Savage Talent Episode 1:

When to hire a Head of Talent with NØIE’s Daniel Jensen

When should you hire a Head of Talent? How do you build a great self-reinforcing culture?

The first person we thought to ask is NØIE CEO Daniel Jensen. Early in the Copenhagen-based company’s journey he recruited a Head of People, helping set in motion a strong self-propelling culture not long after getting off the ground.

While you’re listening, jump on NØIE’s website to order skincare based on individual skin profiles, scientifically proven ingredients, and shared knowledge within a community united by similar issues.

Preview the episode below, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts.


Andrea Di Pietrantonio: Hi, this is Andrea from Inventure. We are a seed and early stage VC fund investing in the Nordics and Baltcs. We have invested heavily to build up a team dedicated to support our portfolio companies when it comes to talent and expansion. I’m an Italian, actually, living in the Nordics. I head up Portolio Operations.

Ryan Savage: And I’m Ryan, Head of Talent at Inventure. I just spoke with Daniel Jensen, the CEO of NØIE (as you know), and we had a really great conversation about talent, and how he really sees talent and culture. And how important of a topic it was for him, especially when starting NØIE.

I really love talking to these CEOs who are really focused and passionate about talent, because it really (I think) makes the journey so much easier.

Sometimes you have founders who aren’t thinking about [talent from the beginning], and you really see that there are a lot slower to get off the ground. Would you agree, or have you seen that with some of our other portfolio companies?

Andrea Di Pietrantonio: Yeah, I think you’re right on that. Back when we looked at NØIE, the one thing that was clear before we invested was that they already have made that investment in talent and that’s something that we don’t always see in the deal flow, right?.

And that’s sort of the way, as Inventure, we decided to build an offering around the topic. Overall, if you think about how VC has changed and entrepreneurs have changed… founders out there– they’re looking for more than money at this stage. And that’s what we’re doing. We have built the talent expansion team exactly to tailor that.

How do you scale the company? How to build the processes, the metrics, the people around it? I think like the discussion you have with NØIE has been extremely valuable in order to understand their thinking and, and Daniel it is very advanced founder from that point of view.

I would say actually one, one of the goals with this podcast is to try to bring them there, right? To open up and say hey, what can you do? Talent-wise

Ryan Savage: Yeah, you should start thinking about this as early as possible.

Andrea Di Pietrantonio: Exactly. And I mean, you say it as a former Head of Talent, like, you guys would want to have earlier jobs, I guess.

Ryan Savage: Yes, of course. We’re biased, you know.

Andrea Di Pietrantonio: But how early was he when you started as a head of talent? And with which one of the companies?

Ryan Savage: When I started at Wolt, I think I was employee number 20 and they’d been around probably for a good year. And there the founders have been really focused on talent. And so I think, you know, in a company like that, where you need to scale really fast, it’s super important to bring in someone really soon to focus on the recruiting, especially. I think that’s where the first focus is always when you join as the first HR person, is recruiting because that’s usually the biggest bottleneck.

Then obviously you can start building out the other pillars of HR to really make it sustainable and continue that scaling as you expand, and as you grow your product.

Andrea Di Pietrantonio: Sounds good. Let’s start.

Introducing Daniel Jensen

Ryan Savage: …yeah, well, I’m turning 40 in a couple of months, so I need all the help I can get with my skin care… Well, cool. Well, so I mean, you guys are starting to be quite a sizeable team. You’re what’s the kind of employee number at the moment?

Daniel Jensen: I think we had seven people start this morning. We are about 52, 53 people now.

Ryan Savage: Okay, excellent. So I would like you to take me a little bit back to the beginning. You know, when you first started building out the team. How did it feel to hire the first person in your company and what was the process like for you?

Daniel Jensen: Yeah. So, I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 17 years old and I’m 33 today.

So, you know, one of my main motivations to being an entrepreneur has always been culture. That is why I’m getting up in the morning. I believe that because great people do great things together.

So I come a lot more out from the “people mindset” rather than, coming out of the technology and the technical part (and then kind of putting the people element on it). So everything has always been with the culture from me. So I was naturally super excited the first time I got my first team member.

I think when you get a new team member, especially the first one, you start having a lot of discussions and thoughts with yourself around: how do I want this place to be? How do I want to be as a manager?

And, and you are super ambitious often, and you dream about how to develop this company together with someone… and, then, you know, and then it becomes Tuesday. And, and it’s nine o’clock in the morning and, uh, it’s been a busy couple of weeks and so on. As you are getting that first team member, and you’re getting one more, and a third one and a fourth one, then, kind of, you manifest what you actually believe in together.

And not only what you believe in as a founder, it becomes like this unsaid thing that there is kind of in the walls of the company. Culture doesn’t necessarily needs to be written down. It should live actually, in an organization, but as you become more people in the team, it can be unclear exactly as the team is moving, and the company’s moving, what are those values?

