An Interview with Sissel Hansen, Founder of Startup Guide

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CEO Sissel Hansen talks to us about founding Startup Guide and why she’s so excited about her latest Barcelona-based venture.

1 – Where did the idea for Startup Guide come from? And how has the concept evolved in the past few years?

The idea behind Startup Guide was actually born out of frustration with existing resources for startup founders. When I moved from Copenhagen to Berlin back in 2012, I noticed that without a network or many contacts in Berlin, starting up a company was incredibly complicated — especially as a young, female founder. The idea for the company was simple: to provide a useful resource — a guiding voice — to everyone involved in the startup ecosystem in a given location, whether that be entrepreneurs, investors, schools, or others. And it worked! When we sold out the initial Berlin guide within the first 48 hours of publishing, we knew we were on to something. After officially founding the company in 2014, we have expanded around the world and have published more than 30 guides. 

Since then, our books have inspired readers around the world, from Cape Town to Tokyo. In 2019, we published more books than ever before, with more in the works for 2020, including Barcelona. As a company, Startup Guide has evolved in many ways during that time, but the crux of what we do hasn’t changed: informing and guiding our readers. One thing that is new for Startup Guide is a focus on impact entrepreneurship. We’re very excited to have published our first book that’s exclusively focused on social impact startups in Switzerland. We will continue to develop this concept in 2020, as well as writing our traditional guide books. 

2 –  Can you explain a little more about your mission and Startup Guide’s philosophy?

The mission behind Startup Guide has always been — and will continue to be — guiding and empowering people to start their entrepreneurial journey. We are beginning to recognize, though, that this alone is not enough. With a global climate crisis of epic proportions, rising inequality and so many other challenges to the well-being of people around the world, we know that the business world, which of course includes startups, has a new set of responsibilities: to make the world a better place — and not simply to make a profit. We want to play a role in helping to shift the idea of what “good business” looks like. 

We recently published an impact “manifesto,” where we lay out the vision of the world we want to see. We believe that our impact series is a great place to start doing this — changing the narrative one guide at a time.  

Founder and CEO of Startup Guide Sissel Hansen

3 – Did you ever have any second thoughts about launching a print product in a world that is increasingly moving into digital?

This is a question we get a lot! When I first started the company, many people would ask me why I didn’t just make a blog instead of launching into the publishing industry. I think there’s an inherent value in having a physical object that you can bring with you anywhere. With a book, you continue to engage in the world around you and make connections that a screen otherwise closes off to you. It seems like more and more people are beginning to understand this — and that the publishing industry is not going away and physical books are standing the test of time. 

With that said, we’ve also expanded our digital footprint significantly since we launched back in 2014. We’re starting to roll out digital formats of many of our guidebooks (which will be available this month!) and launched startupguide.com as a corollary to our print products. 

4 –  Why are Startup Guide’s printed products so popular despite most print media struggling nowadays?

The answer to this question really lies in a couple of places. First, one key element of the Startup Guide mission is developing strong partnerships with the local startup community. For every book we publish, we make sure to partner with a trusted community partner with deep ties to the local business community. These community partners can range from accelerators to corporates, but share one thing in common: a desire to build the ecosystem from the ground up. We like to think that the Startup Guides really get people talking, and that our launch events play an important role in bringing various local players together in a collaborative and informative environment.

Secondly, our books are successful because of the attention paid to detail and the high production quality we ensure each and every time. From the writers and photographers who conduct interviews and take photos to the design and production team who ensure a sleek and readable design, our entire team is laser focused on making sure each book is a work of art. 

5 – How many printed products do you produce each month? And how large is your readership?

In 2019, we published 11 books — nearly one per month. We also expanded to two new continents: Africa and Asia. This was a huge accomplishment for our team, and showed that there’s a truly global interest in the work that we’re doing. We didn’t do it alone, of course. Our global distributor, Gestalten, has made this expansion possible.   

Founder and CEO of Startup Guide Sissel Hansen

6 – How many cities does Startup Guide cover?

Startup Guide books now cover 35 cities, regions and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the US and the Middle East. In addition to our city guides, we have one regional guide book (Nordics) and one country guide (Switzerland). 

7 – What obstacles have you faced during the creation of Startup Guide and how have you overcome them?

It’s important to mention that Startup Guide was itself also a startup! The numbers are against you. After all, only about 10 percent of all startups are successful. What allowed us to overcome the odds was a combination of persistence — really believing in the idea, even when others didn’t — and a consistent strategy. Each new city, region or country presents different challenges, but the key is working with local partners on the ground to address these head on. Startup Guide really focuses on not just dropping into a place for a short stay, but really getting to know the environment and making as many connections as possible. This allows us to get to a deeper level and provide added value to readers.  

8 – How important is it to have influential women in a startup ecosystem?

The startup world is notorious for its lack of diversity, not just in gender, but in race, age and education level as well. That doesn’t mean we should accept the world as it is. Having female voices in leadership positions is of course important on a product level: more female founders will mean that women’s needs and desires are more represented by the businesses that serve them. But it’s also important on a societal level. Studies have shown that female founders are more likely to prioritize social responsibility and strive for impact than men are. Faced with major challenges in ecology, health and a wide range of other fields, we need women’s voices now more than ever. 

There’s also the question of setting an example for future generations. Diversity is about more than just following trends — it’s about setting them. Having more women, and other tech minorities, in positions of power can create a positive feedback loop, and show future generations of leaders that not only can they get involved, but that they should and must. 

9 – Why did you choose Barcelona as a Startup Guide city?

There are a number of reasons Startup Guide came to Barcelona. The first is that it’s an ecosystem that’s rapidly expanding. In 2018, there were nearly 1,200 startups across the ecosystem — good for fifth place among all European countries. Not only is Barcelona a hub for art and culture, but it’s also a hub for entrepreneurs. With global events like the Mobile World Congress and a large number of leading universities, Barcelona is an exciting place to start a new company or career. It’s also important to mention Barcelona has a balanced ecosystem, with a range of more established startups (like Typeform, TravelPerk or Badi) and new ones that are looking to shake up various industries. 

10 – Why did it take Startup Guide such a long time to come to Barcelona? 🙂

startup guide barcelona book

For any book project, gauging the interest of the community and raising funds is critical. We wanted to ensure that we had both of these things before launching our Barcelona guide, but now that we have we are incredibly excited to share the product we’ve put together in this sunny, artistic and inspiring city. 

If you want to purchase the Startup Guide Barcelona book, click here.

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