Early Days—Episode 8: Superside with Fredrik Thomassen
Fredrik Thomassen is the founder and CEO of Superside, a fully distributed and remote design operations platform. Fredrik explains how he and his co-founder got Superside off the ground by manually hacking together an MVP without any tech or teammates who knew how to code. We also hear Fredrik's insights on prioritizing his scope of product offerings, fundraising, and running a truly global company.
Highlights From Transcript
Tyler Norwood 00:00
Hey, everybody. I'm Tyler. And this is the Early Days podcast. I created this show as part of my work as an investor at Antler. I wanted to talk to the world's best founders and pick their brains on how they went from zero to one, building some of the most important companies in the world. Right, Fredrik, you're here. It's great to see you again. And thanks so much for coming on the show.
Fredrik Thomassen 00:34
Yeah, thanks for inviting me. It's an honor to be part of the Antler podcast Early Days crowd. It's a nice lineup you guys have.
Tyler Norwood 00:47
Yeah and I've been really excited to record this episode. We've actually known each other for a long time. We worked in ZALORA together way back when you were in Indonesia and I was in Vietnam. And you've gone on to become an entrepreneur yourself. So you are the founder, and currently the CEO, of Superside. So just to get us kicked off: how do you explain to people what Superside is?
Fredrik Thomassen 01:12
I mean, it depends on how much energy I have. If I'm explaining to someone at a wedding or something and I'm trying to get the conversation over with them and get back to drinking and what you do at weddings, I say that we're a design agency. And we are kind of that, but in a way, we're also sort of the anti-design agency. We're trying to reimagine the model. It's fully distributed, fully remote, we have 750 people in 750 countries. It's, for the people working in Superside, a flexible way to work remotely. You can scale up and down how much you want. And so we're kind of in the middle there between a marketplace and a traditional agency and trying to reimagine really how work gets done on the internet, starting at design. So that's the short answer. And sometimes, especially if there's investors or something, we go to great lengths to tailor the model.
Tyler Norwood 02:31
Yeah. And how old is Superside? How long have you been building it? Five or six years now?
Fredrik Thomassen 02:38
Wow, ha, time goes fast. I think we started immediately after leaving Zalora in fall of 2015. And so now it's basically been seven years.
Tyler Norwood 02:51
Seven years. And it's been quite a journey. So today, what I really want to talk about is the early days, obviously, as per the name of the podcast. But really kind of diving into 2015. So I'd like to talk about the team, sort of how you brought together the first group of people that got off the ground. How you developed the idea. How you sort of tested and validate that with the market. And I think specifically diving in Superside, there's a lot of great lessons. Obviously, you and I worked together previously in a company that operated a marketplace. And Superside is - for all intents and purposes - a marketplace, but it has some really unique aspects to it. I think it's really fascinating to hear from you about how you got that off the ground. A marketplace has some very peculiar challenges in terms of getting it started, and I'd love to dive into that. But let's start at the beginning. Let's talk about the team. How did you bring together... first of all, what did the original group that launched Superside look like? And how did you bring everybody together?
Fredrik Thomassen 04:00
Yeah, I mean, super random, but me and my co-founder started out and really brought together a group of people on the internet, and really just a pretty diverse group of people. Some people in Oslo. One... yeah a few people that we found on Upwork and Fiverr, and all these marketplaces that started working with us on doing fractional stuff here and there. And so we were kind of building our company on these platforms and very vividly seeing which problems they had. And at that time, we were trying to build a freelancer marketplace kind of like Upwork and Fiverr themselves, but with much higher quality. And we really struggled to find talented people but we got good at it after a while, and we were essentially running the company with a mix of these people on the internet. Students doing side hustles. And it's generally really, really hard to get unknown communities to work with you in stealth.
Tyler Norwood 05:21
And when you say we: in the very beginning, was it just you testing out the idea? Or did you have co-founders? Did you have an original team?
