UserTribe’s David Sander: “The Chaos is a Ladder”

ARYZE spoke with David Sander of UserTribe, who gave us a portrait of the company’s evolution from a small Danish start-up into an internationally-minded scale-up.

When asked his favourite thing about working at UserTribe, David Sander quotes Little Finger, a tumultuous character from HBO’s Game of Thrones: “the chaos is a ladder”.  Walking around the cozy, bright, calm office, equipped with a make-your-own-oatmeal bar and a sales gong, it is hard to see what he means. He explains: 

“When I came here at first I was a little surprised about how disorganised things can be in a start-up. But if you have the right mindset, and if you really want to move forward and take initiative, there are so many opportunities here.”

UserTribe is a seven-year-old Danish company that seeks to fundamentally change how companies integrate customers in their decision-making across the project lifecycle. They provide continuous customer feedback based on rigorous qualitative research, allowing clients to test and improve ideas, messaging, products, and services. 

Connect with David Sander on Linkedin.

David Sander

Sander has been at UserTribe for two years, and has seen it transition from a start-up operating in Danish to a ‘scale-up’ operating in English – a profound transition, according to him. Since switching to English, Sander says UserTribe has become more professional, but also more bureaucratic. The departments have also become more siloed, and at times can seem almost ‘tribalistic’. He also credits this to the transition from a start-up to an established company. 

“In the beginning, we had several small-to-mid-market clients. Then, we suddenly got a deal with Maersk for around 1,600,000 DKK. It was really huge, and it felt like we had no idea how to handle it. I’m still not sure if/how much we profited from it, but our focus at the time was on growth, because it could show our potential which made us attractive to investors. Since then, the focus has shifted from revenue to profit, to prove that we have a sustainable business model.”

Focusing on revenue also meant being more selective about who to take on as a client. Sander’s advice for growing start-ups is to develop the clientele you really want, not just whoever is available. He believes that it is important to focus on building right, rather than building quickly. To compound this, he cites Adam Neumann, the former CEO of WeWork: 

“Its value has plummeted so much in the last year because everything WeWork did was so extraordinary, and they spent a lot of money all the time and got a lot of press. They made it really sexy to be part of WeWork, but it just didn’t really work out. It’s a balance for selling: you need to have that level of engagement and believe in your company that much that you can get this kind of valuation. And at the same time, you have to know its core and not over-sell everything in favour of short term success, or at some point you’re going to crash and burn.”

UserTribe’s Copenhagen offices

Sander feels UserTribe’s own CEO, Casper Henningsen, has met that balance. Henningsen went from playing football professionally straight into Kunde & Co, a marketing consultancy, where he became the youngest and fastest partner in that company’s history.

“Casper is quite young compared to other CEOs and is still learning, but I have huge respect for what he has done at the age of 35 with limited background in the industry. He simply has an incredible drive”

Looking at where UserTribe is now, Henningsen’s drive is clear. The company has grown significantly in the past few years, and has extended well beyond Denmark. Now, the employee split is around 40% international, which Sander ascribes to the fact that they are in touch with, and collect data from, people in so many international markets. To do that, they need to understand those markets, which makes them the perfect company to hire international employees. 

Sander’s advice for internationals looking to break into the Danish job market is to 1) learn a base degree of Danish, 2) show you are doing something to be part of the Danish society and 3) focus on the job interview, which he says is more important in Denmark than elsewhere. This advice is especially important as Copenhagen becomes an increasingly popular and international city. 

To learn more about UserTribe, please visit their website. For more profiles of interesting tech companies, please visit ARYZE’s blog.

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