Martin Bjørn Madsen, Co-founder and CEO at Leadfamly, defines himself as a non-traditional leader that avoids hierarchical structures and endless processes. He’s unapologetic about his strong vision for the company: “we are obsessed about finding those clients that find it valuable to work with us”.
This reassurance on his own worth comes from a career full of twists and turns, and learnings gathered along the way.
Back in the days
After finishing his Bachelor’s in Communication, in Aalborg University, Martin started a Master’s that soon got interrupted by his early career path: “I never got to finish my Master’s thesis, because I got a job and found out that I was better at working than studying”, he said.
His first job in the Communication field was as a PR Consultant in an agency, where he was also doing some commercial tasks on the side to get new customers on board. From there he learned more about the digital part of marketing, which rapidly became his true inspiration: “When I heard that the leading email marketing vendor in Denmark at the time wanted to establish an Aarhus division out of Copenhagen, I applied for the job - and got it!”.
Talking about those first jobs in the industry, he affectionately mentions two mentors that, as he admits, have been defining for his career: “They both were good anchors for me being ambitious but also very young, they gave me some good directions on how to be true to myself”. As he remembers, they taught him how to both behave professionally, and be sharp when it comes to commercials.
However, Martin doesn’t only keep good memories from those years...
"I had 5 years of frustrations, always wanting to be somewhere else"
When going through the ups and downs of his working experience, Martin reckons his ambition hasn’t always been a positive asset. Insatisfaction, pressure, and a constant need for more led him to feeling frustrated about his personal and professional situation.
“Back then, the story I was telling to myself was having a highly stimulating job was not that important but I was lying to myself. I didn’t want to admit that having a challenging job was the major fueling for me to become a good dad and family man”.
He wishes someone back then had taught him to slow down and be happier about ‘now’. Instead, it wasn’t until the last 4 or 5 years that Martin actually opened up and came to the realization that having a challenging work life, with its pains and glories, is what gives him the energy to fully enjoy his family time.
Failures are the best teachers
Without any doubt, this bittersweet experience taught him to be honest to himself and let his passion be the core motivation.
Difficult times often bring the most valuable learnings, and for Martin, they have become a philosophy for life.
"I feel that no one really spoke about this when I was younger"
But as some would say, every cloud has a silver lining, and so it was for Martin.
In one of the agencies he worked at, he stumbled upon Thomas, who would later become his business partner. They realized that their respective skills in coding and sales/marketing could lead them to something great, so in 2011 Martin jumped onboard in Thomas’ digital agency, Accedo.
A part of Accedo offering was a seasonal blockbuster: online advent calendars. The company managed fastly to become the biggest vendor of this christmas classic in Denmark, and in 2013 the big turning point occurred: “We had a huge sales but our business model was relying on us producing the calendars based on our clients material. And guess what - we were not ready to handle the volume combined with client deadlines being a bit all over the place - e.g. one of the big clients sent the materials really late, and because it was an advent calendar, we really didn’t have any margin of time to work with, because it’s a product with fixed dates. Those first days of December 2013 were a nightmare
Martin and his partner got to a very clear conclusion: never again should they end up in a situation like this.
Stubborn and ready for the next business adventure, they decided to use the technology that they had built internally and transform it into a product for their clients, which would enable them to do the advent calendars themselves. In just one year, it became the major deal winner, doubling the sales from the past year, and reducing the time spent in ⅔.
Adapt or perish
After this successful experience, they decided to further research about gamification and its application in marketing. They spent some years testing and practicing, developing an advanced technology that would later give them the advantage in the market.
Some time later, the first version of what Leadfamly would be was ready. “It was a great piece of technology, but it was not communicated and positioned in the right way. So back in December 2016, Thomas and I decided to build a new proposition and business model”.
Such was the hard work of this business duo, that one month later they were ready to launch Leadfamly as they are known today. Already in the first month, their sales were worth 300.000 Danish crowns.
"That’s where I realized that this is where I should be"
That was the ultimate light bulb moment for Martin, when the hard work paid off and he was left with the beginning of his profitable project. “That’s where I finally calmed down, being in a professional state of mind with loads of stimulation and challenges”.
Chief Executive Officer
It wasn’t until Leadfamly got their first investment, that the partners decided that Martin would take the lead as the CEO.
When asked about the pros of being a CEO, his first reaction was: “I actually don’t like being a CEO”. He then went on to explain that it’s the complexity of the position, having to make decisions for the more than 60 members of the team, that brings him out of his comfort zone.
“Establishing the processes is not my ball game. The traditional way of sitting at the top, and setting the directions for everyone else… If that’s the idea in mind, then I don’t like being a CEO”
It’s the other side of the coin, however, what truly triggers him as a leader. He is committed to the company, and encourages his strong vision about it - which has also helped him earn both the team’s and the board’s trust.
"My aspiration is to be more of a leader than a boss to my team"
Taking a look at the next 5 or 10 years, he is very keen on maintaining his role at Leadfamly as long as it makes sense. As he explained: “I’m painfully aware of all the things I’m not good at, but I have a strong ambition about where we can take this company to”.
Showing the confidence in his team and in himself, he added - more as a fact than as a wish, that Leadfamly will be a global organization by then.
The mindset of an atypical leader
Having witnessed Martin’s journey up to his current situation, we also wanted to know what’s in a leader’s mind. What does a winning mindset look like?
And for him, it’s crystal clear. There is a trait that has shaped him as an entrepreneur for the past 10 years.
The rule he lives by, therefore, is to alway carry the right intention. As he explains, “we spend a lot of time at work, so it has to make true sense for us to be here in the first place”. And for his clients, he’s certain about helping them have a business impact: “I believe that the level of impact they’ll have, will define my success in the market space”.
Lastly, he has a piece of advice for anyone that might need it. And it’s simple and plain: “Calm down. Learn as much as you can, try as many things as possible”.
"Be true to where you can really fulfill your potential, and only surround yourself with people that are a great fit for that vision"