Fredrik Thomassen 05:29
Yeah, so me and a co-founder, and then we worked together, and I guess, divided and conquered. And then, basically, the first thing that we did was put up a website and, you know, over-promise like crazy all these fantastic things that we could do. And then, you know, we were like: nobody's gonna find this website, and nobody's gonna actually click buy and book a call with us and sign up for our service. But all of a sudden, like at Zalora, you know, people on the internet started finding the website and buying it. And then we had to scramble like crazy to actually deliver. And back then we were trying to do this marketplace which was horizontal. So we would offer multiple categories like design and creative, data entry, web design. And on any given day we could get super diverse orders. And then Neil, my co-founder would sort of act as the project manager on all of these projects and try to figure it out together with people that we hired on Upwork and Fiverr. And we kind of kept doing that for a while until it became completely unsustainable.
Tyler Norwood 06:52
So the real service of the company was just you and your co-founder figuring it out on the back-end manually.
Fredrik Thomassen 06:57
Yeah, totally. We had absolutely no tech. We didn't have anyone that knew how to program. We were really trying to figure it out. I remember just doing data entry together with a group of five, six people on the internet for some company in the UK, measuring the size of roofs to figure out whether they could sell them solar panels. And so we were just looking at Google Maps, and like manually measuring these roofs. And all these super random projects. I'm not sure if it made sense to do them, but we were just chasing the moment, right. And trying to just get growth, however we wanted. And I think many startups fail because they don't follow the moment that religiously; you just take a lot of time to think about your idea, polish your idea. We were like, we would do anything, literally, to get things to grow.
Tyler Norwood 08:09
So the MVP of Superside was essentially a website that offered, you know, various design and design adjacent services. But you guys would get all sorts of random requests, and you would just figure out a way to do it.
Fredrik Thomassen 08:26
Yeah. In addition to design we did everything. I mean, we didn't only do design. We were positioning ourselves as a business partner for all ad hoc tasks.
Tyler Norwood 08:37
Okay so you started off much more broad, like Upwork, Fiverr.
Fredrik Thomassen 08:41
Yeah, super broad, like Upwork, Fiverr style abroad. We didn't offer, you know, engineering services or anything like. I was trying to build websites, which I didn't know how to do. Or at least try to act as the project manager for people that ordered websites. I mean, literally everything under the sun that people typically did on the internet seven years ago. And again, you know, in retrospect, it's really easy to just say that we should have focused on design because things only really took off when we decided to focus on one thing. But, on the other hand, it's really hard to say how fast we would have learned, so I don't know. It's interesting to look back at all of the stupid things that you did.
Tyler Norwood 09:39
Alright, so that was the first version the product: you guys just really quickly got it up and running and, like you said, followed the money. How did you set priorities? Like how did you decide: what are we trying to actually do here, more broadly than just satisfy any request that comes in? Was there a particular framework - or certain KPIs - that you were watching, in a broader sense, to try to derive what really is this company and where are we heading?
Fredrik Thomassen 10:10
I mean, I don't think we were talking loops at this point - and I'm sure there are lots of great frameworks and things that you can do - but I think for us, we were just really trying to prove that we could build something. And we kind of felt that once you have something, you can use that something as leverage to get to something bigger. It's like, you know, you go gambling, and you start with a small deck of chips, and you just start with something reasonably safe to be able to double your chips. So now you have more chips, and you can play a bigger and more risky game. And so we were just looking to get some kind of business off the ground and use that business towards accelerating the mission, I guess. The only thing that really was constant from the get-go was this overarching, very strongly held belief we had that online work would become one of the most important transitions of the 21st century. And that online work would really help create more equal opportunities in the world for giving really anyone, anywhere access to U.S. level wages, or much higher wages than in the local markets. It's pretty broad... it was a pretty far distance from that overarching abstract mission to the day-to-day of doing data entry, or helping people with PowerPoint polishing. We really started at the bottom level. Maybe we should have started... other people build companies starting at the very high, kind of like the premium tier. But we... yeah, we kind of worked our way up from the lowest hourly rate jobs that we could find, and we did it ourselves and learned a lot along the way.
