Podcast - Inside the Founder's Mind

with Kasper Schmeichel

Becoming a successful and satisfied entrepreneur requires a kind of learning that goes way beyond how to manage finances and develop a product. Skills such as creativity and resilience and gumption are a lot less concrete and maybe for some slightly more challenging to "learn", but boy, are they essential ones to have in your entrepreneurial toolkit.

If it is to be, it is up to me.

Kasper Schmeichel

This podcast series consists of a selection of interviews and honest discussions with business leaders and psychologists that explore, in depth, the entrepreneurial mindset and what it takes to not only manage the ups and downs of business building but also to excel in creating socially impactful and commercially successful start-ups.

While we usually reach out to seasoned entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry experts to understand better how business building works, this time round we met someone who excels in a completely and quite literally different field; with over 500 professional matches under his belt, a premier league winner, a world cup hero, and a leader on and off the pitch, Kasper Schmeichel's journey is unlike many others in the world of professional sport. Currently goalkeeper for premier league Leicester City Football Club and the Denmark national team, he speaks to us today about his experiences performing at the top of his game. Today, we unpack together how his learnings and insights might resonate and indeed inspire our entrepreneurs to succeed and excel in their own business endeavours.

Kasper shared with us his thoughts on this subject ahead of the podcast episode - we'd really encourage to read this before you get him in your ears - aside from the fact we refer to it a lot in the podcast, it's an absolutely stunning piece of writing.

Kasper Schmeichel - July 2020

I work in millimetres. The smallest mistake or misjudgment and I fail at my job.

Goalkeepers cannot make mistakes. If we do, it will cost the team, so our attention to detail is vital. We live or die by the smallest of margins, 1mm too much or too little sees the ball hit the post and go in or go wide. The margin between success and epic failure can be 1mm. The ball is the challenge. Stop this thing at all costs! Throw your body, your face, basically anything you can, in the way while it’s travelling up to 100 mph.

Some of you reading this may not know but every major manufacturer makes their own ball. Each one of them is different in every single way! The flight, the grip, the texture, the weight all vary. This is applicable to my gloves. They are my tools. The way they are stitched is called negative cut. The fit and the different grips that I need to play in the Premier League with a Nike ball compared to a world cup Adidas ball is hugely different. The grip will change constantly, and I need to adapt my technique to the conditions, whether it be raining snowing or bone dry pitches. The attention to detail must be absolute. Everything counts and has to be factored into everything I do.

Here are the 10 words and 20 letters which make up a phrase that I live by... "If it is to be, it is up to me." This is the life of a goalkeeper and the life of an entrepreneur.

This is my story I started out at Manchester City – lots of hopes and dreams and expectations. Like any young pro. What was football all about for me? Of course it was about playing. That’s all I wanted. That was my criteria for success at the start of my journey. As time goes by, this is re-evaluated all the time, but learning the basics and becoming consistently good at them was the goal to start with, learning to roll before crawling and crawling before walking.

During my time at Man City I had lots of loans – six by the time I left in 2009. In the end, when I could see there was no future for me there, I had to re-evaluate and adapt. I had to restart my career from the bottom – League Two. This is two leagues lower than where I had been playing at that time. I chose not to see this as a setback! I refused. This was a restart where the future had more significant potential if I did it like this. Start again and learn the basics and build myself up again to a point where I knew I was ready.

If you want to trace a pathway to success, start with defeat, loss and rejection. In 1997 Tiger Woods won the Masters. He then changed his swing, sacrificing the next two years before winning another major again because he knew for the long term this could win him more majors than staying with his original swing. He saw the big picture! In contrast, a company like Blockbuster didnʼt! They got stuck in their own ways and didnʼt adapt. They had the chance to evolve, rival and even buy Netflix twice but they were complacent and didn't seem to see the long-term picture – the same goes for someone like Nokia and look at them now.

You must always think big picture! How will what I do now affect everything in three, five and ten years? Remove pride, prestige and emotions from your decision making! It makes everything so much more comfortable, but it can also be the hardest thing to do. Intel originally made memory devices and chips etc. Until competition and demand made it very difficult to stay afloat in this market. New markets were forming. And they spent two years taking stock and trying to stay afloat until CEO Gordon Moore asked in the board meeting:. “If we were all replaced today and a brand-new board was put in place, what is the first thing they would do?” The answer was obvious – move into a new market which was microprocessors.

By removing the emotion and the pride of what they had built and done in the past, the answer was clear. Like a long-term relationship that is going bad, it is painful especially when you have put so much time and effort into it. It is about knowing when to stop. When to take stock. And went to restart, rebuild and refocus.

