Mette Lykke: Disruption, Passion and Risk

The Danish founder of Endomondo sports tracking app encouraged entrepreneurs to be persistent and to always trust random gypsy women when making career decisions.

What happens when you take three business consultants and a gypsy? This isn’t the start of a joke, according to Mette Lykke, one of the powerhouses behind the globally popular fitness tracking app Endomondo, and Vice President of the US-based athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour. Lykke revealed that an unexpected encounter with a gypsy showed her that following her dreams could take her to places she’d never believed possible and that passion for what she does is the real measure of her success.

Lykke has the distinction of being the youngest and number four ranked of Nordic Business Report’s Top 20 Women in Business in Northern Europe. She sat down for an entertaining Q&A session on the “disruption” theme during Nordic Business Forum 2015 with Nordic Business Forum board member and Åbo Akademi University professor, the ebullient Alf Rehn.

The young Danish entrepreneur began by relating the story of how she came to take on the challenge of entrepreneurship. She recalled that she and two other colleagues at the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey wanted “to use technology to make fitness fun.”

Following your wildest dreams

The trio had been moonlighting to get the enterprise off the ground, when Lykke received a lucrative job offer from a client. She was faced with a potentially life-changing decision: accept the security of a steady and safe position, or to give it all up for the uncertainty and risk of entrepreneurship.

Lykke recalled the evening in New York when she would either tell her colleagues that she would go “all-in” with the business venture, or choose the well-trodden path of a stable career as a business consultant. This was where the gypsy came into the story. According to Lykke, as she stood on a street corner, a gypsy woman gave her a card, on which was printed the following words:

“Whatever your wildest dreams may be, they only scratch the surface of what is possible.”

It was that chance encounter in 2007 that prompted Lykke to stick with her colleagues to pursue their wildest dreams.  The trio went on to launch the first version of their now-lauded community-based fitness monitoring application, Endomondo. The first version, Lykke said, was launched in 2008 and it took a further 2 years before the app was able to gather one million users. As of October 2015, the company had seen its app downloaded more than 25 million times – a testimony to the trio’s tenacity in the face of uncertainty.

Setbacks are a given, pushing through the pain is what counts

“All beginnings are hard,” Lykke observed, noting that November 2015 marked eight years since she and her colleagues decided to take a chance on building a company on the basis of their belief in a particular concept.

“All start-ups have downturns and need to push through,” Lykke said, adding, “The reality is that in spite of success, there’s always a crisis happening backstage. The real accomplishment is to stick with it.”

The young entrepreneur noted that when morale declines because of inevitable setbacks, it is important for business leaders to “snap out of it”, and more importantly, to take the entire team along, because a good team is essential to the venture’s success. She noted that the obstacles Endomondo experienced in its early years provided valuable lessons for the company.

“The first years have been about gathering data. The next stage is about what to do with it,” Lykke commented.

Disruption and passion walk hand in hand

Pressed on the subject of disruption and what it means for her, Lykke described the concept as “a type of innovation that changes an industry.” She saw Endomondo as a force disrupting the health and fitness industry.

“The end point is to empower people to be active and to care for their health and to combine that with having fun and other social aspects,” she added.

According to Lykke, the path to disruption for the Endomondo team began with observing trends and needs and asking how to solve the problem of matching them. However she pointed out that more is needed than a purely empirical approach.

“The secret ingredient is to have a passion. Otherwise you spot trends and become a consultant,” she quipped, harking back to her previous profession. “You need to want to change something and have an impact. And as cheesy as it may sound, we wanted to make the world better,” she added.

As co-founder and chief executive of Endomondo, Mette Lykke helped engineer the company’s acquisition by the US athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour for USD 85 million and now serves as the company’s Vice President. From her vantage point shuttling between the USA and Europe, Lykke said she has observed major differences between the two territories.

“There is a mindset gap between the USA and the Nordics. We need to encourage more risk-taking among young people,” Lykke declared.

Changing mindsets and encouraging risk-taking

She noted that the Danish startup community is thriving, but called for more positive associations with entrepreneurship, particularly in cases where new business ventures fail.

“Instead of just applauding the ones who have made it. Everyone deserves recognition for trying,” she remarked.

Having had her finger on the pulse of the startup scene in her native Denmark, Lykke said that government might not be using business incentives in the right way. Instead she said, more emphasis should be placed on lowering the threshold to going into business.

The young businesswoman said it is also important to encourage children to consider entrepreneurship from an early age. She further pointed out that in any case, the global economy is moving in a direction in which many of today’s youngsters will be self-employed.

Asked what could be done at the political level to support budding entrepreneurs, Lykke pointed out that startups often encounter major hurdles raising capital. She said that legislation could be used to encourage more investment in new businesses, using tools such as tax breaks for investors. She also called for policymakers to consider granting tax exemptions on equity owned by start-up employees.

As she wrapped up her conversation with Alf Rehn, Mette Lykke outlined her cardinal rules for taking on a business project:

  • It must make sense
  • You must enjoy the people you work with
  • You must aim for growth

In her parting words for would-be entrepreneurs, Lykke advised the younger set to take the plunge early.

“The sooner you start a business the better,” she advised, pointing out that before the burden of a mortgage, a family and other life milestones, the financial risks of failure are likely to be far smaller. The rewards of course, may only scratch the surface of what’s possible.

Mette Lykke is the Vice President of Under Armour, International Digital and the co-founder & CEO of Endomondo. Lykke and two business partners co-founded the fitness tracking app Endomondo in 2007 and by 2014 had grown the community-based venture to reach 20 million registered users. As chief executive, she successfully orchestrated the company’s acquisition for $85M by the US-based athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour.


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