And I think that excitement to get that new team members also, for many entrepreneurs, including myself, is also connected with a little bit of fear, especially the first time, because you don’t have the tool box, essentially.

Ryan Savage: Right, you’re starting from scratch.

Daniel Jensen: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Ryan Savage: Okay, cool. And I, and I’m curious, like, you know, in, in building that foundation how long did it take you to realize like: Hey, I really need to hire a head of talent right now to help me with this stuff.

Daniel Jensen: I think, um, my first Head of Talent or Head of People and Culture. As it’s called in NØIE, but that is Frederik Vind, who’s our Head of People today. And, um, I hired Frederik back then we were about 10 or 12 people.

“I went out to talk to other founders: Series B and Series C founders, and I asked them, what is the main hires that you regret not doing? And it was two roles that almost all of them mentioned. First was the Head of People”

What I figured out-  I went out to talk to other founders; Series B and Series C founders, and I asked them, what are the main hires that you regret not doing?

And it was two roles that almost all of them mentioned. First was the Head of People. Hire them before you’re closing the Series A, because that whole scaling game is about people. To wait for the Head of People until you have the money is a very bad prioritization for your team and organization.

Um, and then the second part was to hire an EA. I think it’s because a lot of the other functional areas people are often covered, but it’s that thing of scaling yourself as a person or as an individual, that can be actually be difficult because you are so focused on scaling the company. But to scale yourself own your own CEO office can be very difficult.

So like everyone else- and like they told me, I listened to the Head of People [advice] and I didn’t listen to the EA and I regretted that very deeply when we raised the Series A.

But I think for me to get Fredrik on board has been amazing. Suddenly you have someone in organization to manifest those rhythms that make the company, the company.

You know, you are a group of people sitting around a… you are a tribe. You are sitting around the fire. You all agree how the fire looks like? What are our values? What do we believe in? What is it that we are building together? And that is kind of in the walls, but now you’re kind of putting it more into processes and rythems. And that actually only enforces a culture because it reminds us of who we are, both as people and as, as a company.

And then there’s the second part, which is a big part of scaling a company is, is, is getting new, new people on board. Often you see that that’s where culture starts to be diluted. And I think NØIE is– you know – we, we are so obsessed about culture here. It’s the call of everything we do. Our DNA is to be truly caring.

So that means that we go above and beyond for our customers, but we also took that mindset inside the company. What we don’t want is to have a company where there are two faces- one towards the customers, and then another one that you’re experiencing. Once you get inside, if culture is truly manifested, then it starts from the inside and then goes towards the customers.

To have someone dedicated, focusing on that, I think it made it a lot easier to attract talent. But also while we scaled from these 14 people in January to 50, 52 today, our engagement score and employee happiness score only went up.

Ryan Savage: Yeah, I think really great advice and, you know, when I talk to a lot of founders it sometimes comes off that maybe I’m biased because I’m an HR professional myself so that’s why you need a hire so soon. But at literally every kind of startup that I’ve been working at, the ones that really  focus on talent are really a shining star.

Also, you know, as a founder and as a CEO, you can be spending 40%, 50% of your time on recruiting and culture and building if you’re alone. And so by having a partner do that with you, you know, frees up your time to be able to focus on fundraising or the product, or what have you.

Daniel Jensen: Yeah. Yeah. And then I think it’s also about like, what we’ve been very focused on in NØIE is mobilizing the team. So we have, in recruiting, we have a Meet The Team talks where essentially everyone in NØIE has a veto.

So where every time we have a candidate, it is always the head or the leader for that area that runs the process together with all our people team. But then when we get into the whole more cultural part of the, of the talk, then there is four to five team members that you’re meeting. And they’re focusing only on an individual, the values, the motivation, and all of these things, and then give a review on that.

And I think that’s where it turned culture into a living organism that kind of becomes a self reinforcing effect.

That doesn’t mean that, you know, those mechanisms also can’t introduce bias, but I think what we accomplished is being very focused on diversity and inclusion.

“…it feels like cheating because it took some hard work to get up and running, and it took investment in talent and people. But now with 50 people it’s this self reinforcing mechanism that keeps propelling itself”

So it just works now, but it feels like cheating because it took some hard work to get up and running, and it took investment in talent and people. But it’s now with 50 people. It’s this self reinforcing mechanism that keeps propelling itself and the team just find great team members.

Ryan Savage: Interesting. And I’m curious, like, you know, cause you talked a little bit about, you know, how obviously biases can always come up, like, how do you guys try to counteract that? Do you have trainings for your employees, especially those who are in the interview process? Like what’s your take on– how can take those unconscious biases out of the equation?

Daniel Jensen: Yeah, I think it’s a process that I think we all sort of are still still learning. And I think the whole world is learning at the moment in this area. I think we have extremely talented and diverse people team that is leading all the recruitments. So a lot of the screening and so on takes part there, and they are extremely good at it, they are leading the whole inclusion and diversity policies and everything.

