I'm on a bus at 12:52 AM from Seoul airport to the city. Surprisingly not so tired - maybe it's a bit of adrenaline. Maybe because my body doesn't know what timezone it's in - since two days ago I was in Tallinn, Estonia for the Lingvist investor meeting + offsite.
I've seen Lingvist since the early days - when they entered Techstars, their three months' journey, and their continued journey breaking into Japan through Rakuten's $8mn investment. I've witnessed the team go from an idea to product, from product to company. While I was at the investor meeting, I had some time to reflect what makes the team and company great:
- Hire the best, even if you have to wait a while to do so: The CEO of Lingvist, Mait, is extremely patient about key hires, and waits and conjoles and poaches (like a lion) over time. He knows people need time to be convinced - and has the patience to wait.
- CEO scalability: The main constraint in early product startups is the CEO's ability to scale. Is the CEO able to scale her functions and capabilities in line with how fast the startup needs? Does the CEO have the capacity to understand her limits, and when to bring in outside help? And every stage, Mait seems to recognize the limits of his function and more importantly, knows that he needs to act on those limits.
- A super strong team but knows how to swim in their lane: Every single core team member at Lingvist is strong in their own functions, but knows where their functions stop. They know how to put their own egos side. Everyone - and I mean everyone - is continuously getting better in the team.
- A focus on people and culture: When Lingvist was just 5 people, there was little use needed for culture. But now that's it bordering on 50 with 3 different offices, the team has realized that culture and the retention of people will be the key advantage going forward. The offsite, a 2 day camping trip in the islands of Estonia, is an investment in people and culture - which will pay dividends in the end. This includes little things like hoodies and tshirts, which gives people identity and character.