Things I learned while not getting what I wanted.

Von Marc Gleitsmann. Veröffentlicht April 27, 2015.


I’ve been part of the big Protonet-Phenomenon since we were five guys. Now I’m leaving the crew because I didn’t achieve what I thought was possible for myself and to join a new team as a CEO. I learned some things and I’ve written down everything.

Half sad, half excited: Philipp about to leave Protonet

Half sad, half excited: Philipp is about to leave Protonet

First of all I must say I am very thankful that I had the chance to work with such an incredible team. When I finished school, I never thought I would get this kind of shot. I discovered quite a few things during the last 30 months and the team helped me with a big chunk of those discoveries.

I am a generalist, and I know that. Generalists are important for small teams but their importance decreases while the company is growing. I learned this while taking Protonet from 5 to 50 people. Generalists are replaced by specialists. I managed a lot of things in the beginning and I still have been. But I’ve realized that my impact on the organization has reached its peak a while ago and now, it’s been declining. This is why I took the difficult decision of leaving Protonet and joining a company in which I can have a bigger impact. There are cycles and nothing is forever. I had to choose whether to stick with the organizations plan or to switch jerseys.

Only time will tell if it is the right decision. By leaving Protonet I’m giving up a lot. I am losing my very big stock options in a company that is valued in the multi-millions; I’m losing the bonus of being the guy who has been there since the beginning; I’m losing a very cool team to work with. But what I win is the possibility to create all of this again, but in a role that better suits my personal needs and goals. New value, new products, new culture, new horizons. I know that I am 100% committed to this new direction, which makes the loss of the Protonet opportunity hurt less. I really want to share this story and especially what I learned along the way.

Here is what I figured out:

1. Make decisions to fill up your pool of options

Decisions are inevitable. What you can do is make them yourself. If you do not make decisions by yourself somebody else will and you will end up in a place where you might not be able to navigate as good as in other places. If you are in charge you are in control of the terrain. The more you are in control, the better. It gives you space to review new options. The more options you have, the greater the possibility of success.

2. Productivity comes from saying „no“ sometimes.

Somebody famous used to say: “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” If you say „no“ to great ideas every now and then, you will be more successful. Our team always had hundreds of ideas. In the beginning we tried to execute as many as possible to get the most out of our creativity, but eventually we ended up not getting shit done. We agreed on taking a big chunk of what we wanted to do off the list and got much more productive. Reading quotes just wasn’t enough — we had to learn the hard way.

3. You have to make the machine work

„Integrity“ is what we call it in Protonet. Integrity means that you will make sure the frame you are moving in is working. A simple example: Once I left a little table at a trade fair, which I was supposed to bring back to someone. I was just too lazy. I assumed the stand builder would take that over when we left. But boy that created a long rat-tail. The table got scratched, a potential sale was lost and a colleague had a rough time explaining what had happened. Always think of the rat-tail that your actions create. Understand: your action determines the life of everybody else. Do it in a way that makes the machine work the way it’s supposed to.

4. Embrace diversity

We have it all: white, black, yellow, brown, straight, gay, nerdy, cool, loud, silent, Muslim, Christian, people who drink, people who don’t — and nobody gives a damn! This is one of the main reasons why I’ve loved coming into the Protonet office every day. It made me feel I can exercise my habits. When interviewing people for an open position it is the greatest joy to experience their personal interests. I really do not put too much value on skill, because it can be trained. Diversity lets our team deal with conflict and build a unique and happy culture. For me, this is very important.

5. Long hours are not what you need to be successful

You can achieve great things and still have a great life and time for loved ones, relaxation and sports. In the startup industry it’s a „truth“ that you need to work all the time to reach your goals. I simply find this not to be true. Our team has always kept a healthy balance between working and taking time off. As a matter of fact, 90% of the time our office was empty after 8pm. We have accomplished incredible things. Understand that you need balance.

6. Challenge and welcome to be challenged if you want to earn respect

Speak up for yourself and others if you feel it helps. Quite often, people don’t challenge leadership. You will never become a leader if you always follow. Don’t forget to challenge productively. Don’t be an asshole! On the other hand you should always welcome people who challenge you, especially people who are new or in an assumingly weaker position than you (interns or freelancers for example). Take the time to get your feet on the ground and think about how you can improve to help your team.

7. Talk honestly and without redirection

You will have conflict, big or small. And to solve it there is no way around talking about it in a very honest way and directly with the people affected. If you feel left out or misunderstood, speak up. Let your partners know what’s on your mind and don’t swallow your opinion and/or pain. It will get stuck in your character and you’ll have less freedom to act in the future.

8. You have to change

As your projects grow, they change. You have to change with them and invent a new kind of yourself. I always thought I’m „good“ at what I do. I still do, but I realized that I need different versions of myself in different stages. Turn towards your weaknesses to change. Sometimes you just have to get better and grow with your role. Sometimes you outgrow your role and have to change your position. Sometimes you don’t know how to change because you don’t know what’s going on (See #9).

9. Try to understand that sometimes you’re not the right guy

This is a very hard one to accept. Of course: if you can’t code, you won’t build software. But what I mean is when it’s less obvious. There are certain points when you are subject to a change or decision that doesn’t favor you or your idea. If your set of character and skill doesn’t fit the situation, accept it. For myself this means: I was not able to be part of the management team, because I was not the right guy to solve our problems. I started at Protonet with the clear idea and message to be part of the management and I was doing management work like fundraising, pitching at big conferences and hiring new talent. At some point I realized I was left out when decisions were made. While it frustrated me in the beginning and I thought “why I was being not good enough to be involved” — I somehow realized that it was a matter of company-personality fit. I got the idea that I had difficulties exploiting my potential. I had to change (see #6), but I didn’t know how. My results were fine and I had accomplished to help Protonet being visible a lot. But it wasn’t enough. A while ago then I saw for myself: I have to go, it won’t change soon. No “light” on the horizon. Ironically when I internally knew that I would be leaving around three months before being “ready” to tell my CEO, I started feeling really well and improved all those things I couldn’t improve before. Murphy’s law I guess.

I’m really happy that I could have an impact on the Protonet story and I’m sure it will grow bigger and bigger. Polaboy will be epic, I’m looking forward to creating a future with the next team.