Kristofer Sommestad is the Co-Founder and CEO of Willa, a fintech startup providing solutions to freelancers’ biggest problems. The company is based out of Stockholm and Los Angeles.
He has 20 years of engineering, product development, and leadership at SpotON Radio, Spotify, Springworks, and now Willa.
He is passionate about creating pain killers, using technology, and extraordinary user experiences.
He has many years of development across the entire stack, building everything from games to streaming music services and mostly focusing on server-side development and architecture. He enjoys building products with a focus on adding real value to end-users’ experience.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Kristofer says:
Do what you want in life, love what you do, and be a good person while doing it.
Building a company is a lot about learning, so I’m not going to act like we only make perfect decisions. But I think a very common mistake is to assume that your customers are like you, instead of spending time talking to them. That will mess everything up, regardless of which other tactics you apply.
As a startup, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. In the early stages of a company, you see a lot of opportunities floating around, which can make it very difficult to retain focus on solving the problem you set out to solve. Focus is everything.
Read on to know more about Kristofer Sommestad and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background and What motivated you to get started with your company?
Kristofer Sommestad: I’ve worked at consumer startups for the last 20 years and have always been looking to fix broken user experiences. Having worked as a freelancer, I’ve seen first-hand how incredibly broken the whole process is between freelancers and their clients, causing a lot of pain on both ends. My co-founders and I realized that we’re in a unique position to change this and fix payments for freelancers, once and for all.
What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Kristofer Sommestad: It’s a very exciting time, as we’re just rolling out Willa Pay to the first eagerly awaiting users. We have thousands of influencers on our waiting list, so we’re working as hard as we can to open up for everyone as soon as possible.
How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Kristofer Sommestad: We raised a $3M Seed round this spring.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fundraising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors, and which channels worked best for you?
Kristofer Sommestad: At first, we were thinking about bootstrapping Willa, which has worked well for us with previous ventures. But when we realized the magnitude of the problem we’re solving and the market’s size, we immediately shifted over to fundraising. We closed an oversubscribed round pretty quickly, having met about 20 investors in a few weeks.
It’s pretty similar to a sales process, where I think it’s important to handle each connection carefully and continuously move them through the funnel, always pushing towards a decision. We met investors both face-to-face and over video/calls. Both channels worked well for us.
Fundraising is, of course, a continuous process, but even though we’re still getting a lot of inbound investor calls, we’re heads-down building a great business and not meeting with anyone at this time.
What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fundraising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Kristofer Sommestad: I’m quite happy with our process and delighted with the investors we got on board, so there’s honestly not too much I would like to change. But of course, the pitch improves with every meeting, so it would’ve been even better and more comfortable if we’d had the “final” pitch when we kicked things off.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Kristofer Sommestad: We’re working incredibly hard to prove that we have product/market fit and scale our business. In 2030, I expect freelancing to be the default rather than the alternative, and I want Willa to be the leading financial service for the future workforce.
How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Kristofer Sommestad: We were the core of Spotify’s growth team about a decade ago and took a few of the keys from the Growth playbook with us. Since then, we’ve also perfected some of the strategies, of course.
A key for us is in our user base, where our early users are the world’s most influential Instagrammers and Youtubers. So it’s quite clear that building a product they LOVE will generate an unprecedented word-of-mouth effect.
Which has been the best marketing software tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Kristofer Sommestad: Our secret sauce is not a software or tool, but rather the relationships we have with millions of influencers globally.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Kristofer Sommestad: Building a company is a lot about learning, so I’m not going to act like we only make perfect decisions. But I think a very common mistake is to assume that your customers are like you, instead of spending time talking to them. That will mess everything up, regardless of which other tactics you apply.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Kristofer Sommestad: The whole world is shifting over to a freelance economy, so we’re solving global problems from day 1. We’re starting with the U.S. market, which happens to be the biggest, but will expand as soon as it makes sense.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global expansion?
Kristofer Sommestad: Doing it before your company is organized well-enough and not understanding how different markets can be. Our team also lead several of Spotify’s new market launches and have a lot of learnings on how to get it right.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
Kristofer Sommestad: Willa has been a distributed company since its early days, which has made us incredibly resilient to many of the challenges imposed by COVID. We also timed our fundraising very well, so I think we’re coming out of this as a powerful company.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company?
Kristofer Sommestad: As a startup, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. In the early stages of a company, you see a lot of opportunities floating around, which can make it very difficult to retain focus on solving the problem you set out to solve. Focus is everything.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Kristofer Sommestad: I’ve received a lot of good advice, but I think the most important piece is not trying to be the “good guy” all the time.
This is an incredibly competitive space where things always must move at top speed. Everyone but the winners will be forgotten.
What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
- Being passionate about building great user experiences, a real eye-opener was Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, which I read almost 20 years ago. Such a simple book, but not read by enough people given the state of user experiences today
- Of course, Eric Ries changed a lot of the thinking around how to build companies with his blog and Lean Startup, which has been very important for me and the way I’ve built companies and products.
- And on a more personal note, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, really was mind-boggling. Some have criticized this book, but it’s quite the feat to package humankind’s history in a book this way. And it makes you ask a lot of questions about what we’re doing with the world.
How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Kristofer Sommestad: I’ve always been lucky enough to be passionate about my work, so I’m just doing what I love every day. That makes motivation easy.
What are the top- three life lessons that you want your (future) sons and daughters to know?
Kristofer Sommestad: Do what you want in life, love what you do, and be a good person while doing it.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Kristofer Sommestad: I want to make it possible for this and coming generations to work and live their way.
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