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Interview Marie Kjaer Hansen
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Marie Kjær Hansen, Plan Penny, Denmark

How did you get your business idea?

I have worked as a digital project manager and a project management consultant for the past decade. In my work I was often frustrated that the term “project management” was associated with complex methodologies and overly complex work tools, when I always thought that project management is about common sense and keeping things simple.

So I decided to design my own project management tool – a web app that allows the user to generate project plans without prior training in traditional project management.

During the concept development of the product I realized that especially people with a creative background and women we’re the most enthusiastic test-users of Plan Penny, so we realized that people with their particular mindset are equally frustrated about existing project management tools and have a strong need for simple work tools.

Plan Penny has since been redesigned and is focused at the creative professionals.

The web application is currently close to being released, in the next few weeks. It has been tested at every iteration and we use some of our close contacts.

What was the main drive that pushed you to start your business?

I can’t really pinpoint the exact time where I decided to start on my own – in retrospect it feels like it was the only way for me to go.

I tried hard to fit in at a regular 9 to 5 job, and tried to do a good job, but was often asked directly about my opinions on management and strategy and an honest reply isn’t always favorable to hear from management. It may have been a “glass-ceiling” situation, where I sometimes felt that management made decisions that weren’t sustainable and it was hard for me to accept their decisions, when I could see the negative effects on my teams. I think it slowly dawned on me that I may be just as smart (and in some situations even smarter) than the bosses I’ve had, and when that though first appears in ones head – there’s no turning back: You have to try and figure out if you’re capable of doing a better job.

What was your biggest fear before starting up? How did you overcome it?

My biggest fear then was that I would fail miserably and be regarded by other people as a failure. It didn’t take me long to realize that other people don’t really care, those who love you will be there regardless of how much or how little success you have – it’s a cliche to say so, but I honestly feared being laughed at, that people would talk about me as a failure. Overcoming that fear wasn’t hard. As soon as I started talking about my dreams and plans for Plan Penny I felt a tremendous support from everyone around me – so today the fear is actually more grounded in my fear of personal failure, meaning: I’m more afraid of letting myself down, not being able to realize my dreams, and not being able to keep doing what I love doing.

How do you describe your core business activity and what’s the key value you offer to your customer?

At Plan Penny we’re helping creative freelancer (or small company) to structure their work, enabling them to free up the creative space to work better. It is a project management tool for creative industries.

Our primary product is a project planning application that enables the user to create simple and easy to understand project plans.

We focus on a specific target, people from a creative background. Women are more than often positive towards the simplistic way we developed the tool. We do not target women on purpose but their feedback was always very positive about the platform.

We target individuals, freelancers and small companies not the corporate.

The key values we offer are simplistic, intuitive, we focus on the leading functionalities and not on the added ones and finally it is very visual. The user can show a professional looking project plan.

What’s your perception for businesses on the “web”?

The digital era has opened up for a much smarter and more productive way to communicate and connect. Digital products are being born every second and I think we’re just getting started in this industry. The software solutions that we’re once only available for large corporations with huge budgets and resources 10 years ago, can now be accessed and used by everyone who owns a smartphone. Therefore products needs to adapt to the speed of development and the way people use software tools today.

The costs of starting a web-company are relatively low, the access to the market is very easy and everyone with a good idea can start a company that’s “born global”. The success criteria for a web-product are defined by the number of customers who are willing to use and pay for the product, and less by marketing budgets or whether or not your company has a sales-executive who is in a VP group with the CEOs with the biggest budgets.

What are the key strategies you use to expand your business over the web?

Attention and traction is everything. Since we haven’t launched the real version of the product we’re preparing our online marketing campaigns, focusing on social media campaigns and bloggers. The content is focused on the creative work-process and how freelancers can optimize these processes. We’re advocating “Creative Structure” (I wrote a book with that title, aimed at the creative freelancer, describing simple tricks and ideas that can help them get better projects and happier clients), and will focus on social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram in that priority) to focus the aim. We’re in dialog with bloggers who have readers from our target group, about writing about the product, the concept and “creative structure” as a concept of its own.

What do you look when recruiting an employee?

Positivity, diversity and creativity are the three most important factors we’re looking for in a potential employee.

The team is extremely important and we’re very focused on adding the “right” members to the team. The dynamics of the team is important so we’re looking for people with a positive and collaborative attitude. We’re making a product for creatives, so creativity is a very important skill. We try to free up time for each team member for the “creative space” meaning: team members can work on anything they like, they don’t have to work on Plan Penny, as long as they work on something that they feel can heighten their talents. We’re very focused on having team members who wants to learn and evolve as individuals and as a team.

How many employees do you currently have? & how do you describe your management style?

The team consist of two founders (Managers), one full time employee and four freelancers. It’s difficult to describe your own management style. The people who work on Plan Penny and those who have worked for us in the past are incredibly loyal and encouraging, so I think we’re good at creating a positive atmosphere at the work-place. We’re ambitious bot not strict: If someone disappoints us we let them know straight away and everybody knows that we’re a small startup so we can’t afford people not living up to our expectations. They know the deal: The wages aren’t impressive, the work is hard but the team members engage because they like to see that their efforts make a difference and we truly appreciate them!

How do you describe yourself in 3 keywords?

Creative, persistent (bordering “stupidly stubborn”), engaging.

What’s your favorite part of your business, and why?

Seeing things evolve: Seeing the team work together, see the product come to life. Creating something (creating a product, building the team, the company) is the best part.

How do you advertise your business?

Until now not much advertising was done. We are preparing the marketing campaign but it will be released with the app. The focus was made mostly on building our network – we’ve been lucky to find some good people who have written about our product. We have identified that Pinterest is the most interesting tool for us and our product.

What made you choose this type of business?

I have worked with software and digital solutions since I graduated, so it felt very natural to stay in this line of business. The concept evolved over a decade of frustrations as a project manager, so it felt very natural for me to start this type of company.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Stay focused and be persistent. It sometimes hurts like #€%€%#. Sometimes people tell you you’re crazy/weird/stupid. Sometimes it all feels very Sisyfos-ish; every time you reach a milestone you realize that the next one is going to be even harder to reach.

But know this: It’s all worth it!

Building something and calling it your own – doing things your way is worth all the sleepless nights, all the frustrations and all the worries.

What is the value of WeHubs for you?

Starting a company can seem very lonely. It feels easier to have a confidential talk and take advice from someone with a similar mindset as yours. I think WeHubs is a very good place to seek peers, to find advice and support. I have been very fortunate and met some fantastic women via WeHubs, Women who resembled me in my way of thinking, who understood the world I live in, just five minutes with one of these women fuels my energy to keep going!

How did WeHubs helped her you or is expected to help you?

First of all I participated in a research about women web-entrepreneurs, and that alone ignited a few philosophical thoughts about being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Just talking with female colleagues and other female founders about working in this industry, makes me realize how I can strengthen my own role as founder and manager.

I was so fortunate to go to Lisbon this fall for the ICT 2015 conference; A fantastic chance to network – I met some incredible people, got very inspired and motivated to keep doing what I do and had a really good experience.