How to Build a Low-Ego, High-Performance Culture: Q&A with Andrew Lindner, Frontier Co-Founder

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Andrew Lindner

Andrew Lindner

Managing Partner

August 23, 2018
Thought Leadership

Much has changed during the two decades since Andrew Lindner co-founded Frontier Capital with a modest $45 million fund. But one thing that’s stayed constant is his enthusiasm for a culture that values people over profits. Learn about the three Hs behind Frontier’s culture, how volunteerism relates to the firm’s core values — and discover Andrew’s favorite metaphor for successful long-term partnerships with entrepreneurs.

You and Richard Maclean founded Frontier Capital in 1999. Share a bit of the company’s backstory: How did you choose the firm’s investment focus and its culture?

Andrew: We were born into an environment of confusion, and that gave our goals clarity. It was the height of the dotcom era — a game that had reached late innings. We also saw the emergence of growth equity. It required hard work, versus just making decisions on investment opportunities that find you.

We had three founding principles. One, start with what we knew: meaning category, company type, and investment stage. Two, make sure our region had plenty of those companies (we started as a regional player). Three, make sure those companies were candidates for growth equity — which was new at the time. We focused on SaaS businesses because they’re capital intensive on the front end and a great fit for growth equity.

We thought the firm should represent something beyond metrics — something with meaning. That shaped the three Hs of our culture: hustle, humility, and honesty.

Frontier places a high priority on fostering a culture where employees thrive. Describe that culture and how you build on it as the firm grows.

Andrew: Richard and I have something important in common: a commitment to building a truly durable culture that would serve us and our constituents well, in boom times and challenging times. Our philosophy has been to reinvest what you've got in people.

Our team is high performing and also low ego. That’s the hustle and humility from the three Hs. Innovation is also a key part of our culture — and a great reflection of the businesses we invest in.

As Frontier has grown, we've benefited from more diversity of thought, backgrounds, culture. That's a big focus for us now, as our headcount increases. We recognize the value in the diversity and are committed to fostering it.

Do you and Richard consider yourselves entrepreneurs, similar to those you invest in?

The short answer is, absolutely. We started Frontier from scratch, just Richard and me, with an idea on the back of a napkin. Our business is a financial services firm, instead of a software firm. We had to raise capital, hire our first employees, muddle through tough times and reinvest in our business. Like many of the founders we’ve invested in, we were scrappy and capital efficient with limited resources.

What gets you excited about investing in companies at the development stage where Frontier specializes?

Andrew: These are proven companies facing a huge decision — do they want to run a lifestyle business or do they want to become something bigger and even more special?  That resonates with us because we've been there as business owners. In fact, we’ve faced that decision several times during Frontier’s evolution.

For the founders, these companies often represent their professional life's work—just like Frontier is truly our life’s work. It’s a great honor to join them. We basically hold hands and jump off that cliff together to take the business to the next level. That's exciting.

Growth itself is exciting — versus strictly optimizing a capital structure. Optimization is valuable, but our culture is one of innovation. It's youthful, high-energy, and it feeds off growth, both at our portfolio companies and within our firm. Frankly, it's a lot of fun, and it's rewarding.

Plus, these are innovative companies with a strong culture and great leadership — it’s a joy to get up every day and work with companies like that.

The founder and CEO at one of your portfolio companies (Josh Brown at PowerDMS) mentioned that from the outset, Frontier’s team understood his business and market. Describe your firm’s approach to establishing relationships — what creates a successful long-term partnership?

Andrew: We have never thought of partnerships as spot transactions. We have always valued the benefits of true relationships with those companies.

Here’s one way to think about it. If you’re going to sell your house, you probably want the highest buyer.  But if you're taking in a boarder to live under your roof, that’s a very different decision. If there isn't transparency and trust, then the boarder and the owner will be unhappy. We learned our house manners through our lineage as a minority investor. We learned how to listen, how to advocate in a respectful way, and how much relationships matter — especially when things don't go as planned.

We have a reputation as high-performing individuals who are fair and transparent — and it shines through all stages of the relationship.

Our absolute best selling is done by our portfolio company CEOs. They speak about working with us, in good times and bad, and attest to our transparency and fairness. Because people are smart. They can smell from a mile away whether a firm really has those traits, or whether they're faking it.

Giving back to the local community is important to the entire firm —through the Frontier Foundation’s support of Charlotte-based non-profits and participation in events that raise awareness for causes. How do you foster volunteerism within the culture?

Andrew: That volunteerism — all the individuals in our firm who have embraced it — is one of the things I am most proud of. We try to choose non-profits where we can make an impact by giving our money and our time. That reinforces other things in our culture — that we want to live balanced lives, and that we believe in fairness.

We select charities that help the most vulnerable in society, and those that are important to our team members. It becomes a virtuous cycle, where enthusiasm builds on itself.  Also, Richard and I — and all the partners — remind ourselves and others that we are very fortunate. We've worked hard to be where we are, but we’ve also gotten a lot of breaks. We had very fortunate circumstances that allowed us to be in this position to help others. I see it as our duty — one that we're committed to.

It also reflects a core value: People over profits. This is not lost on entrepreneurs. There's lots of capital chasing good opportunities, and entrepreneurs have plenty of choices. Our culture resonates with many companies we talk to. They see we’re competitive but not cut-throat — that we operate with some humility, that we actually have fun doing what we’re doing. They want to partner with a firm that shares their values. And they find we both want the same things.

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