"Trying to be too versatile is not a long term strategy for a business owner. You should rather always be looking for a person more specialised than you.” Jean-Gabriel Levon, the co-founder of Ynsect, has a warning for entrepreneurs who want to do it all. Can “losing” your job be the key to taking your business to the next level? Here are 4 pieces of advice from Jean-Gabriel to help you get rid of your dreams of (over) versatility.
Ynsect: industrial production of insects
In a world where the demand for protein shows no signs of slowing down, Ynsect was created in 2011 by 4 co-founders to produce insect-based primary products for animal feed. The mission of Ynsect is to turn insects into a staple food source for both farm animals and pets.
The ambitions of the co-founders are to build an industrial sector focused on insect production and processing. A lofty goal that has allowed this startup to raise more than 35 million euros in 5 years (good going!) and to launch its industrialisation with the opening of a shiny new factory in the Jura region of France. Raising Tenebrio Molitor larvae amongst the region’s many dairy herds has become a reality for Ynsect!
1. Versatility ONLY to get you off the ground
Take note, the operative word in this section's title is "only".
Jean-Gabriel Levon, one of Ynsect’s co-founders, is not living his first experience of a launching a business. “Before Ynsect, I was involved in other startup projects… But they were all failures. With hindsight, I think they all went under because I was trying to go it alone.”
While he recognises that it’s difficult not to end up a human Swiss army knife at the beginning of your startup venture, he insists that “trying to do everything yourself is a trap! If you maintain a “multi-skilled” role for yourself, you are closing yourself off to specialists or experts from a number of professions. If you want to succeed, you can’t do it all by yourself.”
For Ynsect, there were 4 of them from the beginning, including 3 childhood friends. They were “a good pool of co-founders”. According to Jean-Gabriel, “as we developed our skills progressively, we ended up with 3 different skill sets. For our 4th co-founder, one of us knew the perfect fit: an agricultural engineer.”
In essence, his philosophy is: "Aim to lose your job. Give it to someone better than you. It’s measure that your startup is truly developing.”
2. Concentrate on your role: founder = pioneer
In 5 years, Jean-Gabriel has taken on a number of technical roles: head of operations, factory manager… and is about to take on another.
“I have to break new ground on our topics and projects. I clear a path and work the project into shape in the midst of all the unknowns. Once a project has been launched, I give it to someone more skilled than myself.”
An engineer by training, Jean-Gabriel had not yet had the experience of building a factory. “There was no chance that I could manage Ynsect’s industrialization alone! I needed the skills and experience of specialists to make sure it was a success.”
Even if you have energy to spare, on many subjects, another’s experience could make all the difference.
3. Give yourself the means to hire well
Jean-Gabriel remembers: “when we recruited our management team, an experienced team member was able to get over a particular hurdle in 2 days that we had been stuck on for 3 months.”
The calculation is simple: “it’s cheaper to hire someone than to accumulate failures and waste time. You need to give yourself the means to hire well.”
Small bonus: being a startup can play in your favour for attracting quality candidates! For example, managers with 15 to 20 years of experience in similar jobs and are stuck in a rut. “In our case, we were starting from scratch and that huge challenge appealed strongly to experienced candidates.”
4. In all simplicity… stay true to yourself.
“With our rate of change, I’ve stopped printing my business card. The longest I’ve been in the same role is 18 months,” laughs Jean-Gabriel. “That isn’t bad going, but there’s no point deciding on a job title that changes as your business develops.”
Indeed, his advice to fellow startup founders is not to let a specific job title define you. “But don’t think that no-one needs to have a mission or else chaos will ensure!” No, the key-words you are looking for are “efficiency”, “flexibility” and “adaptation”.
“In my case, I’ve always preferred to be on the shop floor. I’m happy to leave the parts that interest me less to others. Who are certainly better at it than me! I’m staying true to myself. It’s the best way to come to terms with giving up my job to experts and professionals in order to ensure the growth of my business.”
By Claire M.
AcceleRise’s Startup manager, Claire is an adept of the world of entrepreneurs, having spent the last 4 years within an incubator and innovation centre. Her mission is to provide daily support and coordination to AcceleRise’s startups, to lend them both practical support and a direct line to the necessary contacts and expertise to get their businesses off the ground. Contact Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org