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Markus Witte, co-founder Babbel, Swisspreneur Podcast

EP #359 - Markus Witte: Building a Successful Founding Team

Markus Witte

November 30, 2023

3:20 - Solo founding or co-founder team?

8:37 - “Why are we doing this?” 

11:58 - Hiring in the early days

16:50 - Knowing when to pivot

26:47 - Early stage startups are falling apart

About Markus Witte:

⁠Markus Witte⁠ is the chairman and co-founder of ⁠Babbel⁠, the market leading app for language learning, as well as a partner at Wachstumsbegleitung, which offers coaching and consulting for scaling startups. He holds an MA in Cultural Studies from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and previously worked as a university professor in Germany and the US before founding Babbel in 2007.

In his second conversation with our host, Silvan, Markus shared his thoughts on co-founder relationships and managing an early stage startup. Here is a summary of his takeaways:

  • Statistics tell us that solo founders tend to be more successful, but that might just because the sheer determination it takes to start something on your own is also very useful in seeing the project through to the finish line. Whenever possible, start ventures with 1-3 other people;
  • When looking for potential co-founders, watch closely for ego issues: does it bother this person if they’re not always number one? If so, that’s not someone you want to partner up with;
  • Co-founding companies with relatives or romantic partners certainly isn’t a setup Markus would recommend, but there are plenty of documented cases of people doing it successfully;
  • A founding team breaking apart with time is not a sign of failure. People develop other interests and move on — that’s perfectly normal;
  • As a startup founder, you’ll rarely if ever have clear indication to pivot your product. Nay-sayers will always be telling you no, and it’s hard to understand to what extent your traction is the result of pure luck. So you have to keep going and find out. One thing to consider here is: How long can you afford to do this, both financially and emotionally?
  • In the beginning of a startup venture, rules are your enemy. You have to break them to make your own path. But when you start scaling up, rules become necessary, otherwise your promising operation descends into chaos. Don’t be afraid to change things and set up proper frameworks.

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