Tyler Norwood 12:19
Yeah. So it seems like, I mean, when you talk about how you guys got started, like, you seem very unattached from what the specific business was, right. And you were sort of following the money and kind of learning and figuring that out. Was there a northstar in place? Like you mentioned the mission, and you talked a little bit about, you know, believing that the internet was going to create this massive change in how opportunities are distributed. Was that like, your northstar? Was that what you wanted to build in from the beginning, or did that develop over time?
Fredrik Thomassen 12:55
Yeah so the mission was there from the beginning, and we somehow wanted to just be part of that, you know. And we didn't necessarily need to be the greatest, largest company in the world, but just throw ourselves into it. And, you know, worst case, you get acquired by some other company in the space, and you learn a lot about the space. And, you know, best case you build a decent company, so like we felt reasonably low risk to just dive into a space that we were excited about. And a northstar in the beginning definitely was revenue and it has been, I think, ever since. It does really create the discipline in a business to actually, you know, make money. And it's not like we've been super ruthless about it. I'd say that our thinking around it has changed quite a bit, right. And I think we started out a little bit naive chasing it too short term, if that makes any sense. And by that I kind of mean just like chasing revenue with not sufficient regard for the quality of the revenue. And so, over time we've completely changed from things like a broad jump on anything that can generate a cash flow to a much more quality approach where we take a narrow focus around what type of customers can we really add significant value to? How can we develop our value proposition to them and really build something that is very, very sticky. But it's taken us a long time to learn to be narrow focused, and I think we probably would have failed if we'd started out too narrow. So in retrospect, it's always hard to draw any kind of generalization from these startup stories, it seems to be going all over the map.
Tyler Norwood 15:13
Yeah, I mean, in recording these episodes, I think that there are a few generalizations that I've been able to pull out in terms of like companies that became very successful. One of them is sort of a lack of emotional connection to what you think the idea is, and this focus on being very objective towards the market, right. So one of the things I see a lot is... it's like, founders often fail when their paradigm of building a company is: this is the way that I think the world should be and I'm going to make the world that way. As opposed to, like, what you said: I think the future is going to be distributed, and I'm going to take a bet on that thesis, and how I actually build a business around that has to be a two way communication with the market, right? Like I can't force the market to change the way that they behave unless I'm providing something that they really want. And you know, you started off very broad, but talk to me a little bit about what you guys learned. So at what point in the company did you start to realize it like: hey, we should start to define what we don't do, right? Like we've done everything we've chased the money across, basically anything. I'm sure you've probably had a lot of really hilarious requests. I'm super sad when you were just like... maybe even today, you still have hilarious requests that you say like, unfortunately, we don't provide that service. At what stage did you start to say, like, hey, we need to actually focus, we needed to find what we don't do? And how did that end up becoming design specifically? So today, you guys are very focused on design. How did that evolution happen?
