Stina Ehrensvard | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Stina Ehrensvard

Background:  

Yubico, based in Palo Alto, Calif., provides USB and NFC keys for authentication and encryption. Launched in 2008, the Swedish-Californian company protects login credentials for 100,000 customers in 150 countries, according to Yubico's stats. 

The Mistake:

My biggest mistakes, in life and work, have all been related to poor communication. An example of this, where I could have communicated better—and likely avoided a conflict—was when I made the decision to move from Sweden to California.

This was back in 2010. A couple of years earlier, we had launched our core product, the YubiKey, with a bold vision: to enable one simple and secure key to the entire Internet. But we were quite far from this goal, being only 10 people, with few customers, and with less money coming in than was needed to pay our bills. Then one day, we got an order from the Google security team in California, and I knew what we needed to do.

I presented the following brief business plan for the team and board: We had no major venture capital backing. We could not afford to set up a large global sales team. But if the company CTO and I relocated to Silicon Valley and focused on working really close with a handful Internet giants, all located within a few miles from each other, we would get access to a mass market of a billion end-users.

A member of my board only saw the risk of moving to the United States, and he referred to my brief business plan (it was only a one-pager) as “a sketch, a dream," and asked me to provide a more detailed plan, backed with real data. When I responded that I was confident that the plan would work, and could not provide more details at the time, he suggested that the company recruit a new CEO.​​

What is obvious to me may not be obvious to everyone.

The Lesson:

The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It summarizes well what I have learned the hard way. What is obvious to me may not be obvious to everyone. Today, when I present new ideas, I take more time to listen and respond to other people’s concerns. To get the team aligned, and avoid unnecessary conflicts, I want to establish a constructive dialogue.

Fortunately, other members of the Yubico team and board had trust in my one-page business plan. For the last five-plus years, I have lived in Palo Alto, Calif., and during this time the company has grown steadily, with profits, thanks to close collaboration with the Internet thought leaders.

Follow Yubico on Twitter at @Yubico.

Pictured: Stina Ehrensvard. Photo courtesy of Yubico.