To say that Maxime Chaury has an interdisciplinary background is an understatement.
He studied theatre, received military training, holds open water diving and skydiving certifications, majored in liberal arts and obtained three master degrees. Professionally, he is a prolific strategy consultant and a startup extraordinaire. Currently the Managing Director of Flash Coffee in Indonesia, he’s making specialty coffee more accessible and growing the tech-enabled chain's footprint in the region. He shares his journey and insights on leadership in the Southeast Asian business landscape.
Falling in Love with the Startup Space
Max tells us of two experiences that shaped his career. The first one was a two month scholarship he received at the age of 19. He spent that summer studying indigenous culture in the Peruvian Amazon, venturing in communities in Bolivia and Brazil as well. Travelling outside of Europe for the first time, it was eye-opening. He sought to push his own boundaries by seeing new places, igniting a passion for multiculturalism in the process.
The second pivotal experience was working as the right hand man to Hellofood Algeria’s country manager. He describes the business as the African equivalent of FoodPanda and what defined his chosen career path. “The tremendous empowerment, having to strategize and get hands on to grow the team and the business, a result-driven culture and the youthful, internationally minded environment all seemed like the perfect fit for me.” Noticing that the leaders in these sorts of startups had backgrounds in private equity and strategic consulting, he set out to gain expertise in these areas.
From there, Max went back to school for an MBA. He worked at a private equity fund in West Africa and then dove into strategic consulting in Casablanca. After gaining experience, he circled back to his true love - startups. As a consultant, he was limited to an advisory role so he welcomed the change. He wanted to work with great people in small teams, elbow deep in high impact projects.
Different Contexts, Shared Challenges
The Indonesian market certainly has its unique features. It is by far the most populous country in Southeast Asia making it the region’s biggest market. After China and India, Indonesia’s forecasted to have the most middle class growth in the coming years.It’s a multicultural country with so many cultural and religious influences. But with all these differences, Max finds points of intersection, similarities with markets he’s operated in before. “It's an emerging market, just like when I was working in Morocco in North Africa. It also has the status of being a regional heavyweight in Southeast Asia so you can also find many similarities with other heavyweights like Brazil in Latin America and even to some extent, France in Europe…And of course, it's part of the Indo-Malay archipelago so we have a lot of similarities culturally, religiously, linguistically with Malaysia, where I spent the last two years.”
Essential Mindsets for Hypergrowth
“Human nature is quite universal”, Max explains that startups often share challenges despite regional variations. The most significant ones are a matter of cultivating the right mindsets in teams. He tells us about the two he focuses on.
Startup Mindset 1: Spirit vs Letter
Defined as “trying to constantly infuse everyone with the “why” - why we are doing something. What is the goal of the project? To help everyone see further than the immediate execution of what they're doing”. It’s a matter of understanding mission objectives and how they fit into larger, overarching organisational goals.
Startup Mindset 2: Possible/Not possible vs How can it be made possible
Often, startups are geared to find new solutions to unsolved or emergent problems. “You cannot just apply the normal way of doing things. Otherwise many things are not possible.” Teams need to come to the table knowing that solutions exist - they just need to be discovered and worked out.
The Need for Speed
“Speed is really part of our DNA.” Max finds the pace of startups both invigorating and necessary. Whether in art or business, time constraints drive innovation. “We have very short lives and we have so much to achieve in this time span… I think speed is also an enabler of the kind of objectives that we want to achieve.”
Max encourages managers to embrace speed, rather than fear it. The secret is to create a culture where people enjoy it. The idea is not to be haphazard in all pursuits, burning out the team in the process. “You cannot do everything at the same speed and you have to prioritise what is urgent”. Once a clear direction and top priorities have been set, go full throttle.
Part of moving fast is being responsive to team feedback. Pushing people to achieve as much as they can involves knowing and working with their rhythms. Listening also provides insight to obstacles that leaders may need to help their teams overcome.
Five Birds, One Stone: Convergence of Objectives
“When you have so much to achieve on a very large range, what I really like and try to make my team think about it is: How can you reach a convergence of objectives? You have five objectives, five different projects. But what about one project that achieves all five?”
Max acknowledges that it might not always be possible for all organisational objectives to be met with a single initiative, but two or three may be quite feasible. The idea is to optimise the energy and efforts of a small team by thinking of goals as interlinked parts, not individual components. In a situation with limited resources and time, it’s a very smart play.
“Maybe you need to work on let’s say your sales, your profit and your brand awareness… You have this new product that's going to sell very well, which you can price higher because you're doing something special, that will also raise awareness about your brand of doing something different and hence you achieve all three in one.”
Startups and hypergrowth organisations often face challenges like time and resource constraints. In what ways can you make changes to the way you make the most out of your resources?
- What can you do to cultivate the 2 mindsets Max described in your own team?
- How might you make the fast-paced environment enjoyable for the team?
- How are the initiatives you’re working on achieving multiple business objectives simultaneously?