As a young entrepreneur, it’s hard to execute the perfect recipe for success from day one. How do you establish a well-working start-up culture? How do you build your team and solve problems?

To get you the answers, experienced founder, Eleonore Poli sat down with Leonard Dorlöchter to discuss the challenges of founding a start-up. Leonard co-founded web3 network peaq in 2020 to advance decentralisation and the machine economy.

After studying Business Informatics in Germany at the Technische Universität Berlin, Leonard developed an interest in blockchain technology and web3. In his early career, he worked on various projects in the field and became head of product development at Advanced Blockchain AG. This career move led to the conception of peaq.

In this article, we’ll share Leonard’s insights into start-up culture and productivity.

How Does Peaq Fit into Web3?

Users don’t often question the current structure of the internet. To understand peaq’s role in web3, we have to take a quick history lesson.

There have been three iterations of the web since its inception. Web1 was the first stage during the early days of the internet. It was a decentralised space with only reading and writing functions. Web2 broke these limitations and gained success to the point where we still use it today. It offers more functions and improves the user experience. Its only catch: it’s centralised and thus run by a few big companies. Individuals lost that control in the transition from web1 to web2.

Web3 combines the best of both worlds. It maintains the variety in functions and usability while establishing a decentralised infrastructure. Democratisation and decentralisation are the core values of this system.

As a decentralised platform, the peaq network seeks to advance the machine economy, Internet of Things (IOT), and Economy of Things (EOT). IOT refers to smart devices and machines that are connected to the internet and can receive and send data. EOT and the machine economy describe devices that can send and receive data but also offer goods and services.

Leonard used the example of car sharing to illustrate how this network works. Let’s say someone wants to travel from point A to point B. Today, they would call a taxi or use services like Uber or Lyft. With a decentralised network, there is no central company like Uber that will notify one of its drivers and charge accordingly. Instead, there are individuals offering ride sharing or taxi services directly. The user interacts with individuals instead of big companies. Decentralised finance is one of the biggest incentives for users and investors.

If you’re curious about Leonard’s perspective on blockchain and web3 in more detail, visit our in-depth interview “Making A Better Society With Machine Economy and Web 3.0.

Building a Start-Up from Idea to Reality

What can we learn from Leonard’s success? How did peaq turn from an idea into the business it is today?

In 2017, Leonard’s early career experiences and the introduction to blockchain birthed the idea for peaq. He and his co-founders spent the next three years on projects geared towards identifying use cases and “problems worth solving.” This hands-on approach and focus on the product they believed in was key to determining what they had to offer. What core functionalities did they want for a decentralised network? What issues could they identify?

During that process, Leonard’s team had to focus on one more core aspect of start-up building: fundraising. Presenting their idea to investors and gaining their confidence vote was critical. “Since we’re building something longterm and visionary, we had to build up trust,” he explained. “Many of our partners were investing in the team and vision but also in the traction we had to show.” They inspired excitement for future possibilities in those early investors and carried that momentum forward.

Several rounds of fundraising and earning revenue through projects – consulting companies, for example – turned out to be a good system for peaq. Leonard and his team financed their ambitious project and continued to invest time in funding rounds.

Leonard stressed the usefulness of concrete numbers and tangible results to talk to investors. Clear results helped gain their trust and belief in the project.

Start-Up Team Culture

An overlooked aspect of start-up building is the team culture. Leonard shared details of the peaq team, maintaining motivation, and how they initially found their work rhythm.

The peaq team is ever-growing with a variety of nationalities. Leonard credits the COVID-19 pandemic with making remote work a viable alternative to typical in-person office culture. That opened the door to hiring a diverse team. As peaq grows, Leonard and his co-founders want to work on gender diversity and hiring more senior employees to strengthen the management with their experience.

Early on, Leonard and his co-founders followed their natural strengths in dividing tasks. Despite that attempt at clearly defining responsibilities, it’s hard to maintain in the early stages of a start-up, according to Leonard. Every member of the team has to step up and take over tasks out of their comfort zone to lift the business off the ground. It’s a “whatever has to be done, needs to be done” mentality that is crucial for initial growth. With more experience and more personnel, Leonard is now able to clearly define tasks and maximise quality.

Peaq’s early days show some demands of founding a start-up. Their focus on diversifying the team and playing into each member’s strengths creates a productive work environment. Be mindful of the hustle and wise in distributing tasks.

