Yann Girard is a German entrepreneur, author and speaker. In 2009 Yann moved to China where he founded a lifestyle clothing brand which had operations in 5+ countries. But, due to lack of liquidity, his startup stopped operating in 2011. Later on, after coming back to Germany in 2011, Yann started working at one of Germany’s biggest companies. Job in a more corporate environment ensured peace of mind and stable salary, but Yann got bored and, eventually, quit his job. He made a decision to step on an entrepreneurial path again.
Since 2013 Yann has been travelling around the world. He worked together with several startup accelerators and incubators in Europe and NYC, and supported them and their teams in the area of sales, business development and branding.
Currently, Yann is a frequent speaker at some of Germany’s most renowned entrepreneurship universities and holds workshops in major European startup hubs. He also advises numerous tech and non-tech startups and runs his blog “Entrepreneurial fool” where he shares personal insights about startup growth hacking and ideas on how to live a meaningful life and build profitable companies.
In today’s interview for Magazine MN, an agent of change (as Yann calls himself) shares some interesting tidbits and lessons learned from his entrepreneurial endeavors. He also tells us about his latest book Confessions Of An Entrepreneur: 60 Things You Should Know Before You Quit Your Job and gives valuable pieces of advice for startup founders.
Magazine MN: Yann, what prompted you to choose entrepreneurial journey instead of a corporate job which guarantees a high salary, stability and confidence in “tomorrow”?
Yann: I worked in one of the largest German companies for nearly 15 months. It wasn’t actually that bad as I thought it would be. But there was this one thing that made me question my decision of working for a large corporation over and over again.
I constantly had the feeling that I wasn’t using all of my potential. I wasn’t necessarily overworked but I was definitely underutilized. The work I did maybe used 40% of what I thought I was capable of. I felt a bit like wasting my youth and not living up to my potential while I still had the energy and willpower.
I don’t know whether or not that was my fault or my bosses fault. I really don’t know. Probably both. And to figure out, whether or not I had more potential than I was able to show at my corporate gigs, I had the following idea:
If I have the feeling that I can’t live up to my potential in a corporation, then there’s just one person on this planet earth that might be able to uncover my full potential.
And that’s the person that’s currently writing this article. It’s me! That made a lot of sense to me back then (and still does). So I quit my job and started challenging myself doing things I never really did before (and really sucked at it in the beginning), like writing a book, blogging, public speaking and so on.
I said to myself, if not even I’m able to use all of my potential then there are two things worth considering:
1) Maybe I don’t have that potential I thought I had.
2) If not even I’m able to live up to my potential nobody else will be able to push me harder and uncover my true potential.
And both of these things pretty much mean the same thing:
If I don’t have the potential I thought I had or if not even I’m able to uncover my own potential, then I can go back to work for a corporation, live a happy life and not feel like I wasted all of my youth/potential.
So this entire entrepreneurship thing is also some sort of test for me. And trust me, I really don’t want to fail this test. I love my life how it is right now (with all the ups and downs). So I guess the thought of having to go back to work for a corporation, in case I find out I don’t have that potential, pushes me every single day. And it pushes me really, really, really hard … I push myself so hard that one of my Hungarian friends once said something that surprised me quite a lot because it was so damn true: “You live outside your comfort zone.” And I guess all of this is the reason why I’m currently doing what I’m doing…
Magazine MN: What was the greatest lesson you learned from the failure of your first startup based in China? And why did you choose China as a place to build your first startup?
Yann: I learned almost everything I know today during my time in China. But the most important lesson can probably best be explained with “Stop waiting. Start creating.”
Magazine MN: You worked in startup scenes in Berlin, New York and Shanghai. How do they differ in terms of attitude towards failure, fundraising opportunities and governmental support?
Yann: I could probably write pages about differences, similarities and so on, only to come up with one simple answer. So I’ll spare your time and only write down that one sentence: "If there’s a will, you’re passionate and persistent enough there’s always a way." It doesn’t really matter where you’re from, where you live or what’s your background. If you’re focusing on differences, drawbacks and so on you will start comparing, then start wining about how bad your situation is and then close your eyes to what opportunities are right in front of your eyes. And it’s a matter of fact that opportunities are just different in China, New York, Germany, Central Eastern Europe or wherever you live…
Magazine MN: In your article “The 25 rules for being entrepreneur” you put an emphasis on the importance to learn how to sell before building a company. What is the most important thing every founder should know about sales?
Yann: It’s about trust. It doesn’t matter how awesome your product is. If people don’t trust you they will never buy your product and never transfer money to your bank account.
Magazine MN: What, according to your observation, do many founders get wrong about customer acquisition process?
