Peter Frischknecht is the co-founder of Startfeld, a St. Gallen-based startup and innovation network of which LocalBini is a proud member. In his exclusive interview with LocalBini, he tells us what led to him guiding projects and people to success for a living. Speaking from experience, Peter discusses the challenges of his profession and shares pearls of wisdom for inspiring entrepreneurs.
What is your passion?
My passion is helping people and projects develop and grow in the right direction. To me, it doesn’t matter where people are right now; it’s all about where they are going. If I believe in a project or a person, I want to help them find success by steering them in the right direction.
Would you say you fulfil your passion for a living?
Yes, of course. As the co-founder of Startfeld, my job is to identify people and projects with potential and guide them to success. My favourite part of the job is getting to know passionate entrepreneurs and innovative projects. I am interested in more than just the surface of a project. It’s not just about the idea, but also about the person and the processes behind it.
What would you say are the main challenges of your profession?
I’d say that this is a job with many challenges. As the manager of Startfeld, I am responsible for determining which projects have the greatest potential in the long-term. Another challenge is being supportive and encouraging towards the entrepreneurs while at the same time keeping a critical distance. More often than not, what aspiring entrepreneurs need is not just support and empathy, but also a critical partner. They need someone to ask the questions they may not have considered themselves and challenge them so that they can grow and develop in the right direction.
Was there ever a time you had to support a project you didn’t really believe in?
If I don’t believe in a project, I say it. I don’t believe it is constructive to give dishonest feedback. Critical remarks can be helpful too. If the entrepreneur is able to address the critical points, this shows you that they are really committed and are up to the challenge. But, at the end of the day, it is not just me who has to believe in a project. A lot of the decisions are made within the team, so everyone gets to express his or her opinion.
Did you always know you wanted to work with startups and entrepreneurs?
Actually, no. My career path was a very strange one- I had no idea that this was what I would end up doing! First, I was a farmer, until I was 21 years old. Then, I studied theology and went on to work for three years as a pastor. But, over time, I came to realise that this was not the place for me. It didn’t really fit with my personality and I also encountered some health issues. So, about 20 years ago, I got a job in a small office on the highest floor of the Empa building. They were looking for someone to work in the back-office for three months. Fast-forward 20 years later and I am now the manager and co-founder of Startfeld while I’ve also built two centres.
Do you feel that your past experiences have contributed to your success with Startfeld?
Indeed they have. As a farmer, I was able to build an understanding of the biological systems and processes in place for both plants and animals. This kind of cross-functional thinking can also be applied in many areas of entrepreneurship.You need to have an understanding of how things work and what processes need to be in place to build a successful project or company. Also, during my time as a Pastor, I was asking a lot of questions about the meaning of life and the sense of it all. About what it means to be a human being and about the worth of a person. Since that time, I was drawn to giving people support to help them grow in the right direction. I want to help people create something with meaning.
How would you sum up the work you do now?
Startfeld is organised as a network that works with other corporations. My job is now essentially to build bridges. I build bridges between different areas, from research to startups to universities to politics to society. I believe that to build a corporation you have to be able to bring these aspects together.
What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I think that success is not just about what you know but who you are. It is not something that can be attained simply through knowledge. Looking at the turn my career has taken, I would say that I managed to become successful because someone gave me a chance. Without that chance, nothing would have been possible. Also, in all my undertakings, I have tried to bring added-value. For me, success is also about building something with meaning, something that is constructive and beneficial to the world.
One thing I always told myself is think as if you were the CEO of the company. Not because you want to overtake them but because you want to help and contribute to the company as much as possible. Seeing things through their eyes, you will realise what is at stake and what the main issues and challenges are.
From all the entrepreneurs you have come across during your career, was there someone who had a lasting impact on you?
I have come across so many smart and diligent people that it’s hard to pick just one. But, a person who comes to mind is someone who was very intelligent and hardworking, who took great risks to make his startup succeed. In fact, his employees were not really aware of the risks he was taking, both personally and professionally. But, he was always humble and managed to become very successful. His startup is now at the growth stage.
For me, the most impressive people are the ones who are smart and successful but at the same time humble. The most inspiring people are those who are never arrogant no matter how successful they become.
Finally, do you have any pearls of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Well, what I’d like to say and what I have seen through my experience is that we all have potential. We are all capable of creating and building something meaningful. It’s just a matter of figuring out what your strengths are and learning to embrace them. You have to be confident that you have it in you to change the world. Even if you are struggling or face setbacks, you have to get back up and learn from your struggles. After all, it’s normal; it’s part of life.