Fredrik Thomassen 16:58
Yeah, good question. And what you said about this mental flexibility and that being a generalizable thing for entrepreneurs really resonates with me. I think that we've tried to build that in as a core value, and this whole truth seeking thing and being very objective. And on this specific question of like, when to be narrow and when to be broad, it's just really, really hard. And it's very easy to get dogmatic, right, like you say about: this is how I think the world should look like, and this is the coherent thesis of our company; it fits nicely on an investor presentation, and it feels coherent if we do these things, but not those. And that's, I think, not the right approach. I don't think our approach was right, either. I mean, our approach was basically to do everything and follow the money very aggressively and follow growth very aggressively up until the point where, you know, customers were like: this service that you deliver to me is just crap, you know, you guys have no idea what to do, we want them on time. And so we didn't really want to... it's not fun to let your customers down, right? So if you get a couple of those, you actually need to look hard on yourself, like, okay, it fits maybe nicely into this whole thesis that we have, but maybe we just need to, like shut it down and rethink our thesis. And so, gradually, over time, we really kind of found design to be the one thing that we did particularly well that we all felt quite passionately would be the next big thing on the internet, because it's not really bound by language to such an extent. So really anyone in the world can communicate visually as opposed to legal where you need contract specific skills. And so design really resonated, and then we sort of decided let's only do that. And sort of all the pieces fell into place and everything suddenly became a lot easier, you know, developing our tech product. Previously we were trying to build to service a bunch of highly heterogeneous services categories and now we can only build it for design. Our go-to-market became suddenly a lot easier because we now could communicate only to one or two buyer personas being the marketers and the creative operations, creative director type people. And so everything kind of clicked, and this is now kind of coming up to 2018 or something. So you're three years in. And this is where we really start to find product market fit. And so for us, it took more than, really more than three years to find product market fit.
Tyler Norwood 20:23
Yeah. And had you capitalized the company during those three years? Like, have you gone out and raise external capital with the non design, like the broader service marketplace first?
Fredrik Thomassen 20:38
Talk to me a little bit about... I feel like there's an incredibly valuable lesson there of like, there's a sense of maturity, I think, that comes from a founder that stops trying to convince every single person they meet that: I have the biggest best company in the whole world. And like instead, just tells things like it is and focuses on finding people who resonate with that, and it sounds like that happened with Josh. Has that become something you've carried forward with yourself as a CEO as you continue to build Superside? Yeah, so we first got quite a lot of growth pretty early. And we had a reasonably good page of goals, sort of marketplace business that we applied to Y Combinator with. And got accepted to Y Combinator, had a fantastic time, learnt a lot, and raised around primarily from Y Combinator partners. And that's been... that was a super easy round. And then we used that money to try to continue to scale this reasonably undifferentiated services marketplace, and we burned through most of the money. This is sort of the second forcing function that forces you to be the narrowest: when you just start to lose lots of money because you're executing on too many bets at the same time. So, you know, we decided to really cut costs, keep things lean, and then we spent the next two or three years getting narrower and narrower, and really trying to figure out which out of these categories - or which out of these customer groups - can we really build something truly sticky. And then kind of late 2018, we made the decision: okay, let's shift to design only, subscription only, and let's go super premium and get the best talent in the world in all these emerging economies in Latin America, Southern Europe, Africa; let's just get the very, very best people. And then things just really started to click. It took a while to sort of execute this whole transition. We went out and tried to do a fundraise kind of late 2018 and spoke to everyone, all the most prestigious VCs. Most people weren't particularly excited about our 50% year-over-year growth. We were at, I don't know, $2 million in revenue GMV on the marketplace. Which maybe in last year's market or something, you probably would have been able to raise a lot of money super easily, but back then it wasn't super impressive and we really struggled to raise capital. And I'd almost given up, but I met this great guy from Freestyle Capital Corp called Josh Felser, whom I... instead of talking about business, just started talking about my life and just started, you know, telling the truth about everything and not trying to be a poser that's always telling this bullish story about growth, growth, growth. And we just hit it off, and they decided to lead a round and yeah. And then we didn't really raise anything until we did around last year again. Yeah, for me, absolutely. I mean, I do think it sort of depends on the founder him or herself. And many founders are able to truly be very honestly, very high conviction about their businesses. But, I'm kind of, I guess, deep down... I don't know, intellectual, if you will. Or I'm just like thinking about everything in this very, kind of, I'm not so sure type statements, you know. And it feels very hard for me to be incredibly certain about anything. And I'm always questioning everything. And to me, it just always felt inauthentic to be very bullish in those VC meetings about like: this is exactly how it's gonna go. And all our YC partners were telling me like: you guys need to, you know, stop being so Norwegian, stop being so modest, you know, stop being so unclear about your future guidance, and so on and so forth. And we tried to adopt that, but it kind of probably just went over the top the other way, right? And then you just come off as fake. Whereas now, I'm really just trying to whenever people ask a question about our business, just say I don't know, next two quarters, it looks tough, it's uncertain. Because it's the truth. And when you just go around telling the truth to everyone you can sleep super well at night. And if you can sleep super well at night you have a lot of energy for the next day, and you probably will get a lot of stuff done.