We have a committee that is focusing solely on that. But I think we, I think we managed to be both diverse both when it comes to gender, ethnicity, diversity and so on. But, of course we have some way to go still.

Ryan Savage: Yeah. Well, and I’m always you know, I’m following you guys regularly on LinkedIn and I’m always impressed by, you know, the conversation, the topics about diversity that comes from your LinkedIn channel. So I think you guys are doing a really great job when it comes to that.

I’m also curious too, because, in my experience and coming in as the first Head of Talent [in a few organizations] and having worked with a CEO who has, you know, usually been handling talent prior to the first Head of Talent coming in… Was it hard for you to give up that role in a way? Did you immediately trust Frederik to come in and do the right thing? How did that dynamic work in the beginning?

Daniel Jensen: For me, it’s about alignment on ambition and [the idea of] what what could people be in an organization? And I was very ambitious in this area. I also met a lot [of HR professionals] that came from other type of businesses. Maybe not so much scale-ups and, and I felt it became very legal focused, HR, and it became very much… yeah. The whole notion of the Human Resources, just that name in itself comes from that assembly line, right? That you put a resource on their assembly line and then you have a high output.

And then I met Frederik and he was passionately speaking about these things and how a company should be creating connections for people, even when you don’t need to hire them.

Say you don’t have a specific job post, but… you know, often you find people saying, “oh, I would love to work for that company”. They don’t know if they have the position or whatever, but that’s your opportunity to create a relationship. Then the day you have that job, you had already very strong candidates to fulfill that position.

So that whole vision of what people could be. I, I was, I was very keen to invest in to that level of vision. And Fredrick is very visionary in this area. So it was just so in-tune. So for me, it was just, you know, getting a strong team member on board that could push the agenda even further than I would do as a one man army.

Uh, so then for me personally it was not difficult, but I think my style is also… I believe a lot in extreme ownership. It’s about getting great people, give them tremendous amount of ownership, and believe in that they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

And if you’re better than probably then they’ll set off in the right direction. And the same with Frederik it was just a match, personally, from the get go.

Ryan Savage: Do you find that when you’re trying to hire for Helsinki or Stockholm, and I imagine even Copenhagen, like does, does your geography puts you at a disadvantage in trying to attack really great talent? Or is that something that kind of is more or less a myth in today’s remote world?

Daniel Jensen: Both yes and no, because you can save because we are not in London or New York or Silicon Valley or whatever, you know, there’s not the talent pool and experience.

Of course we want people with experience in scale-ups because they know the game of it. We seen too many times, someone coming from a more big established company that there’s a big challenge in understanding the speed. The speed  is maybe not as important as it is here.

We have always 12 to 18 months between the funding rounds. So it’s a different game, but talent wise, I think both. Yes and no. Because if you look at, um, the talent pool, it’s smaller.

If you look at countries as a product, I think the Nordics in this example is one of the best products to sell: Extremely high quality of life. Big tech and a startup environment, and all of the cities are developing very rapidly. There’s very advantageous tax exceptions when you come from abroad and you get a higher paid position. So I think we have a lot of things going for us, but especially with corona, it’s been more challenging to relocate team members.

But I think there’s a big inflow of people coming from the traditional more established industries going into scale ups. Now they’re learning the game and everything, and how to build companies in this way and learning those tools.

So in two to three years, we’ll have a massive talent pool and thereby new ripple effects of new companies and all of these things.

Ryan Savage: One final question. What is a common myth in the startup culture that you found not to be true?

Daniel Jensen: I think, yeah… hmm. A myth.

At least this one that I would like to change is that, if you go into startups, you need to, work non-stop, and it’s very long hours, and all of these things, and there’s a lot of startups that work like that. I did a lot of that when I was in my twenties.

But I think too many people perceive scale-up as kind of like something you do for two or three years, because it’s such a sprint and then you need to take a break. And I think it’s such an unhealthy mindset. It should be a a marathon. So, uh, focus a lot more on how you work, and how you approach your work and then try to limit yourself by having a fairly normal amount of hours.

So I think it’s a myth that it’s necessary to, to sit from from early morning to 12 o’clock in the evening. I haven’t seen a lot of team members that have been able to be efficient at doing that. And on the other hand, they are losing time with their friends, family, everyone around them, everything that makes them “them” outside work. So, I have to think that is a little bit of a myth that we are focusing a lot on at NØIE that it shouldn’t be like that here.

Ryan Savage: Yeah. Great. Well, I mean, I think that is very solid in the sense having that work like balance, being able to spend time with your family. And if I’m not mistaken, you also just had a newborn, yourself. Uh, so congratulations on that. And I’m glad that you’re able to spend some time with them as well.

Well, Daniel. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, on our very first episode of Savage talent. Definitely look forward to working with you in the future and yeah. Thank you.

Daniel Jensen: Thank you. Thank you.

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Ryan Savage
Head of Talent