Robert Gryn is CEO of one of the fastest-growing, self-financed start-ups in Poland – Codewise. At just 30 years old, he has built the industry’s first provider of AI-powered management solutions for digital marketers. As he takes a couple of well-earned months off to travel the world, I ambushed him in Phuket, Thailand to find out more about how and why he achieved such a feat.
1. What constitutes a great idea?
The execution is more important than the idea, over time the idea changes so it just has to be something you are passionate about
2. How did you first reach the vision for your business?
I had experience working in the industry so could identify the holes and needs
3. What is the most logical first step in putting an idea into action?
Get a legal entity sorted from the beginning. Then define the first bit of real work, not just doing the fun things – logo creation etc. start creating a viable product and set goals
4. What is the most effective means of reaching out to consumers in your industry and what have you found builds momentum?
Face-to-face contact with potential customers goes a long way. What people want may be different to what you think they want. Understand the mindset and needs of your customers.
5. What is your favourite interview question?
What motivates you?
6. How do you entice top talent to work for your company?
In the early days it was about selling the vision and communicating that ideal, which was a difficult thing to do
7. Where do you source most of your employees?
Headhunting agencies. I think founders should focus on what they are best at which is dealing with the vision and product, outsourcing and delegating.
8. Describe a typical day when you first started and a typical day for your role now
Then – I didn’t really have any agenda or plan, I did whatever I felt was right in the moment. You have to be ready for change, there isn’t any set way or rules to follow so just ensure that you are always taking the steps necessary for progress.
Now – I have reached a place where the business is self-sustaining. It’s comparable to captaining a ship, you trust your crew to travel in the right direction, even though it may occasionally veer slightly off course.
9. How did your background, education or work experience help you?
In terms of my background my parents are not entrepreneurs and it was initially quite tough to get their support. I studied entrepreneurship, marketing and technology at university which sounds like the perfect recipe for success. I learned far more interning at a startup after I graduated, here I could learn at someone else’s expense and eventually took on the role of COO.
In terms of work experience, I did a day and a half at Orange Telecoms. It taught me what I didn’t want, which was a corporate role.
10. How do you deal with burn out?
Physically getting away, taking time out and exercising or travelling
11. How do you know when to stop or to quit?
Financially the time to stop is bankruptcy. Other than that it’s about how you feel and what your work-life balance is like.
12. Did you face any financial difficulties at the start?
I took a loan from my father, at a higher interest rate than the bank
13. What social challenges arose?
It’s a time when you find out who your true friends are
14. What motivates you?
Autonomy, influence and impact, not just money.
15. What was the most enjoyable part of the process?
The process itself, you find out who you really are and where your passion lies. It’s important to remain mindful of your experiences especially when facing burn out.
16. Were there any specific moments when you almost gave up and what spurred you to keep going?
When my CTO and I were completely burned out and both wanted to leave the company at the same time. Eventually I decided to embrace the challenge of running it on my own and bought him out. I am comfortable with being uncomfortable and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I’m happy with taking risk.
17. How have you changed as a person?
I’ve learned a lot about human behaviour and my own behaviour. I’ve become more empathetic and understanding. I think it’s more important for a good leader to be able to identify his weaknesses than focus on his strengths.
18. How has your life changed since taking on your own business?
I now dread Fridays and love Mondays.
19. If you were to do it all again, what would you do differently?
Take care of my health more, I went from being very active to being too sedentary and my back has suffered as a result.
20. Are there any books or resources that you would recommend to someone just starting out?
How to get Rich by Felix Dennis – ironically I think it has that title to put you off, it gives you great perspective into creating a company. It’s subtly influenced my thinking a lot more than I realise. I’ll have to read it again.
I also recommend How to be an Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise, being a perfectionist can be a real drawback.
21. What made you choose your current location / HQ?
Poland is my home town. It’s a strategic location because there are so many excellent Polish programmers
22. What is the smallest change that has given the biggest return?
23. How do you remain ahead of your competitors?
Don’t fixate on what they do. Keep innovating and doing your own thing.
24. Who uses the product in a way you never expected?
A lot of people actually. It’s important to be in touch with clients and be aware of these uses which open up new segments of markets.
25. If you had to leave the organisation for a year and could only leave your employees a single paragraph, what would you write
Keep having fun, I trust you – great products will follow.
26. What did you miss in the interview for the worst hire you ever made?
Not placing people skills over talent and genius
27. How do you as a leader affect the culture of your organisation?
The culture is a reflection of me. I aim for trust, transparency, autonomy and respect
28. What percentage of your time do you keep unscheduled?
29. What are your hopes for the future of the business?
To continue to scale and sustain the culture
30. How do you encourage employees to take control and responsibility?
We brought in the founder of Sociocracy which is a form of governance – there’s not really any formal hierarchy as everyone is equally empowered to make change
31. How do you stay inspired and enhance creativity?
Breaking out of routine and travelling
32. If you could not run your own business, what would you do?
Something active and in nature – like a ski instructor
33. What, more than anything, is most important to you in life?
Feeling at peace
34. Do you have any unconventional words of advice?
Don’t be a corporate slave
35. Do you think entrepreneurial attributes are personality traits or skills that can be developed?
A bit of both, the raw parts of being an entrepreneur are inherent, in my experience. This includes constantly questioning the way things are, wondering and wanting to see if they could be done differently.
36. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My weakness is that I have Imposter Syndrome, so I find it hard to internalise my success. My strengths are that I thrive in dire situations and don’t have a fear of loss – I only see one way out, which is to succeed.
37. How will you look back on your life on your deathbed?
I’ll be pretty satisfied