From an 11-year-old curious boy who managed to build a website - to a professional athlete who developed his own training program - to a trusted advisor on company culture. Paul Musters is now leading his company, Fortify, to help build winning entrepreneurial teams. Like any entrepreneur out there, his career started with an issue to fix and a dream to chase. Learn from his journey, the ups and the downs, what he sees after years of working with young enterprises, and his motivation to host the next Scale Up Academy workshop this May.
From sport psychology to team building
Who were you before Fortify?
“Great way to start, I suppose, because who I was really explains my career and my philosophy today. When I was a boy, I was a real builder, an inventor. I developed my interest in businesses at a very young age. At 11, I managed to build a website together with my brother and made some money. We started when we didn’t even have access to the internet at home.”
“At the same time, I was also training in a lot of sports including track and field, ice speed skating, and especially triathlon. Like any other young athlete, my dream was to compete in the Olympics. However, I wasn’t blessed with a muscular body. Typical training programs at the national team were too heavy for me. I figured that if my body is not the most muscular, I should train like the smartest. I started my own training program by hiring different coaches for swimming, running and cycling. I made an Excel file to record my heart rate, blood values, power output, speed and even more. I combined these hard data with soft data about my intuition, my feeling after training. The data helped me avoid injuries and predict performance by showing me my body’s pattern. For example, three weeks prior to an injury, I would start to feel exhausted after the training, my heart rate was significantly higher. At some point, I knew exactly what to do to reach peak performance at the right moment. That was how I balanced my training.”
“I still use it today in my work, to combine hard data and soft data. As for my trainers, mental coach, and physical therapist, I noted down their personality and my personality to figure out the best way of communication. That was the beginning of our methodology called ‘Team Scan’.”
“Unfortunately, at 23, I got injured severely while cycling which led me to be no longer in my best shape for training. I then had to choose between continue training but never going to be the best or find a different path for my future.”
How did you come across the idea of starting Fortify?
“After the injury, I became a personal trainer in marathon and triathlon. During this time, a friend of mine asked if I could help apply my Team Scan method to his startup team. After that, two other companies came and asked for my service. I then became a so-called consultant to them. Though I enjoyed my time doing these assignments for the clients, I could see I was not trained in consulting. By the time I completed these assignments, I had joined a consultancy company to learn more about consulting. After two years, I looked back on what I liked as a boy, which was building and inventing. That was when I decided I should work with entrepreneurs and soon after, I started Fortify.”
What did you see in the company culture when you started Fortify?
“What I see in startups is excellent ideas, but to bring them to the market is hard and a lot of them end up wasted. My company’s concept is to help them grow by developing founders as inspiring leaders and creating smooth collaborations between employees. All of this starts with a great company culture.”
The start was rough, but the confidence is strong.
What was the most significant struggle starting Fortify?
“Getting clients was not really a problem, but getting the right clients was not easy. I once worked with a company that did not want to take my advice and refused to pay for my two-month service and research. Some companies I worked with shared one main goal - which is to make as much money as possible, often by selling more stuff that people don’t need. That was not why I started my company. It’s their vision and future impact that I want to invest my time and effort in. I need clients whose missions are aligned with mine to do so. It took me a while to realize you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way - pick those that fit your values.”
What was the biggest doubt when you started Fortify?
“The only doubt came from the outside. The expectation from family and friends, their vision of me having a safe job with a fixed income made me question the process. However, on the inside, I did not doubt the path I chose. In the end, I always knew that and pushed myself forward with the idea.”
What was your vision when you started Fortify?
“When I first started, I had a vision of being in a meeting room of a big company like Shell or Unilever and convincing the managing board that they should direct 97 percent of their investments into renewable energy projects instead of the 3 percent they do now. But along the way, I realized it is hard to influence something like that directly. And I started to see a much bigger potential and positive energy in new business generations. So that is why I chose to focus on the startup world.”
Does Fortify still match with your initial vision?
“Yes, certainly! There were hard times and times that I had to cut down my own cost, but Fortify stays true to its original purpose.”
What is the one thing you are the most proud of regarding Fortify?
“The people I work with are happy with the outcome of our collaboration. Every time they contact me again for more assignments, the company’s value is evidenced.”
What is the biggest challenge when building company culture?
“Probably to tell a company who they should and should not hire. If a potential employee with an excellent CV does not fit in with the company culture, mission, and value, he or she is going to affect the atmosphere. In the long run, it is not going to work. The clients he or she brings in will not fit your company value either.”
Bridge startups and their ultimate company culture
*On May 15, Paul is going to partner with the Scale Up Academy to host a workshop on building a company culture.
What drives you to hold the next SUA workshop?
“Besides working with young enterprises, I also enjoy bringing them together. When entrepreneurs connect, I usually see a lot of ‘great minds think alike’ moments and great ideas join forces. I also want to show the attendees examples of founders that will inspire them. We also arranged guest speakers who have amazing stories to tell. (Find out here)”
What is your expectation for the attendees of this event?
“I want to see them get inspired by how to build and grow their team as well as realize their missions. They should be able to do this with our guidance on three elements: theoretical background, great examples, and sharing practical experiences.”
What is your personal goal for this workshop?
“I want to learn more about the struggles and common problems that startups face. I also want to provide them with useful information. In the end, the workshop’s goal is to help them make decisions that enhance their company’s future.”
If you can give one advice to all entrepreneurs and innovators out there, what would it be?
“Every now and then, try to leave your company for two weeks. Entrepreneurs are pretty extreme people who can be control freaks and perfectionists (with good intention). If that’s how you see yourself from time to time, take a short leave of absence and give your team more freedom and control over their tasks and responsibilities. Remember, you want your employees to be the ones who dare to face big challenges by intrinsic motivation.”
Are you interested in having a one-on-one conversation with Paul, or building an improved company culture? Attend the next Scale Up Academy on “How to build a company culture for growth” on May 15.
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