Tyler Norwood 26:26
It's a lot less stressful to be authentic and to not feel like you're... not lying, right, but you're not like having to wake up every day and convince yourself of certainty in things that you may not be certain of. But that's kind of part of being a founder, too, is like, hey, if you're gonna invest in me, Fredrik, right, you're not investing in me always knowing the right answer, right? You're investing in me always thinking about it. Like, I may not know the right answer right now, but you can rest assured that I'm going to think about it. I'm going to stay up late at night everyday thinking about it until I figure it out, and then I'm going to test that. And if it works, we move forward. And if it doesn't, I'm gonna go back to... you know, it's like, you're investing in the process, not this certainty that I know every single answer that you're going to ask.
Fredrik Thomassen 27:15
Exactly. And I think pre- and post-product market fit is two completely different ways of being in those investor meetings. Like post product market fit, you have actually found a company that works, you know, people are knocking on your door, they want to do business with you. And so our last round that we did in November was like a completely different... then we can just tell with a reasonably high confidence, because it's been established with like years of operational experience, and so on. And it's a completely different game. But for me this, like pre-product market fit thing, yeah, I'm with you. I think it's just much better to be very upfront with every investor you meet that there's a lot of outstanding questions and just ask for help and advice on how to swallow.
Tyler Norwood 28:05
I love it. So I'm imagining there's going to be a lot of Scandinavians who listen to this particular episode. And you mentioned something which Scandinavians will be familiar with, the rest of the world may not be, but you know, janteloven. You said the YC partners are like stop being so Norwegian, right. And that wasn't, I mean, that's a real thing, right? Like the culture in Scandinavia has very deeply this Law of Jante. Can you talk... and you've obviously, you've lived in Indonesia, you've built a company and have investors from the United States. Can you talk a little bit about how you personally had to reconcile your Norwegian upbringing and this very deep sense of: I'm not better than anybody else, I don't brag, you know, humility. Obviously, Americans do business almost the opposite way. You know, there's a lot of Norwegians in Antler too, and I always joke with them that anything an American tells you, you have to discount 30%. Because there's, like accomplishment inflation in the United States. Can you talk a little bit about working in an international ecosystem? How did you reconcile your Norwegianness with what you needed to do to be successful working with lots of different cultures?
Fredrik Thomassen 29:28
Yeah. Um, I mean... and maybe for the non-Scandinavian listeners, I'm not sure if everyone knows what the Law of Jante is, but it's like 10 rules, basically. And the first rule is like: you're not to think that you are anything special. And then it goes on, you know, you're not supposed to think that you're smarter than others and so on. And this was to reflect a small town in Denmark in, I don't know the 17th century or something like that. And I'm from a small Norwegian town, and on the one hand I kind of like this Law of Jante as what you should attempt to do as a founder. And I'm not, you know, obviously not able to do it all the time, and I constantly have bouts of arrogance and self-dilution and we all do. But I think it's an important goalpost to not think that you're smarter than others and realize that once you start on the startup journey you're really playing a game of dice. And yes, you need to work hard and stuff, but there's a huge amount of luck involved. And I personally really hate it when I see founders go out and write this, like long news op eds about like how taxation is super high and keeping them down. And like, dude, you've made like, a billion dollars. Maybe it's time to just chill and try to think about how to give back. And so that's on the one end, and then on the other end like, my hometown, all my friends from my hometown have, I would say, exclusively been cheering on our success. I haven't really... I haven't really felt it that bad. So yeah, but what was the original question? Versus the US, maybe I think... I also think that the US... I actually really like doing business with American. I am not sure if the Law of Jante is there. Obviously, like in Silicon Valley, you know, there are a lot of people that aren't necessarily probably gonna read up on the Law of Jante. But there's also really a lot of people in the US that are just very pragmatic, very truth seeking. And just really, really nice to do to the business with. So I've definitely become more pro-American, I would say.
