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Behind the Scenes: Interview with Growth Tribe

X-Europe project is run by five partners - F6S, TNW, TechChill, Design Terminal, and Growth Tribe. For you to get to know the X-Europe team better, we have created a series of articles where we interview the main people running the X-Europe machine. This time, Growth Tribes Peter van Sabben (CEO and co-founder), Alaina Oltrogge (Grants & subsidies manager), Ilinca Doinea (Growth coach and trainer), and Ramiar Arya (International growth hacking trainer) shared their thoughts about the X-Europe programme and the challenges of delivering growth training sessions online.

The team behind TechChill 2021 digital version.

Tell us more about the very beginning of X-Europe - the proposal, setting up the team, the excitement, and your very first impressions.

Alaina Oltrogge, grants & subsidies manager

Alaina Oltrogge (AO) - X-Europe marks Growth Tribe’s debut in the European grants space. It’s been a steep learning curve but also brought us and the partners some exhilarating learning, collaboration, and growth opportunities. I had just joined Growth Tribe a month before X-Europe officially started, so getting oriented at the company and in the consortium in parallel was equal parts hectic and exciting. Thankfully, we’ve learned a lot since January of 2020, but the excitement and enthusiasm remain as strong as ever!

Peter van Sabben (PvS), CEO and co-founder

Peter van Sabben (PvS) - Joining an H2020 programme was a huge step for our scale-up. It marked our entrance to grants work and presented an exciting opportunity to work with these strong partners to build a solid reputation for X-Europe.

The last two years have brought a lot of challenges and the project has turned out more virtual than planned. Tell us more about the challenges you face and how you tackle them!

AO - Going virtual has been a complex obstacle to tackle at a service level (from the perspective of our startups’ experiences) and a team level (making sure that our consortium team stays engaged and connected so we can work together to deliver those great services). X-Europe and Growth Tribe were both built to develop connections - connections between ideas, between regions, and between people. The biggest challenge to overcome when the programme went online was how to mimic the energy of these networking-conducive in-person events in a virtual setting.

Our partners and our own GT team did an incredible job shifting to virtual event delivery within a week of the first Dutch restrictions. Going virtual was a bumpy road, as it was for companies and events across the globe. For us, collecting feedback from our startups and using that feedback to constantly improve the virtual setting has been key. You can read more about what we’ve learned in our answers to question five.

This project involves a lot of teamwork not only within Growth Tribe's team but also other teams across all Europe. Tell us more about the teamwork - what's working and what could be improved?

AO - Team spirits have especially been impacted by the virtual setting. As a consortium spread across Europe, we always knew most meetings would be virtual, but COVID-19 made in-person collaborative events impossible. Sometimes, that’s made effective and timely communication challenging, magnifying any personal and cultural differences in communication style.

Thankfully, the whole X-Europe team has been patient, persistent, and professional. We’ve also benefited from some virtual team-building activities led by one of our trainers, Hasan Tahir. I know it will be that much sweeter when the consortium partners and our startups finally get to attend an in-person event. Hopefully, that will be the Design Terminal event in Hungary in November; keeping our fingers and toes crossed!

X-Europe is all about helping startups - tell more about what that means to you.

PvS - I’ve had over ten years of exposure to all the pitfalls of launching and running a startup. About 80% of startups fail. It is so important to help people grow and crucial to have a company culture that supports this. Entrepreneurial success isn't about the idea, it’s about the execution.

The system teaches us to avoid risk, to pass exams in order to get “good” jobs, and to believe that that’s the end of learning. Growth Tribe exists to spread the idea of continuous education, because knowing how to learn is now one of the most important skills anyone can have. That’s what we instill in our X-Europe startups through growth marketing training and mentoring.

Growth marketing is data-driven marketing through rapid and continuous experimentation, whereby you make more informed decisions based on the data from your experiments. Companies like AirBnB, Dropbox, and didn’t grow so quickly because they had the smartest people or the biggest budgets, but because they kept running experiments and learning more quickly than their competition. If we can help even just ten X-Europe startups learn this lesson and help their incredible deep tech innovations succeed on the market, this accomplishment will have a positive ripple effect for decades to come.

Growth Tribe has hosted several growth training sessions during the project. Tell us more about your experience while planning and delivering them virtually.

Ilinca Doinea (ID), growth coach and trainer

Ilinica Doinea (ID) - Virtual training delivery is unlocking a new level of scalability. People who could not join courses in the past because, say, the distance was a blocker are now logging in from different parts of the world.

However, if you draw your energy from being in the same space and connecting with people, then online training will only provide a fraction of that satisfaction - for both trainers and participants. It’s a win-and-lose scenario. At the end of the day we all get to push the limits of what’s possible, and that’s an achievement on its own.

Ramiar Arya (RA), international growth hacking trainer

Ramiar Arya (RA) - To make virtual training an enjoyable learning experience, we prioritised the learner and revisited our learning outcomes! Moving from offline to online required us to critically, and objectively, evaluate the value we provide to learners and how that value is received and acted upon by an individual as well as a codependent team. Essentially, we started from scratch; we changed our delivery format, introduced new interaction and engagement tactics (learner w/ learner + learners w/ trainers), adjusted training hours, created new content, tested new delivery & collaboration tools to assist in achieving learning outcomes, and reached out to learners to have a better grasp of the environments in which they take our training.

Thanks to our trainers’ hard work to ensure that the online transition didn’t undermine the learning experience, we’ve been able to focus on one positive outcome of the shift. More learners now have access to our training courses, so we can elevate more professionals through education, which is Growth Tribe’s ultimate goal.

AO - Before COVID-19, our training and mentoring services were held in person and included lots of intensive team-building and small-group interaction, usually hosted at our headquarters in Amsterdam. It’s been a challenge to maintain those personal networking opportunities and energetic interaction levels virtually.

We learned quickly that Zoom fatigue is very real, spurring us to shorten our session lengths from one full day of training to two sessions of three hours each split over two afternoons. Some trainees also are too tempted to try to multitask during the virtual sessions to learn to their full potential (believe it or not, we can tell, no matter how sneaky they think they’re being!). This has been the biggest challenge for the past two cohorts, so we’re changing our approach to setting expectations and building active participation.

The project is in its final stretch! Tell us more about your expectations and what you're about to pursue in the future.

AO - It’s true that we’re about to finish application selections for the fifth cohort, but we’re still delivering services for the fourth cohort and have the last two cohorts entirely ahead of us, so there’s still about a third of the programme remaining. We (as a consortium and as a company) are proud of X-Europe’s impact so far but are still focused on keeping one foot on the gas pedal so that the last two cohorts’ services keep the same high quality we’ve been building over the past year and a half. The celebration of the full programme and its accomplishments can be saved for February/April of 2022.

Alongside finishing the project strong, we’ve submitted proposals to a few other European and Dutch national open calls in the digital skills and startup support sectors. We’re also excited to be organising individual funding resources available to some of our trainees in the Netherlands and France. Not sure what the future will bring, but I do know that it will involve lots of learning and growth!


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