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Copenhagen Calling - Denmark Has A Thriving Start-up Scene To Rival Its World-Beating Business Culture

Edmund Ingham, @haggerstontimes
05.09.16
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Danes have a fantastic reputation as businesspeople; the country regularly tops surveys and lists of the best places in the world for work culture and work / life balance, even prompting Presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders to ask "why can't we be more like Denmark?" leading Hilary Clinton to exclaim in reply "I love Denmark!"

Sanders' view of Denmark as a Socialist utopia and Clinton's objection that Denmark is too small to be comparable to the States is only a small part of the Danish story however – it's true that Denmark has some of the highest taxes in the world which support an egalitarian and generally flat hierarchical structure within most work places and keeps employment figures close to 100%.

In Denmark it's hard to slip outside of the system but although many would argue high taxation and conformity are anathema to entrepreneurs, its capital Copenhagen is becoming as open and receptive to new ways of thinking as it has ever been.

The city in which Kierkegaard lived and attended University is renowned for its protestant values but is above all else tolerant and a breeding ground for new ideas, which has allowed a thriving start-up scene to spring up over the past decade, attracting international talent and disrupting entire industries, both at home and abroad, and particularly in the fields of search and discover and workforce management -it's influence often spreading to the States to an extent that might surprise Hilary.

Taylor Ryan, who was born and grew up in Washington DC, is an American who has experienced the explosion of Danish startup culture first hand after joining Planday, a shift scheduling and workplace management solution that was first launched in 2004 by current CTO Mikkel Lomholt who was working shifts at a nightclub at the time. Frustrated by employee no-shows, issues with payroll and the rigid nature of the working hours, he decided to build a tool that could handle the entire organisational side of a business' staffing requirements.

In January 2005 Anders Frederikson joined as Sales Director and as the business grew and grew, Cristian Broendum joined as CEO and investor in 2011.

The business won 3 of Danish daily business newspaper Borsen's coveted Gazelle awards in recognition of its being amongst Denmark's fastest growing businesses and won investment from Creandum, a Danish VC firm, in May 2014, before completing a Series B funding round raise of $14 million, backed by Just Eat founder Klaus Nyengaard, Creandum, SEB Private Equity and Angel investor Arthur Kosten, just a few weeks ago.

Taylor joined Planday a few months before the completion of the Series B; "now we're the talk of the town", he told me. The company has offices in Islands Brygge, near the City centre, an area often referred to as "Startup Village" and home to a large number of early stage startups, all hoping to replicate the success of Planday. It's a competitive environment and ensures that high standards have to be maintained if companies are to succeed, which in turn helps cement Denmark's growing reputation as a startup hub.

"Planday took a business idea – improving workforce management and making it more agile, responsive and flexible – that nobody out there could get right. Planday built a system that can cope with the changing needs of the workforce and we're betting that the market is going to love it.", says Taylor.

"The great thing about Planday is that it's a system that suits millennials down to the ground and millennials are going to form the bulk of the workforce and control the workplace for the foreseeable future", Taylor says; "many young people work 2 or 3 jobs, and they expect to be able to have the tools to juggle projects around, move shifts, swap shifts, bid for lucrative shifts, and know when and how much they are getting paid. They expect this as a minimum requirement and Planday is one of the few services that matches their expectations across the board."



"Likewise, employers want to pinch every penny, they don't want to lose revenues thanks to no-shows, or because staff are de-motivated because they don't feel supported."

Although he spent nearly a decade working the start-up scene in DC, Taylor regards himself as lucky to have found a job at such a high-growth startup so quickly in Copenhagen. "I saw the opportunity and jumped on it", he says. "The growth is extraordinary – for example, Planday has doubled their staff numbers over the past year."

The "supercool" (he is adjusting to European startup lingo well) startup friendly offices spread out over 3 spacious floors "have their own kind of magic, it feels like we're working on something really special here" he says; "people here really dig what they do."

A criticism often levelled at flat business structures is that staff lack motivation, preferring to work shorter hours and prioritising life away from the office, but Taylor says he sees none of that happening in Copenhagen. "It's not true what they say that people here work shorter hours – people are putting blood, sweat and tears into these projects – I've never seen people leave early, or even look like they might want to – people are desperate to succeed and prepared to do whatever it takes" he says.

There are plenty of after-hours events, usually "filled to the gills, you're lucky to get a seat in the venues at all" and mentoring schemes; "it's crazy, everyone wants everyone to succeed!"

And that is what is happening – Denmark is a small country which means international expansion happens early – Planday has recently opened an office in New York, and it is generally de rigeur for ambitious Copenhagen startups to have a presence in Sweden, London, Spain, Italy and France.

"There has definitely been an influx of funding over the last few years and the scene here is exciting – it's a ride I'm happy to be on – I don't know where it will end but I'm just happy to be on it", says Taylor.

One of his favourite aspects of working life are the group lunches where "you can end up sitting and talking to almost anybody from the company – everybody is approachable, from the CEO to the newest intern – it opens up communication channels and makes everything seem friendlier, but it also means new ideas are picked up and integrated quicker."

Planday and many other companies in Copenhagen, like Peter Muhlmann's TrustPilot, which has raised in the hundreds of millions, a lot of it from New York based investors, are blazing a trail. Food for thought, Hilary?

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