Exponential Leadership

#101 Mark Durno - Startup success, age vs passion, founders & investment decisions

October 31, 2021 Eksteen de Waal Season 1 Episode 1
Exponential Leadership
#101 Mark Durno - Startup success, age vs passion, founders & investment decisions
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Do you believe, like Napoleon, that a leader is a dealer in hope?


Mark's goal is to empower agrifood founders to drive the transformation to a regenerative and sustainable future food system. He is Managing Partner of Rockstart’s €22m+ AgriFood Fund, offering early-stage startups access to capital, market, expertise and community through a customised program and follow-on investments. Mark is Scottish, based between Copenhagen and Amsterdam. He has a background in conventional/organic agriculture, law, early-stage venture and vertical farming, having established some of Europe’s first commercial vertical farms since 2010. Mark is a qualified Scottish lawyer and holds an Executive MBA from Rotterdam School of Management.


We talk about the importance of openness and the need to show vulnerability. We move on to talking about how too much guidance is a bad thing, as a culture needs to spring up at a company. We talk a lot about how employees are people, and the importance of empathy and listening. Personality profiling is something he does, and he reveals what he thinks is important. He mentions “The Myth of Or” and how not everything needs to be perfect. We end with more some personality recommendations, for having on how to have the best team.

" find co-founders for .... enough friction for sparks, but not enough for an explosion...." - Mark Durno

Two things stood out to me. He said that communication breakdowns are the most common reason for failure. He also says that Nurturing can be too much. Some things a startup needs to learn the hard way. People appreciate their own struggles and success more. Some skills we learn through practice, failure or trial and error. I think it shows how there’s got to be that spark between people at the beginning. Going into business with people you have a good relationship with, and finding that sweet spot again and again. It is hard work, but essential. Maintaining work relationships working from home may be more difficult, but it is crucial, especially in startups.

Links for Mark Durno

Mark Durno grew up on a farm in Scotland, and that has taught him a few things – especially how the supply chain for food really works. Fast forward to today, Marc is now the managing partner AgriFood at Rockstart, where he is responsible for making sure that the right investments go to the right startups – to build on what we need for the future for food.

Mark recently sat down with Exponentially Me CEO, Ekåsteen de Waal to discuss his views and experiences on the topic of Leadership and Relationships.

No stranger to working in startup environments, Mark knows what is important and necessary to create a culture that springs up naturally. He uses personality profiling to figure out who are going to be the teams that will take the startup to the next level.

The first thing he says he looks at is the leadership role. Filling a leadership role is important for the success of the teams that they lead, but also the success of the startup. Leaders need to be sympathetic towards those in their team and based on the placement of the leader, this should drive how personal their leadership style should be.

Trust: is the one word that Mark uses to describe the role of the leader. When leadership fails, there is a breakdown in trust. There is a piece of vulnerability when a team is led by a leader, and a way to overcome this is through trust. When the trust is broken, chances are that the team might fail to achieve their goals.

At work, between leaders and employees, just like in any relationship there will be ups and downs, but it is important that trust be restored and built back up.

Openness is another important aspect in leadership, says Mark. This openness should be to receive criticism, or coaching, or views from other perspectives. He also says that openness can be inherent in some cases, and it forms part of the personality trait – environmental or experiential – of someone. Even if you’re not the most teachable character, according to Mark people are able to learn to be open, and they can learn to accept the criticism and point of view of others.

Mark speaks in-depth on the dynamics of relationships and leadership and emphasises that personality trait tests are important to ensure that a leader will fit in with a certain team. With these types of tests, he says we can ensure that groups can find synergy to work well together.

Have a listen to the full podcast that Eksteen de Waal had with Mark Durno and find out more about the importance of openness and accepting criticism in leadership and how it can take a startup to the next level here.

Triggers and coping mechanisms
Startup difficulties
Startup stress
Staying Connected
Recommendations for Hiring