Tyler Norwood 32:52
Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think that there's a lot of diversity of opinions and culture in the US. And so I think there are a lot of people who are very humble, truth seeking, pragmatic. But they're sort of like of their own accord. I wouldn't say that that's necessarily promoted in the institutions in the United States, right.
Fredrik Thomassen 33:19
No, definitely no. How is it like in Texas? So you lived in New York and then you moved to Texas, which should maybe be the polar opposite on that scale?
Tyler Norwood 33:28
I think so. I, you know, I wouldn't say polar opposite. I would say definitely Texas is much more... there's more humility in Texas. There's less a sense of like mutual exclusivity. One of the things that, to me is always very palpable in New York City is this sense of mutual exclusivity, where it's like: we all can't win, right? Like, you win by stepping on people's head and climbing up the ladder and kicking and scratching your way up. And it's like, you're confronted with that reality every single day you walk around New York City, right. New York City is a perfect example of the social hierarchy in the United States. And yes, there are examples of like mobility between social hierarchies, but like, you know, New York, you can go from some of the worst neighborhoods in the country and then all of a sudden some of the wealthiest streets in Manhattan. And they're all there right next to each other. So it's like the entire socioeconomic strata of the United States displayed in one city. You're constantly confronted with that, and it creates this sense of like, everybody can't be at the top right. It forces you to look at things as a pyramid. And I don't necessarily know. I haven't really seen yet fully processed the year I spent in New York. There's just so many things to process through and like, decide how you feel about. But I do remember constantly thinking that New York creates this environment where it really does feel like everybody can't win at the same time. I don't necessarily think that that's true, but like, it's very much embedded in the culture in New York. To me, Texas is very different because there's just so much more room: there's like physical room, there's economic room. And there is more of a sense - or a belief - that everybody can grow and rise together. But yeah, and then obviously the cultures are very different, right, like, all the way back to pre-American Civil War. I mean the culture that developed in the Northeast, and sort of New England, and the culture that developed in the South were very different for a lot of different reasons. I think one of the more interesting tidbits... so the South is known for, like, southern hospitality, right. But it can be very surface level. So a lot of times southern hospitality is actually just passive aggressiveness. It's like people will be nice to your face. So there's this funny joke, like, if anyone ever says, oh bless your heart: in the South, it's actually like an insult, right? It can range on a spectrum of context. But it's generally like: I feel bad for you, I pity you, right, I pity the situation. Whereas I think like distinctly New York is not past aggressive. New York is the exact opposite. It's like very in your face, people are gonna say exactly how they feel all the time. And there's an interesting anthropological explanation to that, which is like pre-Civil War nobody in New England had guns, weapons, swords. They were big, dense cities even before the Civil War. And so people didn't carry around weapons, or at least not regularly. And so it was a safe environment to just tell somebody like, hey fuck you to your face. It was very efficient, right? And so I think as density increases in an urban environment, communication efficiency has to increase. New York is too dense to be passive aggressive. It would take too much mental energy to always be passive aggressive with people. Whereas in the South, pre-Civil War everybody had guns, right? So if you walked down the street and bumped into somebody and said, like, hey fuck you, right? That was a really good chance you'd end up in a duel and die for like, a really stupid reason. And so you had this culture of like passive aggressiveness developed, where it's like, you never really know who someone is or whether they're carrying a weapon etc. And so you would always, kind of, to their face, be nice, or at least be passive aggressive.
Fredrik Thomassen 38:00
So really interesting theory. And so you live in Vietnam, immediately prior to the US right? So how will this theory apply in Ho Chi Minh, right, which is like a mega city? Did they have guns? Or like how is the passive aggressiveness?