I have played at the top in the Premier League, and I've played at the bottom in League Two – what I have learnt is that people at the top can quickly become timid and complacent. The top of the pyramid, where money is not a factor and anything is possible, is not always the best environment to be creative and at your best. Only the absolute best can keep the same drive and hunger to stay there. That’s the hard bit, staying there! And that is why they are the best year in, year out. Sometimes when you play at the lowest level where there is nothing and they have nothing, that’s where they have to be creative and find innovative ways in which to adapt, survive and progress.

The period with COVID-19 has shown us better than ever how flexible, innovative and prepared for a change you have to be! It is at the lowest level where you invest in your learning. You learn your trade. How much are you willing to give? How much are you ready to put in? How many hours are you willing to spend practising the same boring techniques over and over again? The same goal kick, the same throw, the same save, the same catch that youʼve done thousands and thousands of times. How many times will you stay and do extra work that no-one sees? How many of your days off will you come in and do extra work? How many times will you stand in the rain, in the sleet, in the snow, in the wind, in the cold, in the searing heat to become the absolute best you can become?

Champions aren't champions because they do the extraordinary thing well, they are champions because they do the ordinary things exceptionally well.

Be the hardest worker in the room because great players don't work out, they outwork. When I started my journey, I thought I would have a gentle upward curve, progress and have a great career. The reality is that life is not like that. My curve is up, down, sideways, backwards, back to front and around again and nothing is guaranteed.

I am a firm believer in you do not get what you wish for you, get what you work for! You have to continually analyse yourself, dare to go where it hurts, be brutally honest and be accountable to yourself. You have to dare to be vulnerable, to be completely naked, look at yourself, look at all your flaws and mistakes and own that shit! This is the only place where you can become better.

My competition is not with anybody else, my competition is me and my own constant will and desire to become better in what I do and to win. Criticism is part of life. There are two types of criticism; internal and external. For me, external comes from the fans, the media etc., so you have to ask yourself: “Do you care?” At the end of the day, I don't need anyone telling me that I did well or not… I know myself. Should you care? How sure are you that what you are doing is the right way? How sure are you in your convictions? Every single Saturday, when I step onto a football field, I am being judged. Iʼm being judged by the thousands of people in the stadium, by millions of people on TV, by journalists, pundits, websites, bloggers, news reporters, etc. and most of these people have never played the game let alone played in such a specific position as goalkeeper. Yet these people have the right to criticise me, judge me and mark me on my performance. They do so without any background information like if Iʼm carrying an injury or whether I have been asked to do a specific thing by my manager. This is the kind of thing I have to deal with daily.

This is before we even get on to social media. That’s a whole new kettle of fish. I go back to my question, do I care or should I care? Well if I did, then I think it would drive me insane. It would damage me and my performance. The fact of the matter is, I am so sure that the way Iʼm doing it is the correct way that these kinds of things simply cannot get to me. I am so convinced in my own methods and ability that this doesnʼt affect me. I simply do not listen anymore. You must learn to develop a bullshit filter.

When you become successful in any walk of life, there are always people who want to bring you down and criticise you for anything that you do, but that is life and I take it as a compliment that I am doing something they can't. To me, all that matters is the people who I hold in high regard are honest with me and give me their complete bullshit-free feedback. However, at the end of the day, all that keeps me alive is knowing my direction. The direction is so much more important than speed. Lots of people are going nowhere fast. I always knew that I would win the Premier League. That may sound cocky or arrogant, but I always knew. My belief in my goal was, is and will always be unwavering.

Winning breeds winning. It becomes addictive. In 2016, we won the Premier League with Leicester City and it was the most amazing achievement of my career....to date! But success can be a killer. I live by the saying, ‘burn your trophies’. I can't use the success of my past for the here and now. I can't dwell on them.

There is so much more to accomplish and when I retire that’s when I can sit back and enjoy them. I won't allow myself to become complacent. I want more. You must continuously be looking to change and find new ways to adapt or pivot. You cannot take today's success for granted and expect that if you do the same again, you will continue to have success because there is a number attached to everything that you do and there is no guarantee that if you were close today that you will reach it tomorrow.

You need to change, you need to adapt to a continually evolving environment. Now I need to keep learning. I need to keep progressing. I have played at every level of British football apart from one, I have played in Scotland, Wales and England, Iʼve played in World Cups and the Champions League, etc… But the day I become happy, the day I become content, that is the day I will finish. That means I have lost my edge. That means I have lost my desire and my will to be the best I can be.

The experience of winning something like the Premier League and the emotions that you feel during those moments are amazing, but once you take stock and sit back, there is a massive void and emptiness. For me, that void is filled with an insatiable hunger and desire to have that feeling again.

This is what drives me.

Kasper Schmeichel