Why this top salesperson is moving from LinkedIn to a startup

Exclusive: Phong Lam moves from LinkedIn to Capmo. What draws him to Munich, why his working day usually only lasts ten hours and why he is convinced that he doesn't earn less at a start-up than at a global corporation.

It's already dark outside when Phong Lam (33) smiles joyfully into the camera. His hair is black like the shirt he wears with its sleeves rolled up, his forearms heavily tattooed on both sides. A tripod lamp provides light in the background as Lam narrates. For a long time, Phong Lam was Head of Sales for the German market at LinkedIn. In mid-February, he will move to Munich to join Capmo, a start-up that develops software for the construction industry. Here he explains his reasons.

Mr Lam, you left LinkedIn for a start-up in Munich. How bad was it in Dublin?

It wasn't bad at all (laughs). On the contrary, it was a once-in-a-lifetime professional experience with many benefits that you can probably only dream of at many other companies. There's food from top chefs, an on-campus gym, and even an in-house massage service. Of course, this is a real magnet for young talent, but for me it was more incidental. What I really appreciated was the open culture and the exchange and knowledge transfer with inspiring personalities, some of whom have been working internationally in the tech and IT industry for 20 or more years.

Sounds like paradise. So why did you move to Munich?

The main reason for my change is the family situation. I have been a father for some time and since the children are now of kindergarten age and my wife also wants to return to her job as a high school teacher in a timely manner, the conditions in Germany are more attractive. Also, grandparents are nearby and can assist with childcare.

You also chose to work for a start-up instead of a big tech company or a medium-sized company. Why is that?

I actually considered staying with my current employer. Things were going extremely well for me at LinkedIn recently and that could have continued for two or three years. Now I am very happy with my decision to quit on a high and move on to a new challenge. I have had many conversations, including with well-known tech companies in Munich. Of course, those would have been jobs where I would have stayed very much in my comfort zone. So the question was: do you go to a more or less made nest with a given infrastructure or do you take the challenge, apply your acquired knowledge from the last seven years in a young company and try yourself out in a start-up environment? The answer then was Capmo.

Capmo wants to digitize the construction site. Photo: Capmo

Do you have to give up salary if you move to a smaller company in the start-up phase?

In my experience, no. Especially in sales, which is where I am, there is always a fixed component and a variable component. The variable component is the most appealing to any sales person regardless of rank or position because you are responsible for getting the most out of your performance. It was that way at Groupon, it was that way at LinkedIn, and it will be that way at Capmo.

How important is growth for Capmo in the coming years?

I'm a fan of healthy growth, not simply expanding at any cost. At Capmo, we want to triple sales year over year, and that's sustainable. Early in my career, I saw people massively increase their workforce globally, the whole company got overstretched, and they ended up having to consolidate because the market didn't provide enough potential for the growth in staff. That can't be allowed to happen.

Why did you actually choose the construction industry of all things? It could have been a start-up in the communications sector.

I don't want to be in charge of the thousandth startup that improves communication or processes in the workplace. I wanted one that stood out and did something completely its own, preferably in a market that hasn't been completely tapped yet. That's the case with Capmo. Digitizing the construction industry holds tremendous potential. Surprisingly, the construction industry is almost at the bottom of the list when it comes to digitalization. There is a lot of catching up to do. Capmo has the right approach and the necessary team to achieve this and become a key player in the European construction industry. That, coupled with the experience of the investors (Capnamics, UVC Partners and HW Capital), convinced me personally to apply my learned knowledge here and build something from scratch.

A start-up is not really the best choice for a healthy work-life balance. What does the family say?

I've learned over the years, and especially as a father, that the job isn't everything. I now work eight to ten hours very efficiently and the rest of the time belongs to my family. Here it is important that this is clearly communicated and lived as a contemporary company and pro-actively encouraged. It is crucial to communicate in start-ups that this is a completely normal and possible decision. That's where we as executives also have the task of being a good role model.

So did you work more before?

Sure, in the early days of my professional career, I left for the office at seven, worked there all day and until just before midnight, then took the last train and fell asleep at three with my laptop on my stomach. Who hasn't experienced that in the industry? That was quite normal. And it works for a while, but not in the long run - is especially not smart or exemplary.

Finally, hand on heart, what do you think is the worst thing about the start-up scene?

What I could observe for example in my time in Berlin in the scene is that many young founders or so-called executives in start-ups often overestimate themselves. With very little or no relevant experience in professional life except for internships or entry level at consulting firms, often this generation behaves very arrogant and takes itself way too important. Sometimes this works, but mostly the founders fail. My feedback to the industry: be humble.

Is it any different at Capmo?

From what I've seen of Capmo in the interview process, the growth mindset is very much embraced in this company. It's perfectly okay to not know everything and to now bring in experienced new people in this area with relevant and deep knowledge to a leadership team that can help Capmo achieve and exceed their ambitious goals together as a team.

Thank you very much for the interview.


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