Tyler Norwood 38:20
Actually, right before New York, I lived in Singapore which is not aggressive at all. Singapore is a very fascinating culture. And Saigon, yeah, I mean, people don't have guns. This is a communist country. So like, people don't generally have weapons. I would say not confrontational, but like, people will speak their mind, right? Like people have no qualms of getting in an argument in the street if they need to. And I think that's more an efficiency of communication, where it's just a super dense city. People don't have time to not just say exactly what they feel and move on and get over it. The only thing that ever really confuses me that I haven't been able to fit into my theory on density versus speed of communication are Finns. Finland doesn't fit into that model. They're the most direct culture the entire world, but like Finland isn't particularly dense, right? Like even Helsinki, their biggest city, is probably not even top 10 in terms of density. So there has to be some other explanation why Finns are so direct.
Fredrik Thomassen 39:37
They always show up just breaking all those theories. They don't fit into any kind of theory. So you know, Finland always just has to be an asterick there.
Tyler Norwood 39:41
It must just be so cold like nobody has time... it's just too cold to deal with it. But yeah, and obviously, both you and I have worked internationally. And you know, you spent a lot of time in Indonesia. Now with Superside dealing with clients and vendors all over the world. I mean, I think it's fascinating to... it's one thing to go visit a country and see what people eat, and you know, what the city looks like. I think it's like really, really useful to work with other cultures, because that's where you get to see how people actually act. And you get to see that there's like... to me, it's always this really revealing sense of moral relativity of like, what's wrong and acceptable in your culture is a totally different thing in a different culture. I spent a lot of time working in India too, and that was where it really hit me in the face that like, what's considered proper and correct within the office space is much different than if you were with Americans. Or, you know, I remember when I was working in India, we had a tech team in Germany, and I would get on conference calls and on one side of the conference call are Germans and on the other side of conference call are Indians in Delhi. And it was like, I remember I had to create two separate invites to that meeting, because the Germans would show up five minutes before, and the Indian team would show up 30 minutes late. And it was like, neither of those are wrong, right? But that's just like, okay, Germany, it makes sense, right? In India, what I came to appreciate is this sense of flexible time was like, well, there's so many other variables in terms of getting to the office on time. I remember I was in Gorgon, and multiple times nobody came to the office because Gorgon flooded. It had rained the previous day, and people were like: hey, there's like six feet of standing water outside my house, I can't come to office. Or, you know, one car crash could shut down traffic for a day or whatever. Whereas in Germany, it would have to be an incredibly extraneous circumstance for you not to be able to get to work every day the same way. So just getting a sense of like, there are explanations behind these cultural differences that make a lot of sense when you actually work in that culture.
Fredrik Thomassen 41:58
Absolutely and just to kind of play on that, I mean, I think for me, I definitely agree that there are lots of things that are very different in different countries. But I've worked in a few different countries, and what's always sort of stood out to me is this thing that deep down we're all just really similar. And I mean, we're all just really the same in the most fundamental things. And, it's been fascinating for me to see now in our company - where we have people from every continent, every major country, and been able to build our own culture which is a very strong company culture completely disjointed from whichever local country culture that person is part of - how we're suddenly able to establish completely new ways of working together. And so take the simple example of being on time, you know, everyone that is from India at Superside shows up on time, always because it's way we do it here. And it's just really cool to see how everyone - despite their huge differences - from the get go is able to work so seamlessly together on the internet. Like people ask how are you doing this remote thing it must be so chaotic. And it's just much less chaotic than I had anticipated. For which I just find really interesting.
Tyler Norwood 43:51
That's great. Was there any...just as a last point: on the culture, how did you go about building that culture inside of Superside? Was it very intentional? Did it sort of happen organically? Was it a combination of both? How did you arrive at a place where it seems like - especially the way that you talk about it - like there is a very firm culture within Superside that you promote to everyone that works on the platform. How did that come to be?
