Supporting a Mission-Driven Startup

January 17, 2024

Meet René Janssen, an esteemed advisor at AwakeTeams. René is the Founder & Managing Director of Lepaya, a training company and platform based in Amsterdam. He brings his expertise and experiences in e-learning and managing a successful startup to AwakeTeams. Below, René answers several questions that illuminate who he is and why we are excited that he is a part of the AwakeTeams family.

What is something about the employee experience that you think needs improvement?

I think over the last year work-life balance has become something that is not an either/or, but something that is becoming increasingly ingrained. Employers, and really everyone, have the responsibility to make sure that mental health and potential burnout are topics that are addressed. To address mental health and burnout issues, working effectively with others is a critically important topic to focus our efforts on. I think that AwakeTeams has built a platform and an approach that really addresses effective collaboration and upskilling within a team setting. I believe it is a way to maximize both (1) what an employer wants from someone—getting results, and (2) doing so in a sustainable and healthy manner. For me, that is a key topic which is not just for AwakeTeams but is something that's important in general. That is why I like to support the cause.

What is unique about advising and supporting an early stage startup?

I believe the important thing to realize is that an early stage startup is a very fragile entity. There is a lot of passion and commitment, but the startup still needs to find its place in the world. I think that can only happen through the dedication and energy of the founder and the people working with him or her, as well as by focusing on the right things at the right time. By doing too many things, overreaching, or sometimes not being bold enough may make all the difference between reaching a milestone and not getting there. As an advisor you are in a unique position of both being able to enjoy what is happening—getting the good and the bad—and also, hopefully, putting in that tiny bit of support that might make a zero into a one or two. I think in the end a startup is a very fragile beast and steering it, hopefully in the right direction, is very cool.

What motivates you to take the time out to contribute your expertise to the success of AwakeTeams?

I met Laura when she was still in the early stage of setting up this endeavor and she reached out for any practical tips and tricks that I could offer. There are three things that motivate me to contribute my expertise. First, Laura (AwakeTeams Founder & CEO) as an individual. Laura being on this mission, driving it home, and putting in all the energy and passion is great to feel, and it is great to be a part of. Second, of course, the mission of AwakeTeams. It is really something the world needs more of. Third, I hope and trust that I can bring value as she grapples with challenges, as they are quite similar to challenges we have had in the fairly recent past. I also hope to bring something to the table on relevant topics with people that I am working with. 

What is your favorite quote?

There are many quotes that I use in my daily life. I try to make them less inspirational and more practical. A phrase that is printed big and boldly on our wall is actually just two words: “Act Now”. It is basically the consideration that if you want to get anything done in a scale-up it is about putting the work in and always asking questions. If you have to do it anyway, why not do it right now? Why not answer that email now? Why not call the client now or get the pitch deck out now? For me, “Act Now” is an important quote that tells a little bit about my own personal style, but also the kind of culture you need to have in building any successful company.

What do you attribute your own success to?

I think many successes are attributed to the combination of hard work and luck. The one addition I can give to hard work is trying to be focused. What is really going to make the difference in this stage of any venture, my venture, or our venture? What do we need to do today or tomorrow that's going to bring optimum value and bring us to the next level? Once we figure this out, strictly focus on that. I think bringing the right group of people together, putting in the hours, doing the relevant things, and having the occasional stroke of luck is as important as anything else.

What are your own top three tips for staying “awake” at work?

Let me start by saying this, do something with people you actually enjoy working with. Whether it is your manager or your colleagues. Consider what your personal values are and whether they match the values of those you work with. Be outspoken and honest with yourself about that. Secondly, step away from your role, function, and what you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself this, are you actually enjoying your day-to-day work? Are you enjoying the challenges, deadlines, and the tasks you have for yourself day to day? Basically, do cool things with great people! Lastly, listen to yourself. You know when it is too much. You know when you can push a little bit harder. We are in a marathon and not in a sprint. No one has ever been able to complete a marathon at a sprint pace. So be very realistic about where we are today and what you can achieve today and tomorrow.

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