Meet startup queen Mette Lykke
About Mette Lycke
Family: Married to Mads Lykke Ravn, marketing manager at Ikea. Two children, Maya, five, and Ellen, eight months.
Tips for changing career:
- Pick something you’re passionate about.
- Be persistent.
- Seek advice – especially in the beginning – but follow your gut.
I’m not superstitious but I fundamentally believe that most things have a meaning,” says Mette Lykke, recalling the remarkable twist of fate that led to the creation of Endomondo, the hugely successful fitness app. A decade ago the Dane was working as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company when a client offered her a plum in-house role. However, along with two colleagues, she was already toying with leaving McKinsey to launch a social network for exercise enthusiasts. Taking the corporate job still seemed like a no-brainer.
“You know, the nice company car and I could still wear all my suits – or no salary for we-don’t-know-how-long and no safety net,” Lykke says.
She happened to be in New York City. As she returned to her hotel – still undecided – a strange woman approached her at a red light. “She passed me a postcard and walked away,” Lykke says. “Didn’t say a thing. Just looked at me and walked away. The postcard read: ‘Whatever our wildest dreams may be, they only scratch the surface of what’s possible.’”
Lykke swiftly made up her mind. Despite her mother urging her to “go for the company car” and a McKinsey partner putting his finger in the wind and warning that “the world was about to fall apart,” Lykke felt the lure of entrepreneurship.
‘After 10 years in one place I was ready to try something else’
Having joined McKinsey two years earlier, after graduating in political science from Aarhus University, she’d enjoyed working with corporate clients and seeing “the most strategic things they have going on.” But she also felt constrained by management consulting. “You get a fairly narrow problem to solve,” she explains. “You give some advice and then you’re out, and you don’t really know what happens after that.”
Launching a startup, then, would be an exciting challenge for the determined Dane, who did competitive dressage and show jumping for eight years before going to university. Above all, though, it offered her a strong sense of purpose.
“Most entrepreneurs have this desire to make a dent in the universe, however small, and do something that matters,” Lykke says. “That’s how I felt about Endomondo and the whole vision of making fitness fun, motivating people to exercise more.”
Endomondo allows users to track aspects of their fitness regime, such as duration, distance and calories burned. It also analyzes their physical performance and suggests improvements. Lykke and co-founders Christian Birk and Jakob Jønck had initially envisaged it as the “Facebook of sports” – a social network for fitness fanatics. Then they met a former colleague who was using GPS technology to track vehicles.
“We were like, ‘Holy cow, we can use this same technology for a completely different purpose,’” Lykke says, meaning for any distance-based sport.
This was 2007, when only Nokia phones had GPS technology. Having pivoted, Endomondo found itself ahead of the curve. Lykke would hand out flyers at sports events, such as 10km races, only to discover that most people weren’t equipped to use a fitness-tracking app. “People would show us their phone and we’d be like, ‘When you get a new phone, check back in,’” Lykke laughs.
‘I don’t have one big idol, but a lot of people inspire me’
For a while too, her team could check new users in real time, hitting “refresh” on the home page to see the last three people to sign up. “In the beginning it was like, ‘Oh, that’s my cousin.’ Or, ‘That’s my ex-boyfriend,’” Lykke says. “And on many days there were zero new users, which was tough.”
Yet Lykke drew on her McKinsey days and the “tool box” she’d received there. It included “a really strong ‘can-do’ attitude, which helps keep the energy up,” she says. Self-belief also got her through some dark days. “Entrepreneurship is mostly up here,” Lykke says, tapping her forehead.
Unusually, Lykke hasn’t had any mentors. “It’s so much to put on one person,” she says. “I don’t have one big idol, but a lot of people inspire me.” Indeed, she cites the importance of “investors who believe in you and pick you up a little bit when times are tough.” Their support proved crucial for Endomondo, which took more than three years to reach a million users. But the persistence paid off. A turning point came in 2008, when Apple launched the iPhone 3G, with GPS and the App Store, which turbo-charged the global distribution of apps.
Endomondo never looked back. By 2015, it boasted almost 20 million registered users. Under Armour, a US sportswear brand, bought the company for $85 million and Lykke accepted a senior digital role.
In June 2017, she seized another exciting opportunity, to become the CEO of Too Good To Go, a platform that tackles food waste by connecting shops and restaurants that have surplus food at the end of the business day, with consumers who want a cheap, quality meal. “After 10 years in one place, I was ready to try something else,” she says.
Already an investor in the Danish startup, Lykke describes it as the most meaningful project she’s found in Copenhagen. “It has huge potential. It’s not just that we’re doing good, it also makes sense commercially. Our mission is a world where food produced is food consumed. There’s proof of concept, so it’s just a matter of scaling.”
To that end, she and her team recently moved into spacious new offices in Copenhagen. And on her desk is the postcard she was given on a Manhattan street corner a decade ago – a perpetual reminder of what’s possible in life.
Text: James Clasper