Runtastic has grown from 4 to 160 employees in six years. Was it easy for you to give up control and delegate responsibility?
One big lesson came from René [Giretzlehner]. He’s the best technician ever, but leading people was never his strength. It’s not an uncommon story – a company grows and people wind up in managerial roles whether they want to or not. We didn’t see this coming. When René decided to be a programmer again he was so happy. This helped the whole team understand that everyone defines his or her own success. As a leader, you should let people play to their own strengths and interests.
Now that you mention leadership, what are you like as a leader?
I’m a motivator. I can lead and motivate people so that they believe in what they’re doing. I also want to lead by example, even if it means picking up trash from the floor. Small things like that matter. Most importantly, I aim to be authentic, transparent and honest. I’m a big believer in open communication. Once a month, for example, I welcome the entire staff to an all-company update and Q&A session. Naturally, I also encourage everyone to do sports and lead healthy lives.
Your approach has clearly worked. You’ve built not only a profitable business but also a great company culture from scratch. Was the latter a conscious effort or a happy accident?
Definitely not an accident. It happened bit by bit with great people coming in. Everyone contributes to our culture. People work for more than a third of their lives, and if work isn’t satisfying, life isn’t satisfying. I want to build a culture where everyone feels proud of what they’re doing.
When recruiting new talent, what attributes do you look for? Does everyone need to run a marathon?
Of course! *laughs* But seriously, I’m interested in your strengths and goals. When you do sports, something a bit more extreme, it tells me you’re comfortable with taking risks. Successful people are the ones disrupting the market. Take Tesla, for example. The car itself is secondary, a way of getting from A to B. Sustainable transportation, on the other hand, that’s the game changer. If we find people who are doing something different, people who can’t wait to try crazy things, then they’re the right fit for us.
Craziness and creativity often go hand in hand. How do you foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable being creative?
That’s a good question. A monthly ‘Day of New Ideas’ has been part of our company culture for years. On this day, everyone pauses their normal routine and focuses on innovating. People have tons of ideas but not enough time. Witnessing this need for something out of the ordinary tells me that we as human beings often don’t have time to create. This is why every company should make sure their employees have time and space dedicated solely to creating and exploring new ideas.
What sparks your own creativity?
Running plays that function for me, but it depends on my pace. If I’m running around 5 minutes per kilometer I can brainstorm with myself. Anything faster than that is pure sports and makes me feel energized.
What other sports do you do besides running?
I’m always eager to try new things. This year I did a diving course, which was a totally new feeling for me. Strength training is a staple of mine, and now with our newest product Runtastic Results I’m concentrating more on bodyweight training.
How do you manage to prioritize your health when you’re constantly on the move?
It’s a challenge, but I’ve become much better at listening to my body. I now know how often I want to have a business dinner or do a keynote speech. It’s a scheduling issue first and foremost. Blocking free time in my calendar helps.
Back to the bigger picture. Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from entrepreneurs, athletes, friends, TED talks. Basically everywhere. That’s why we’re here – everyone inspires others without necessarily being aware of it. I’ve heard from other start-ups how Runtastic was the reason they started a company. Stories like that remind me why we exist. That’s also why you should never neglect your passion. You’re a potential inspiration to someone.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
The same advice I got from people who believed in me: Go for it! Don’t stop. When you face obstacles, jump over, run through, but don’t stop running.
Let’s end on a more philosophical note: why do you do what you do?
Why do I do what I do? Well, when I’m running or just relaxing at home, I let my mind wander. The next moment I’m thinking, “Hey, how can I make this idea work in real life?” That’s what I’m passionate about, breaking down these big goals of mine into smaller chunks in order to make my dreams reality.
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