Yann: That they don’t need to spend a hell lot of time trying to understand how today’s communication channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on really work. And the only way to figure them out is to get out there and try things out, put some money in these channels, fail and then learn your lessons.
Believing that it’s enough that you write down the number of customers you will reach through each channel in your business plan won’t help either. Come up with real numbers you collected out in the market, such as how much does it cost you to acquire a paying customer through Facebook, Twitter, etc. Hoping that you’ll go viral is usually a bad go-to-market strategy and unfortunately won’t happen.
Magazine MN: Last year you published your first book “The perfectly executed startup” that was based on your own experience in entrepreneurial circles, and which, eventually, became an invaluable source for early stage startup founders. Recently, you’ve published your second book “Confessions of an Entrepreneur”. Tell us more about it.
Yann: My second book can best be described as a side product. As I don’t just talk the talk but also try to walk the talk. When I wrote my first book I started writing my blog because I was late with its release. I guess in the end I was 6 months or so late. So I used my blog to pretty much show my readers that I was still alive…
But in a way my side product somehow developed into a passion of mine and I started blogging constantly. I even wrote articles that I didn’t publish. Once I had a lot of articles written I decided to see whether or not I could make a book out of it. So my second book was pretty much a side product of my first book and the inspiration for another blog posts of mine called “What’s your side product”
Magazine MN: In 2013 you were part of the project “Raise awareness for entrepreneurship”. It was a bike tour to motivate young people to start living their dreams and raise the awareness for entrepreneurship, since a lot of young people still don’t see entrepreneurship and starting a company as a valid career path. During one month you were able to visit 10 cities (9 in Germany and one in Poland), 15 events and travel more than 400 km by bike. You taught young people many lessons on entrepreneurship and shared your experience. What were you able to learn for yourself during that tour?
Yann: I learned that the best way to learn things is to actually teach things. I guess the moment you try to explain things to others you really understand the things you were thinking about in their entirety. If we only learn things for ourselves we will usually never try to get as deep into a subject as we would if we had to talk about it to others (or even teach it to others).
We want to be well prepared and think our thoughts through. We want to look smart. So that pushes us (or at least me) to properly “learn” things first. If I didn't, I would just look stupid…
So the moment I learned something new or found out something that fascinates me, I write a blog post or talk about it when I have a speaking gig somewhere (and this forces me to think my thoughts trough and not just stop half way through).
And I can also get immediate feedback by observing how people react when they hear or read about some of my thoughts. It’s either some sort of validation or like someone telling me “hey you’re missing a point here. What about xyz?”
Magazine MN: What was your greatest discovery about yourself and relationships with people after becoming an entrepreneur? And how did all that stuff that you faced during your journey affect your personality?
Yann: Let me answer that question with one of my latest blog posts. I feel that it really fits quite nicely here.
The other day someone on Quora asked the following question: "What can I learn in 10 minutes that can help my marriage last forever?"
This reminded me of a dialogue I read in a book (I guess it was this one) a while ago and it went something like this:
Dad: "Son, do you know what's cheap?"
Son: "No, what?"
Dad: "Flowers. Flowers are pretty damn cheap. But do you know what's really expensive?"
Son: "No, what?"
I felt like this was so damn true.
If we show our partner every single day how much we care about him/her then nothing can really go wrong. This does not only apply to marriage. It applies to all relationships as well.
Unfortunately, most of us (including myself, actually especially myself) just stop caring at one point or the other and that's when it all starts to go downhill...”
Summing up, I realized that if you want people around it’s up to you to take care of that relationship. If you don’t nobody else will. It sounds kind of sad, but that’s sort of the truth. 99% of the people don’t make the first move. Well, I should actually say 97% because I wrote a blog post called “The Rule of 97%”.
So if you want to see a move or a change happening (whatever area in your life) it’s up to you to make that first push. Because everybody else is busy struggling with life. And we all have a super heavy baggage to carry that sometimes makes us forget about all the others that also have quite some heavy baggage to carry on their journey called life…
Magazine MN: What is the most valuable advice would you give to first-time startup founders?
Yann: It’s never a good time to change things, to quit your job, to get out of your comfort zone, etc. There will always be excuses. You will never have enough time, money, be in a better shape, look better, feel better about yourself or whatever. There will always be things holding you back.
So instead of waiting for the perfect time, just start to change or create things, see what happens and you’ll start to figure yourself out. Only by creating things will you be able to little by little figure out who you really are and what you really want in life.
Otherwise you might just be waiting your life away…
Get in touch with Yann Girard on:
Books written by Yann Girard:
Yann Girard was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska