entrepreneurship Archives - SUE | Behavioural Design

How to manage a company is a Behavioural Design challenge

By All, Employee behaviour

I have been a full-time entrepreneur for ten years. I can’t say it was my destiny to become one. I somewhat stumbled into it. My dad was a truck driver, and my mom is – to this date – the longest selling Tupperware saleswoman in Europe. And my academic career – A Master in Clinical Psychology – didn’t point in the entrepreneurial direction either. It was a moment of hybris that pulled the trigger for us. One day, about ten years ago, Astrid and I concluded an argument with our former employer in a bar with the words: “…In that case, we’ll quit”. ; The terrifying impact of that impulsive decision only daunted us on the way back home. We had no idea on how to run a company.



Why we sucked at it

In those ten years, we had to learn how to build and manage a company. And for quite some time, we sucked at it—big time. We were geeks and strategic planners. We figured out how to sell projects and get the work done with a growing staff, but we had no clue what we needed to build a healthy company and high-performance team culture. We were both exhausting our staff and ourselves. We made all the classic startup failures of working too much inside the company instead of working on the company’s growth. We would win a big project, work day and night to finish it, only to realise that we didn’t spend time on marketing or sales in the meantime. Nearly every entrepreneur has probably gone through this manic-depressive cycle between euphoria and despair.


The Behavioural Design Challenge

It was only gradually and with much great coaching that we realised that we needed to approach the company as behavioural designers: We needed to figure out which desired behaviours lead to our desired outcomes. We needed to figure out the deeper needs – or Jobs-to-be-Done – of our staff and clients. We had to remove obstacles that prevent the desired behaviours from happening. And we needed to trigger successful behaviours, turn them into habits and hope that these habits would compound.

Let me share some of the behavioural insights that helped us transform SUE from a startup to a healthy scaleup. (read further below the banner)

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1. Understanding our client’s Job-to-be-Done

Our clients don’t want behavioural design; they want a successful outcome. They hope for evidence that their new product or service will work. They want a breakthrough in understanding how to connect with their customers. They want a validated strategy to shape the behaviour of their target audience. They are looking for ways to persuade their stakeholders with insights into how real customers reacted to their offering. Some clients want their whole team to use the behavioural design framework as a shared language for understanding their customers. Understanding the jobs they have in their company for hiring us was the key to designing our offering. 

More on Job-to-be-Done Thinking: Here


2. Understanding our Staff’s Job-to-be-Done

The people who work for SUE dedicate their talent, time, energy, and creativity to our company. They work incredibly hard to create wow experiences for our clients. In the meantime, they have to deal with creative uncertainty, manage group dynamics, and design and test interventions. That’s quite demanding. For that, they expect something in return from us: respect, belonging, recognition, adventure, protection, growth, excitement, purpose. Only when we do a decent job fulfilling these needs can they feel free, confident, and inspired to do great work. The moments we have everything exactly right are scarce, but we work hard to fulfil these basic needs. Without their talent, energy and dedication, there would be no SUE. 

3. Make desired behaviour easy

Two of the best decisions we ever made were to standardise our process and transform our know-how into a method. We have three training formats and three sprint formats. That’s it. These interventions make it far easier to train our staff; it allows us to scale up when needed, contributing to higher quality output. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, the only thing we need to focus on is the creative output. The rest is taken care of by the Behavioural Design Sprint process. Contrary to what most people think, a well-designed process is a rocket engine for creativity.


4. Design a growth habit

The final behavioural design intervention is the design of a growth habit. A growth habit is a disciplined, rhythmic way of working on the four pillars of a healthy organisation: 1) satisfied customers, 2) healthy business metrics, 3) Motivated staff, and 4) future proof roadmap. We now use these four pillars as the basic structure for our weekly Management Team meeting. We assess where we should improve and set up actions to move the needle in the right direction. 

To commit to a growth habit is something we’ve been struggling with for too long. In the early startup phase, it’s hard to be disciplined when you’re playing ten different roles. But gradually, we learned that – just like with getting in shape – building a disciplined growth habit is the key to running a great company. 

Would you like to power up your team with Behavioural Intelligence?

If your team misses Behavioural Design skills, be sure to check out our in-company training. Bringing your talent up-to-speed with the latest in behavioural science and teaching them hands-on methods and tools to apply this in practice right away. Tailormade to your organisation.

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PS. We've trained many teams already! From leadership to project teams.

More blogs on the link between behavioural design and entrepreneurship:


Tom De Bruyne


Cover visual by Isaac Smith on Unsplash.

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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SUE in Thailand - experiencing leverage

Leverage is the secret engine for building a company

By All, Employee behaviour

This blog is about entrepreneurship. I want to take a behavioural design perspective on how to transform a startup into a healthy scaleup, using the mental model of ‘leverage’.

Leverage is what transforms
a startup into a scaleup

 I’m writing this blog while sitting with my family in a house we rented for two months somewhere in Thailand.  The fact that we are sitting here is the remarkable outcome of a 9-year process in which we’re trying to build a great company. I can say with a little bit of confidence that I have the feeling that this is the first year we got it right. As Astrid – my wife and co-founder at SUE – and I were reflecting on what made the difference, the concept of ‘leverage’ turns out to be a particularly useful one.
SUE in Thailand - experiencing leverage

What is leverage? 

Leverage is a concept, advocated by Naval Ravikant. If there’s one podcast you should listen to, then subscribe to his show. It’s incredibly dense of worldly wisdom and wisdom on entrepreneurship. Naval uses a quote by ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes to define leverage: 

“Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” — Archimedes

Roughly translated, leverage is the availability of levers that make it easier for you to make progress in life. When you’ve got leverage, you don’t have to do the hard work anymore. Your levers do the hard work for you. The most straightforward piece of leverage that first comes to mind is, of course, capital. The more capital you have, the easier it becomes for you to generate more prosperity. You can invest it in the stock market. You can start buying houses and rent them out; you can participate in a construction project, you can invest in a company. The means to make capital work for you are endless. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that kind of leverage.


A startup has got limited leverage. 

One of the top reasons why 90% of all startups fail, even if they have a great product, is because they have minimal leverage: They don’t have much capital to find the audience that is willing to pay. When we started SUE in 2011, we had only cash in the bank for three months before we would have to move in at our parents’ house. So marketing and advertising was a no go. We had no cases to prove to our prospective clients that we could service them. We only had our reputation as leverage. And that was nearly enough to convince a couple of clients to have the confidence to work with us. 

The biggest challenge with a cash-bootstrapped startup is that you have practically zero leverage to build a company. If you want to create a healthy business, the first rule is that you stop working IN your company and start working ON the company.

But the problem is: You have no time and money to do this. There’s not enough cash to hire senior employees, Not enough cash to hire a proper salesperson, not enough cash to advertising the business. One mistake (like a bad hire) and you’re back to where you started. To get out of this negative spiral is the only challenge a startup should be focussing on.


The first rule is that you stop working IN your company and start working ON the company. But the problem is: You have no time and money to do this

The past nine years felt like a series of consecutive marathons we ran, to finally get some leverage. We are finally experiencing the power of several levers that are doing some heavy lifting for us. (Resulting in me writing this blog in a beautiful house at the southern part of Ko Samui Island). (Just saying). 

There’s absolutely no doubt that luck plaid a great deal. I’m fully aware of the survivorship bias. You usually only hear the 10% survivors and they have the tendency to post-rationalize why their so-called genius strategy led to the inevitable outcome of success. I don’t want to fall into this trap. I can point to many instances where failure was as likely as a success. And maybe in a couple of years, we might be heading in the wrong direction again. 

But whether or not we fail in the long run, I can say that life got much easier for us, since we can benefit from leverage. 

Leverage @ Lamai Beach, Ko Samui

When your company starts to have leverage

Here’s an incomplete list of levers that make a huge difference between an unstable startup and a stable, profitable scaleup. 

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When you have an excellent reputation, you’ve got leverage. It means a great deal for people who are contemplating to work with us if you have more than 1000 excited alumni for the Behavioural Design Academy, and if you have facilitated behavioural design sprints for international brands, NGO’s and governments. 

When you own a content domain, you’ve got leverage. About half of the people who attend the behavioural design academy masterclass, first came across one of our blogposts on Behavioural Design. I’m sometimes blown away by the power of having good content that is rewarded with high search rank. People have flown to Amsterdam from over 40 countries – some flew more than 16 hours – to attend our two-day masterclass. Thanks to our content we get invited to do keynotes at conferences, or guest columns in trade magazines, which in turn fuels our reputation.

Having a senior team is leverage: We are very grateful for having the most amazing people to work for us. Our two senior Sprint Leads Vincent and Cleo are directing nearly all the sprints (with more youngsters like Maaike rapidly on their way to get there), and Tim and Jorn are fantastic trainers. Their work allows us to redirect our time and mental effort to improve our products, our website, our communication with our alumni, our content, etc. This in turn gives us even more leverage. 

Having a great sales lead is leverage. The value of having someone who follows up accurately on people who displayed interest is already enough to pay back for the investment. Susan is both responsible for sales and Customer Happiness. The value she brings to the company , for doing the things we simply couldn’t cope with

Productizing our offering created leverage. There are only two things you can do with SUE: learn the Behavioural Design Method in our Academy or work with the Behavioural Design Method in a Sprint. That’s it. Simple products make it so much easier to generate a predictive revenue stream that is key to building a stable growing company. 

And finally: having a great brand is the ultimate form of leverage. My partner Astrid is obsessed with the SUE Brand. Everything about the SUE brand experience should be spot-on: From the moment you subscribe on the website, to the moment you arrive on the first moment of training or a sprint. And from the moment you finished our Academy till the end of the 6-month follow-up e-mails, in which we keep trying to inspire you to keep thinking like a behavioural designer.


Leverage is hard work 

If you understand leverage, then it becomes obvious why the myth of a fast-growing startup is bullshit. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Growth gradually follows from one lever piled on top of another one. Content leads to cases; Cases lead to reputation; reputation leads to talent; talent leads to freeing up time to work on the company (instead of in it). Working on the company leads to more content, more cases, more reach. etc. There’s a rule of thumb you should have in mind when starting a company. If you are amongst the lucky ones to survive, it will take you on average five years to finally get to the point where you’ve got leverage.

To have leverage is awesome. But to gradually get some, you have to have stamina.


More blogs on employee behaviour and organizational design 

How does influence work in practice?

Enroll now in one of our monthly editions of the Behavioural Design Academy. and learn how to predictably change behaviour. SUE trained over 1000 people from 40+ countries and our program is rewarded with a 9,2 satisfaction rate.

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about how influence works, you might want to consider our Behavioural Design Academy masterclass. Or organize an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our masterclass we teach the Behavioural Design Method, and the Influence Framework. Two powerful frames for behavioural change.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective or your product, service or marketing in a Behavioural Design Sprint.  You can download the brochure here, or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design
sue behavioural design