s look at what’s underneath”. We see how those challenges relate to your personality. What are your inner blockers, shortcomings, neurosis, why are you sustaining those business-level challenges.
A mentor will explore what’s happening in a mentees life, business, with their coufounder, relationships, we’ll run personality assessments, to explore how they interact with each other.
Founders ask me “what am I getting?”. One of the answers is: “honesty”.
One interesting mental exercise for founders is when they say “I can’t do something”, to try to replace “can’t” with “don’t want to”. Some interesting things come out.
What is the result of this support?
What I’ve seen happening with Cocoons clients is the result of looking into existential questions and becoming more authentic. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What do you want to do after? It creates an interesting loop of the build, scale, sell cycle, which ultimately leads to nowhere. Then one starts to think, but why am I actually doing this?
When people find their answer, and if the business is not aligned with their uncovered deeper sense of purpose, something sometimes has to change. Either the company has to pivot, or the founder has to start a new company. Because what’s the use of running something if you’re into something else?
20-25% of our clients end up ending their businesses with a conscious decision. Thus we accelerate either growth of the company or end of the company.
But we believe in what we do so much that we invest in some of our client companies. We set aside a special fund, Cocoon Ventures, that invests in our clients. The ticket size is usually 100k euros, but can be smaller.
How can people get started with you?
Reach out to us, either online or have a participant intro you. We’ll have the first call to explore what the person needs. Then the person joins our first experiences, one is called Training days (a 2-day event for founders, price 1000 eur, first time – 500 eur) and the other is a Mentoring group (three months long). After these experiences, they decide to join the full program, which statistically 50% end up doing. Our next training days are March 24-25.
The program is for someone who is running a revenue-stage company. Not necessarily post product-market fit. But revenue has to be there. The co-founder wants to look into their personality. It’s someone who understands that professional skills aren’t enough, and that they aren’t in business just for the money.
One thing I’d add – I hope to see more Latvian teams there. We have quite a few from the Baltics, Poland, Scandinavia. But Latvia is not as present.
I’ve observed that Estonians are more open to the concept of “changing me in order to change the business”. And I can see the results it brings. It leads to being more street smart in networking and collaborating, being more openminded to changes and opportunities and partnerships that may come.
A person becomes more confident internally, it’s an internal act. But we sometimes think we need something external for that to happen. While we might say “we don’t have a unicorn in Latvia yet”, but I’d say “why the hell do you care?”, just do it! Of course it will cause positive ripple effects when we have one from Latvia, but in the end, it’s a question of mindset.
More information abut .Cocoon Program from here.
This article is referred from Labs of Latvia.