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The performance of a 1040 nm vertical-external-cavity surface-emitting laser is studied as function of the size and shape of the pumped area. The input-output characteristics of the device are monitored while simultaneously tracking the temperature in the active region. It is shown that the pump spot shape plays a crucial role in optimizing the laser output. Improvements up to a factor of 5 are found for a super-Gaussian in comparison to the standard Gaussian shape. For the large pump-spot sizes needed for high output powers, it turns out that the power-scalability breaks down due to the suppressed lateral heat flow.