7 Questions with Heinrich Brand
Name: Heinrich Brand
Current title: Co-founder & COO
Current organisation: Hepstar
Having swapped the courtroom for the control room, Heinrich has played a key role in defining Hepstar's business model and value proposition as an insure-meets-travel-tech business, as well as navigating an evolving regulatory environment during Hepstar’s quest for global expansion. Heinrich is tasked with ensuring compliance of the business and overseeing delivery of key projects.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Convincing our investors that we have product/market fit took quite some time as it felt like we had to convince them that creating a road through the desert during a sandstorm was a good idea. Building a B2B2C business requires patience and focus as you're often tempted to look for a catalyst to fast-track your business in the wrong place.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was appointed in 2014 to manage legal and compliance matters of the business during its infancy, which at the time was effectively a short-term insurance intermediary in South Africa using third party software. I was part of a small management team that developed the tech stack and business model for our insure-meets-travel web service (launched early 2016), being granted co-founder status due to the makeover of the business and pivotal moment in its journey.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up early before my alarm goes off, get up immediately, make coffee and start my day - whether that's getting to work or getting some exercise before that. Work-life balance is key to ensuring mental and physical wellbeing, which translates to greater productivity, decision-making and people management, not to mention the benefits of releasing endorphins through exercise. Took some time to learn this. Not having to sacrifice either means I need to seize the day - Also avoid staying up late watching TV.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Don't step into the ring if you are afraid of being hit. You are burdened with the uncensored version of everything and how you process and respond to this says a lot about your leadership capability. It may also be your blood, sweat and tears being spilt, but remember (at least for the most part) that it's business and not personal.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Enjoyed The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, but I haven't made enough time for reading many books on the topic to be honest. We've been fortunate to have investors with ample experience running and advising businesses. They've offered advice, but also allowed us to roam and learn lessons. Books offer some great perspectives and advice, but your ability to evolve through experience and within your environment is paramount as others can appreciate your humanity and personal growth too. Not being too stubborn to admit you were wrong or to learn a lesson is also leading by example.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
The major risk associated with SMEs is a flat structure with little to no redundancy and risk of knowledge silos. Letting go to let others grow is key. To create leaders, you need to equip them with some holistic and behind the scenes info you have so they can understand why you make certain decisions or treat situations in a certain manner. The natural instinct is to protect your leadership role as having more context is often mistaken for having wisdom. Having the confidence to create leaders is important for the longevity of the business and for your own peace of mind. Start early, invite participation and take ultimate accountability for the duties you delegate to sub-leaders until they are ready to bear this burden alone.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
We've had quite a young leadership and staff complement over the years and there has been no greater reward than achieving personal growth and seeing it in others while the business grows in parallel. The way the team has pulled together to face our greatest challenge in the form of COVID-19, has been testament to the character and culture we have.