FF 010 Becoming Europe's Hottest Startup with Carl Waldekranz, CoFounder and CEO @ Tictail

Summary Notes


In this episode of Founders Friday, host Harry Stebbings interviews Carl Walderkranz, CEO and co-founder of Tictail, a burgeoning e-commerce platform aiming to become the world's most utilized and cherished service, hosting over 85,000 stores. Carl shares his journey from co-founding the digital agency Super Strikers, which helped establish Spotify's brand identity, to creating Tictail with a focus on long-term impact and a vision akin to "Tumblr for e-commerce." He discusses the importance of a data-driven approach in later funding rounds, the evolution of their pitch deck, and the significance of company culture, including strategies for maintaining it across international offices. Carl also reflects on the growth challenges and milestones of Tictail, including their strategic decision to base operations in Stockholm and the excitement of launching at the Nordic Ecommerce Summit.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Founders Friday and Carl Waldekranz

  • Harry Stebings hosts Founders Friday, presenting Carl Waldekranz, CEO and co-founder of Tictail.
  • Tictail aims to be the most used and loved e-commerce platform, called the "Tumblr of e-commerce."
  • Tictail has 85,000 stores and recently closed a 22 million series B funding round.
  • Carl previously co-founded and sold Super Strikers, a digital agency, and Keyflow, a mobile app company.

"And today we welcome the founder of one of Europe's most exciting startups. It is, of course, Carl Walderkranz."

This quote introduces Carl Waldekranz as an influential figure in the European startup scene, emphasizing his current and past entrepreneurial ventures.

Carl Waldekranz's Early Career and Super Strikers

  • Carl began his career in design, co-founding a boutique agency called Super Strikers with his current co-founder Kai.
  • Super Strikers was a small startup agency that worked with early Spotify, helping with marketing materials.
  • Carl's agency became tech-focused, working with notable clients like Spotify, Rosetta Stone, and Nokia.
  • Super Strikers was acquired by Identity Works in 2009, leading Carl to contemplate his next venture.

"One of our first customers was this tiny startup at the time, twelve people. Small. Called Spotify."

This quote highlights Carl's early work with Spotify, which was a significant client for his agency, Super Strikers, and underscores the agency's focus on tech startups.

The Attraction to E-commerce

  • Carl's experience with e-commerce clients sparked his interest in the field.
  • As a designer, he found e-commerce appealing because design changes directly impacted revenue and user engagement.
  • His interest in e-commerce led to the eventual creation of Tictail.

"In ecommerce, it's a bit different. Like, you see how every change you make has this huge, incredible impact on the sales or the visitors and so forth."

Carl explains his attraction to e-commerce, pointing out the tangible results of design work on business performance.

Founding Tictail

  • The idea for Tictail started with a late-night conversation between Carl and his co-founder Kai.
  • They wanted to build a long-term business with a significant impact on the world.
  • The concept for Tictail evolved from exchanging messages and applying existing business models to new categories.
  • Carl emphasizes that starting a business doesn't require a eureka moment but can be a structured creative process.

"I want to invest my life into something that is longer term, a company where I can see myself work, not for the next year or two, but for the next ten years."

Carl expresses his desire to create a lasting business, indicating his long-term commitment and vision for Tictail.

"I actually think that coming up with a company idea, something worth pursuing, it doesn't have to happen that way. That creative process can be much more kind of like planned or defined and something that is like an activity that you schedule."

This quote conveys Carl's belief that the process of generating a business idea can be methodical and deliberate rather than relying solely on sudden inspiration.## Idea Generation and Brainstorming Techniques

  • Brainstorming is more effective when spread out over time.
  • Allowing ideas to digest and develop over a day or two can enhance creativity.
  • Structured brainstorming, learned from agency experience, can be productive.
  • Using post-it notes to quickly generate and categorize ideas can reveal patterns and trends.
  • Reversing bad ideas to make them good is a part of the structured brainstorming process.

"I think brainstorms work best when they're spread out over a time period."

This quote emphasizes the importance of not rushing the brainstorming process and giving ideas time to mature.

"I love the concept of just working a lot with postit notes and just sort of like having different themes."

Carl Waldekranz values the use of post-it notes and thematic organization to facilitate brainstorming.

"Let's output as many ideas as we can in less than five minutes, and after that, let's output the worst ideas we can come up with in five minutes."

Carl Waldekranz describes a high-intensity exercise that encourages the rapid generation of both good and bad ideas.

Tictail's Growth and Customer Base

  • Tictail has over 85,000 brands on its platform.
  • The platform hosts more than 2 million unique products.
  • Tictail's market is spread across 140 countries with concentrated growth in five key markets.
  • The United States is Tictail's fastest-growing market.

"We have more than 85,000 brands across 100. Yeah, no, it's incredible."