Fredrik Thomassen 44:23
Yeah, I would say it's been quite intentional actually, and something that we have thought a lot about. In every situation that comes up, which is like a tough decision, it comes back to values, right? And so you think about it implicitly all the time, but also explicitly when we've been sort of having this abstract philosophical debates about what should be the values of the company, and how do you want people to be like. So I'd say we spent a pretty significant amount of time very early on. And the values have been fairly constant. It also is something that we revisit every year or so. And something that we try to get the entire company engaged with. And quite frankly, I've just grown more and more convinced about the power of well thought out and properly differentiated values. And yeah, I'm a huge believer, I kind of remember thinking it was like a little bit BS thing that you just had to do, because it was like best practice.
Tyler Norwood 45:45
Something to write up on the wall in the office and move on.
Fredrik Thomassen 45:48
Yeah, exactly. But like, if you can write down stuff that people will actually say and use in situations to be like, hey no you can't, this is in breach of company values, we need to do it like that, it suddenly starts to become really, really powerful. So big believer in that.
Tyler Norwood 46:13
I love it. Well, Frederick, we'll wrap it up there. I have two last questions for you that I asked everybody. So number one is are there any other founder CEOs that you follow that you think would be great on the show, or that you think are just great thought leaders?
Fredrik Thomassen 46:38
Good question. Who have we had so far?
Tyler Norwood 46:43
Oh, we've had Mark from Strava. Andrew from Airtable. We had Rahul from Superhuman. We had Harpaul from Magical. Avi from TravelPerk. I mean, to be completely honest with you, I've been digging and trying really hard. I really want to get some amazing female founders, female CEOs on here. You know, I think that's a perspective that we haven't really given justice to yet. So any female founders that you know would be fantastic. I mean, I want to I want to tell that story. I want to bring on great female operators.
Fredrik Thomassen 47:25
Yeah, there should be some good ones in Asia. I mean, I guess China remains the number one country for female billionaires. Southeast Asia is also doing pretty well. Scandinavia, surprisingly, does terrible at most single, big company, female founder.
Tyler Norwood 47:49
I've been working on like, Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble. She's here in Austin. It's just been really difficult to reach her. So if anyone listening to this knows Whitney Wolfe Herd, please send her this episode and tell her that I want her to come on and talk about building Bumble. Okay, so think about that you can follow up. And then last question is books. So you as a founder, as a CEO, are there any books that you'd recommend to people that you felt like were particularly influential for you as a leader?
Fredrik Thomassen 48:18
Yeah, I mean, I'm a big believer in reading up on your own cultural heritage. So for me, that means Norwegian fiction. I believe a lot of wisdom and insight is carried through your own country and knowing your own culture to a great detail - or to greater depth - is a huge advantage, I think in the global marketplace it gives you some deep insights that nobody else has. And so, for me, I really to read some of these Norwegian authors. I think everyone should read Knut Hamsun. His most famous book is Hunger, which I think is about a struggling artist in Oslo that walks around really hungry and really struggling and I think it's a great metaphor for the startup journey and also was the Christmas present for the Superside leadership team in 2018, when we were pretty hungry. And obviously Knausgard is a phenomenal author that I highly recommend and obviously the slightly less famous dog, Solstad if anyone is really interested in going down the Norwegian journey.
Tyler Norwood 50:03
Fantastic. Well, Fredrik, I really appreciate it. And thanks so much for coming on and sharing everything with us. And best of luck. I know Superside is just getting started. So wish you guys the best of luck as things continue to progress and you guys continue to grow.
Fredrik Thomassen 50:18
Thank you very much. Great to be here and good luck with your Early Days podcast.
Tyler Norwood 50:28
Hey everybody, it's Tyler again. Thanks so much for listening. If you're interested in building a venture backed company like the one you just heard about, we would love to help. Learn more about our founder studios that we run around the world. Please find more information at antler.co
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