Finn Age Hänsel went from Managing Director to CEO of a company waiting for the full force to hit. His team jump-started a rapid turnaround strategy that significantly increased the company’s digital capabilities and gave itself a cultural facelift. Working with a new team and rolling out automation protocols to help cope with super scaling, his result-oriented approach favored a culture of transparency, action, and celebrating milestones.
Finn’s newest venture, Sanity Group, calms the chasm and estrangement between fringe medical producer and consumer with medical cannabis and its healing extracts in Germany. Using his global experience of scale and distance, he torrents an open dialogue. He reveals how to turnaround perspectives and how to sprout a cannabis revolution in Germany.
What Is It Like To Lead A Turnaround For Big Business?
First and foremost, the whole team [at Movinga] was very critical of the process. It was a very intense phase in late 2016 and early 2017. At the time, our real cash flow and how much we would need weren’t clear. We went deep into operations and ‘repaired’ each function one by one, and some in parallel. We invested heavily in tech to automate processes, and placed a stronger focus on optimization, less on growth.
“We're all in one boat. We have to fix things together. Giving more transparency helps us find a way together and get us motivated. ”
However, our company culture suffered. We closed operations in entire countries, management changed, and we couldn’t pay suppliers for a long time. These left scars, but we never stopped believing in the business and were convinced that if we didn’t disrupt this market, someone else would. Persistence, loyalty to the company, optimism, and belief in the new model were key drivers to our turnaround success. Convincing the investors to continue providing necessary funding and to trust management and our business was also key.
Are There Any Turnaround Models That You Looked At?
We were so focused that we did not compare ourselves to others. From my first company, THE ICONIC I learned that success doesn’t have a clear linear development. I’m convinced each start-up faces a phase of consolidation after the first craziness. That initial phase of craziness was extreme at Movinga, which probably led to more consolidation than usual.
Our former COO said the success rate to turn a company around is very low – 95% will not make it. Back in the days, I didn’t let that statistic bother me – I didn’t care. Call me naive, but that innocence somehow saved the company. Hindsight, another important learning was doing all necessary [employment] cuts in one go, rather one by one. Ex-employees call that famous cut “Black Friday.” But for the survival of the company it was very important for the culture to believe that cuts were done, so we could start fresh.
What Were Some Signs That Things Weren’t Going Well?
My CFO always says, “don’t believe the hype” – and I think there is some truth to it. Another good saying, “if something looks too good to be true, it probably is not true.” Now, apply these sayings to startups. It’s fair to say that when you think everything is perfect, you should probably take a good moment for self-reflection.
In my opinion, there’s a huge risk involved when a business grows very fast and lacks structures in place to allow for proper scalability. Growth is worth nothing when you run out of money. Leaders should consider each warning sign that indicates that something is wrong or running out of control and do it very seriously. Most importantly, finding a good finance and accounting team along with a stable structure at the very beginning is a critical success factor. The latter helps make sure you don’t ignore warning signs.
How Did You Radically Create A Company Culture?
After we took over, we called it a re-start, labeling it “Movinga 2.0.” This attitude was reflected in management, seniority, sustainability, and most importantly, decency. A little example is our “champagne culture.” Instead of celebrating each Friday with champagne, we only celebrated worthy occasions and for a while, we didn’t drink champagne. We also celebrated our first Christmas Party after the crisis in our office. These gestures showed our hard work together will be celebrated, but only when we deserve it.
“For me, it's exciting when you can turn chaos into a structure. ”
Everyone understood that we celebrated for the wrong reasons in the beginning. Once we were sustainable, generating money, and improving we drank the good stuff again. But hey, in all fairness – German Sekt is pretty close to French Champagne. 🙂
What Did You First Do?
I did due diligence on our positioning and identified drivers to make Movinga successful again. Besides symbols I mentioned, we focused on financial management, automation, and quality processes in operations. While that sounds simple, implementation and operationalization was a focus for a very long time. Radical transparency was something that we had to live out from day one. That meant no false promises, no pretending, and no bullshit. Even though we feared our competitors finding out, we showed all performance numbers at our All Hands – it was completely new then.
“You have to be transparent. You have to be true. ”
We underestimated how much trust was lost between the company and its investors. Even after we started to show good numbers with a new team, many potential investors didn’t want to talk to us. Some probably wanted to hear gossip without wanting to invest. It was a tough period. I had no time for my other business, Berliner Berg.
What Can You Tell Us About Your Next Move?
I’ve just handed-over my operational responsibilities at Movinga. I will spend time there, but I’m focusing on Sanity Group for now. It is my medical cannabis startup, co-founded with Fabian Friede, a very close friend of mine from our time in Australia.
I’ve been interested in the sector for over 17 years and there’s a paradigm shift in politics and society on how to handle cannabis as a medication. We’ve managed a seed round from Holtzbrinck Ventures, Christophe Maire and Karan Wadhera from Casa Verde (Snoop Doggs’ US Cannabis fund). I believe it’s an attractive market that finally allows me to start something from scratch. Plus now, I have all of this experience.
What Has Helped You Prepare Most?
I’ve learned its most important to set up scalable structures, not be afraid to fail, and gain experience in fundraising from VCs. I have a privileged position now since I don’t have to chase investors for investment, rather they chase me. It’s a new experience and I’m always learning. Fabian and I have to prove that we can build a great company with sustainability and decency from day one.
This summer, Finn’s new venture plans to make consumer and medical cannabis supply more accessible in Germany. Besides performing market research, Sanity Group examines many cannabinoid extracts from all over the world. Fresh things first, Sanity Group will expand th European market beyond the Netherland’s supply chain to diverse regions like Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, where production costs tend to be lower.
“To grow the market, we must bake a bigger cake. By increasing supply, we ensure long-term sustainability.” High demand for medical cannabis from pharmacies involves unhealthy administration for an aging population. They hope to uncover alternatives like bio-active medication or the use of pressed oils and are one of the few companies in the world that invests in this sort of research.
For Sanity Group, a greener Germany means expanding cannabis and its products beyond conventional stereotypes, supporting a full spectrum. By germinating a conscious and holistic cycle, they also cultivate their own discovery and radical transparency – a necessity for strong relationships and trust in such a stigmatized market.