Carl Waldekranz provides a snapshot of Tictail's extensive brand presence on its e-commerce platform.

"Together they sell more than 2 million unique products."

This quote highlights the vast range of products available on Tictail, indicating the platform's diversity and scale.

"They're spread across 140 markets, although our growth is concentrated to five markets."

Carl Waldekranz identifies the global reach of Tictail and its strategic growth focus on specific markets.

Acquiring the First Customers

  • Tictail's first customer was Carl Waldekranz's mother, who sells porcelain.
  • The brand Baimukti, run by Carl Waldekranz's mother, merges traditional Chinese porcelain with modern designs.

"The first customer, of course, was my mother."

Carl Waldekranz shares a personal detail about Tictail's first customer, showcasing the common entrepreneurial experience of family support.

"She sells this beautiful porcelain. It's traditional chinese porcelain, but it's updated with sort of like a more up to date artful design."

This quote provides insight into the type of products available on Tictail and the unique offerings of its first customer.

Launch Strategy and Marketing

  • Tictail launched at the Nordic Ecommerce Summit.
  • The launch included a live presentation coinciding with the platform going live.
  • A countdown timer was set up on the website to build anticipation for the launch.
  • The team worked intensively to meet the launch deadline, including coding up to the last minute.

"The launch event of Ticktail was actually this big ecommerce conference called the Nordic Ecommerce Summit."

Carl Waldekranz explains the strategic choice of launching Tictail at a significant industry event to gain exposure.

"We're allowed to present on stage for the nordic ecommerce summit. We need to create a countdown on our website and we need to go live with the service on this specific time."

This quote details the ambitious launch plan that required precise timing and coordination.

Challenges and Nerve-Wracking Moments

  • The most nerve-wracking moment was presenting at the Nordic Ecommerce Summit without confirmation the site would work.
  • Different phases of the business bring different types of concerns and worries.

"I hadn't yet received confirmation that the site would actually work when I was supposed to sort of like demo it live in front of this audience, 2000 people."

Carl Waldekranz conveys the tension and uncertainty just before Tictail's public unveiling, illustrating the high stakes involved in startup launches.## Initial Experience and Challenges

  • Harry Stebings described his overwhelming emotions when first presenting on stage.
  • Carl Waldekranz shared his nervousness during his first VC pitch, emphasizing the importance of the investor's perception.
  • The initial pitch deck for pigtail was too long and overly ambitious, lacking focus on a specific problem.

"ever felt as stressed out and excited and just energized as I did when I walked up on that stage."

The quote captures the intensity of emotions that Harry Stebings experienced during his first public presentation, highlighting the pressure of performing in high-stakes environments.

"Like I remember pitching a VC for the first time and just how nervous I was to go into that room and present that deck and present my vision and this thing that I've been spending so much time working and thinking about, only to have it be criticized or judged by this really, in my mind, important person that seemed to know."

Carl Waldekranz expresses the anxiety of presenting his business vision to a VC, knowing that his hard work and ideas would be critically evaluated by an expert in the field.

Pitch Deck Evolution and Advice

  • The first pitch deck was reduced from 60 to 10 slides after practice and feedback.
  • A pitch deck should not answer all questions but rather create a foundation for further discussion.
  • The best pitch decks generate excitement and leave room for curiosity and questions.

"Whenever you think that you've made a deck smaller or more condensed, remove another two slides."

Carl Waldekranz advises that brevity is key in pitch decks, suggesting that founders should continually strive to condense their presentations even when they think they are already concise.

"Because as it turns out, the purpose of a deck is not to answer all questions about a business, it's to create ground for interesting discussions to come."

This quote clarifies the purpose of a pitch deck, which is to spark interest and provoke engaging conversations, not to provide exhaustive information about the business.

Initial Investor Meetings and Learning Curve

  • The first investor meetings were unsuccessful but provided valuable learning experiences.
  • Networking with other entrepreneurs and startup employees was crucial for improving the pitch and gaining introductions to investors.

"I would say that the first ones were just complete. I feel thankful for all of the people that took the time to meet us then, but I think that we were just such a mess."

Carl Waldekranz acknowledges the shortcomings of their initial investor meetings but is grateful for the opportunities to learn and improve.

Building Relationships with Investors

  • Networking with successful entrepreneurs led to introductions with prominent investors.
  • Seeking feedback from other startups before pitching to investors can lead to valuable introductions.

"So what we did when we started pitching and we were supposed to go out and raise our seed round, we started by pitching other startups and we would just contact other startups and their founders and say like, hey, we're a startup as well, we have this pitch. Would you please find like 30 minutes or 40 minutes from your busy schedule and give us some feedback on our pitch."

Carl Waldekranz explains how they strategically sought feedback from other startups to refine their pitch and leverage their networks for investor introductions.

