Matthias Lissner is an experienced entrepreneur with a background across a variety of fast-growing business models. He has worked with companies across the world and advises start-ups on operations, business model design, internationalisation and organisational design as well as mentoring individuals on leadership development.
Matthias, you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, but I know from your LinkedIn profile that this wasn’t always the case. Can you tell me a bit about your background?
Like so many people, I followed the traditional career model and moved from university straight into employment. In my case, I worked in private equity in London. I was young, ambitious for what I had learnt counts in life – money, fame and status – and prepared to work the crazy long hours that were expected.
But you can’t keep going like that and keep it together. Or at least, I couldn’t. Five years in, I hit a wall: I realised that what I was doing went completely against my personality and value system and completely dropped out there and then.
So, at the age of 28, I started reinventing and rediscovering myself. I went through a deep personal crisis as a result and learned to embrace myself and follow my intrinsic motivations. It was a difficult time for me; I lost ⅓ of my network in the first 12 months.
They did not understand my choice and struggled to recognise the guy who “felt a lack of purpose”. It makes sense: many of them found reflecting on their career purpose at best uncomfortable, if not impossible. It’s natural that some people simply turned away and that’s ok. New people have since taken their place and their values align much more closely with the person I have become.
The roles I have now are much more closely aligned to my values – I am a lot more mindful than before about what I do vs. who I am. My career has been a great ride so far and the journey continues…
Tell us a bit about how you start your day. Are you an early bird or do you need a bit help to get started?
I wake up quite early – at around 6am and take the time to meditate before I do anything else. I know my day will be crammed with information – some good, some bad – and meditation let’s me prepare my mind for the onslaught and achieve a balanced emotional state. I’ve been meditating on and off for about three years, and more seriously during the last 8 months. It makes an enormous difference to the way I cope with the day ahead.
When my meditation is complete, I get my breakfast. Again, I’m very mindful to protect myself from the day ahead, so I make sure I stay away from my phone and laptop until after 7am when I am ready for the day and have eaten. I now recognise how important it is for me to withstand the urge of the world calling my attention through device notifications. Instead, I prefer to be in control of when I engage with communication.
How do you proceed from there? Do you work from home or commute? And how do you plan for the day ahead?
It depends, but mostly I work from home which means I can get started on my work as soon as breakfast is done. I start the day by going through my messages and segmenting them into those to which I can respond instantly and those which become tasks.
I try to reply to every email and message within 24 hours, even if just to say that I have seen it and will take time to action. This respectfully signals to the other person that they are being heard. Once that’s done, I check and prioritise my to-dos for the day. Most of my to-dos have already been set but depending on what happened during the night I may re-prioritise.
I use Zenkit for organising my projects and Evernote for my note keeping. I use pen and paper for taking notes during calls as their flexibility lets me draw relationship diagrams and charts more quickly.
So far, so organised! How does the rest of your morning pan out?
By the time I’ve responded to messages and planned my day it’s probably about 8am, this is when I dedicate time to working on my blog posts and social media accounts – LinkedIn and Facebook. The danger of distraction by social networks is highest here but I have improved recently by being very mindful of it.
Once my writing is complete, I get onto my first round of calls. I occasionally have scheduled calls during this time but try to avoid them as it gives me space to deal with potentially urgent matters which might have occurred over the weekend. If it’s been a quiet weekend, then I may make a few calls in response to emails or messages I received earlier.
Following that, I’ll work on some client outreach via LinkedIn. As I am currently planning my relocation to Finland, my focus are fast-growing Finnish companies which may need support with developing robust operational structures, as well as Finnish companies seeking to enter the German market who may benefit from my intercultural insights.
Having previously launched a UK start-up in Germany, my experience in this field is quite distinctive.
What about breaks? Do you work through the day without pausing for breath or are you more structured?
I take a lunch break at 12.30 and use this time to decompress from my phone and laptop. I try to keep Monday lunchtimes to myself and avoid work lunches because I’ve found that those lunches are often cancelled when people get swamped by their to-do lists.
Next up, we’re looking at skills. What would you describe as your superpower skills; the things you’re especially good at?
I’m incredibly resilient and determined which stands me in good stead as an entrepreneur. I’m not sure an entrepreneur could be successful without a certain level of determination. I know that my communication style is strong – both written and in meetings, this is helped by my naturally empathetic nature. Because I’m able to tune in to how others may be feeling, I can alter my communication to suit.
My other skills include my strong analytical streak that’s complemented by my ability to see the bigger picture and creatively solve problems.
What about the things you need to improve on? We all have them, can you tell us yours?
So many of my development areas mirror the aspects which make me successful. I find it difficult to be patient at times – I want things to run to my schedule! Dealing with rejection is tough, but something all entrepreneurs need to learn to do if they’re to keep going and find eventual success. I also struggle with accepting the “boring” tasks that I need to do and can find it hard to maintain interest in a project when it reaches a steady state; I readily admit that I prefer the intensity of a sprint to the long slog of a marathon.
Lunch is done, and you’ve had a break from your laptop. Are your afternoons any different to your mornings?
My afternoons are pretty much a continuation of my mornings. Right now, I’m continuing to work a lot on my relocation and have been spending time mapping the Finnish start-up industry. This involves finding interesting companies in each sector, identifying the key contact and adding them to my lead list. I then see if I have any common connections I could use for an introduction and also add that person’s name to the lead list as point of contact.
By mid-afternoon, my emails will have built up somewhat, so I dedicate time to a second round of written communication. As in the morning, I reply instantly where possible and also take the time to reply to scheduled emails from the morning. Those that I’m unable to deal with there and then get added to my to do list. I may also use that mid-afternoon time slot for a second round of calls.
I always make sure I build some buffer time into my day which means I have the space to allow for high priority unexpected items such as inbound leads or messages. But if nothing crops up, I use that time as a break and meditate or take a bit of time to read something fun.
When do you tend to clock off? Are you a night owl working until late, or are you disciplined about your free time?
At about 5pm, I set myself up for the next day by replying to emails and messages. As it’s the end of the working day for so many, this gives me the chance to get ahead. I like to end my day reviewing my to-dos for tomorrow and changing my priorities if necessary. This is probably at about 6pm. As I start working relatively early, I’m able to finish at a reasonable hour which gives me a large window to unwind and pursue other interests. I’ll typically have my evening meal at around 7pm and then take the time to relax.
Your day sounds very organised and as if it could be quite intense in places. What do you do to switch off?
My big passion is music. I play the guitar and find it incredibly calming after a day at work; it’s essential for my wellbeing. I have several guitars, and the most photogenic of those is my Eastman SB59. I played as a teenager and then stopped for over 15 years, and only picked it up again in late 2017. It was one of the best decisions of my life, because it really is such an amazing way to find peace. I use a platform called ArtistWorks. They teach via video exchange videos, where you upload your playing and your teacher responds, and you can watch everyone else’s videos too – plus the standard lessons, of course. If you know anything about rock, I am sure you know Paul Gilbert who teaches rock guitar at the school. He is one of my teenage heroes and it is such a privilege to learn from him and interact with him!
If you want to reach out to Matthias, here is his LinkedIn.