Work-Life Balance and Productivity in Start-Up Culture

How do you maximise your productivity and prioritise your health at the same time? Eleonore wanted to know Leonard’s thoughts on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. We’ll walk you through his biggest lessons and routines that he shared with her:

On Working Hard

A universal piece of advice is to always work hard. That rings especially true with start-ups. Leonard stressed the importance of working as hard as you can, particularly in the early stages of your business. Success requires this high-intensity approach, according to Leonard. He admitted to having neglected his health to achieve peaq’s ambitious goals and, in hindsight, he would do things differently now.

Focus on Good Sleep

One of the key changes Leonard made was to focus on getting enough sleep. Going to bed early at 10 p.m. ensures a good night’s sleep and the rest period any worker’s body needs. That rest is crucial for founders who have to focus on their start-up seven days a week. During the first year of peaq, Leonard was “running on caffeine” and his productivity and creativity likely suffered from it.

Prioritise Your Wellbeing

Sleep is part of your wellbeing, but Leonard emphasised the importance of taking care of your mind and body in general. He stopped exercising to spend those extra hours on peaq, for example. He told us never to underestimate the value of socialising and exercise to boost productivity and creativity.

Finding a “sweet spot” between your wellbeing and working as hard as you can is the ultimate recipe for success, according to Leonard. He uses walks, audiobooks, mediation, yoga, and other workouts in his daily routine to improve his physical and mental wellbeing. “I would still try to work as much as possible without sacrificing balance,” he said of what he would do differently during the early days of peaq.

Leonard’s Tip: Follow Paul Graham’s “Maker and Manager Schedule”

In terms of routines at work, Leonard cited Graham’s “Maker and Manager Schedule” to help structure your work day. Daily routines vary from person to person, but Leonard found a sustainable routine in focusing on creativity in the morning and checking in with the team in the afternoon.

After struggling to make time for big product-related ideas, he now prioritises one value creating task first before dealing with the demands of his team. That approach helps to be as productive as possible with important core tasks while still managing other aspects of the company. “If you want, you could spend an entire day on Slack, emails, and calls without a problem – especially as a founder,” he explained. “ That leads to not making enough progress on the products.”

Start-Up Problem Solving

One of the most important qualities of an entrepreneur is the ability to solve problems efficiently and effectively. We wanted to know how Leonard and his team developed an acute sense for fixing issues in a start-up.

Leonard shared that weekly management meetings are key to working through problems. Through discussion and distribution of responsibilities, they determine how to solve issues. Urgent matters need a well-thought out strategy while other problems might not be within your immediate control. Develop a battle plan in each instance and clearly define who’s responsible for its solution. It helps move past these roadblocks, according to Leonard.

Don’t worry about the occasional misstep. Regardless of excellent problem-solving skills, there will be moments of poor results. Leonard encourages creativity and experimentation, but he also believes in knowing your limits. Take calculated risks and listen to customer and investor feedback to navigate these situations. Sometimes, it’s okay to try something new and fail, but Leonard advised practising mindfulness of resources. He recommends stopping an experiment the second you realise it’s missing your target.

Through effective communication and hard analytical work, start-ups such as peaq prioritise urgent issues. Calculating risks and knowing your financial limitations are two core values of start-up culture to Leonard.

Is There a Way to Avoid Pitfalls as a Young Entrepreneur?

Finally, we wanted to know if Leonard had any wisdom to share about avoiding common mistakes as a young entrepreneur. “The fool-proof way might be to do research in the beginning, analyse the market, and then quickly build something based on that knowledge,” he explained. If you put in the work early on and focus on the bigger picture, Leonard sees the most promising success. That mentality combined with smart budget handling is a great place to start, according to him.

“We started running,” Leonard reminisced about the early peaq journey. “We were resilient enough to keep going – and that made all the difference. Because we could have stopped many times along the way.”

The same applies to every entrepreneur who runs into roadblocks or struggles with growth. Be aware of the risks, but work through problems and maintain the passion for the project. By doing so with a good work-life balance, you will be able to reign in a healthy start-up culture and see success.

About the author

EWOR is a place where the most extraordinary people find the education, network, and capital to solve the world's biggest problems. Our unique combination of an entrepreneurship academy and early-stage VC (up to €150K investment) firm was built for founders by founders, creating an unparalleled community for like-minded entrepreneurs and over a dozen unicorn founders who are building impactful tech companies.