Evolution of Funding Rounds

  • Fundraising rounds require different approaches and types of presentations.
  • As a company progresses, the focus of pitches shifts from vision and team to data and KPIs.

"Like when we went out and raced the series seed, we had a ten slide, long pitch deck. And it was all about the team, the product, and the vision."

Carl Waldekranz contrasts the content of early-stage pitch decks, which emphasize the team, product, and vision, with later-stage decks that are more data-driven.

"It's much more about the data points, how they've been changing over time, different initiatives on the product development side that have immediately had a positive or negative impact on your KPIs."

This quote highlights the shift in focus for later funding rounds, where the narrative is supported by concrete data and the impact on key performance indicators.

Reflections and Strategic Decisions

  • In hindsight, Carl Waldekranz believes he would have acted with more speed and boldness.
  • Tictail chose Stockholm over Silicon Valley due to a strong local network and access to talent.

"Well, if I would know what tictail would become, I mean, the easiest answer is that I would have moved faster, I would have been braver, I would have been more aggressive."

Reflecting on the journey, Carl Waldekranz suggests that with the knowledge of Tictail's future success, he would have taken more decisive and assertive actions in the company's early days.

"We simply realized that the advantages of being in Silicon Valley, close to all of these investors, were outweighed by the advantages of being in a city where we have an amazing network and we have access to this incredible pool of really talented engineers and designers."

The decision to base Tictail in Stockholm rather than Silicon Valley was strategic, favoring the benefits of a strong local network and talent pool over proximity to investors.## Company Culture and Expansion

  • Carl Waldekranz emphasizes the importance of communication and investing in onboarding processes.
  • New hires in New York are brought to the Stockholm office for one to two weeks to understand the company's culture, history, vision, and foundation.
  • A packed schedule with presentations from key stakeholders in the company is part of the onboarding process.
  • Knowledge transfer programs between offices are established to foster unity.
  • Company-wide offsites are held twice a year, mixing work with social activities, like the trip to Iceland.

"Well, thank you for complimenting on our company culture. I think that one of the key parts of it has been to one, make sure that communications is prioritized and invested in."

This quote highlights the significance Carl Waldekranz places on communication as a foundational element of company culture, particularly during the expansion phase.

"The second part, of course, is that we put in place this knowledge or transfer program between the offices."

Carl Waldekranz discusses the implementation of a knowledge transfer program, which is crucial for maintaining a consistent culture across different office locations.

Personal Favorites and Inspirations

  • Carl's favorite books change over time, with "The Score Takes Care of Itself" by Bill Walsh being a recent favorite due to its parallels with building a company and team.
  • He is inspired by Mark Zuckerberg's approach to fostering innovation within an organization.
  • The First Round Capital newsletter is Carl's most-read blog or newsletter, highlighting diverse entrepreneurial insights.
  • Google Inbox and Google Photos are essential apps for Carl.

"One of my most recent favorites is the score takes care of itself by Bill Walsh."

Carl Waldekranz shares his admiration for Bill Walsh's book, drawing a connection between sports coaching and company leadership.

"I think the approach that Mark Zuckerberg has taken to really build an organization where innovation can come from anyone is something that I'm deeply inspired by."

The quote reflects Carl's appreciation for Zuckerberg's leadership style, emphasizing innovation as a collective effort within a company.

Future Outlook for Tictail and Personal Growth

  • Tictail aims to transition into a consumer destination and become the home to the world's greatest independent brands.
  • The focus for Tictail is on global expansion and mobile-driven market presence.
  • Carl Waldekranz wants to continue developing with Tictail and witness its transformation from a backend tool to a community of creativity and entrepreneurship.

"For tictail, it's all about sort of like transitioning into becoming a consumer destination, like really becoming the home to the world's greatest independent brands from all over the world."

Carl Waldekranz outlines the strategic vision for Tictail, indicating a shift towards becoming a significant player in the consumer market.

"For me personally, I'd love to just continue develop with this exciting company, with my fantastic team and just follow as Tictail goes from being kind of like a backend, a tool for sellers, to becoming this sort of fantastic community of creativity and entrepreneurship."

This quote reveals Carl Waldekranz's personal aspiration to grow alongside Tictail, emphasizing the company's evolution and the creative community it fosters.

Hiring Screen Promotion

  • Hiring Screen offers a service to streamline the recruitment process by turning a large number of CVs into a shortlist using their "blink algorithm."
  • The service is recommended for saving time in candidate selection.

"Well, look no further than hiring screen, who have the ability to turn 200 cvs into a really concise short list of candidates, all analyzed according to their incredible blink algorithm."

This endorsement by Harry Stebings promotes Hiring Screen's efficiency in the recruitment process, showcasing the value of their algorithm in creating a shortlist from a vast pool of candidates.

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