Build a Tech Empire – From Startups to Multi-Million Dollar Exits | SheCommerce Barcelona 2019


First question we have is,
when you were starting a business, when you set out to start this new company,
do you have this big plan or vision in mind or does it just happen
more organically? Well I always have a very big plan
and know exactly what to do, and then when I start for a year,
it never works out the same way that I thought, so that is how works with me. For me when we started in 2001,
which is a long time ago of course, we didn’t have a big plan.
As Marijn says, along the way, a plan is interesting but on your way and
your journey on executing it, so many things happens
and market changes, and things happen that you didn’t really think of in the first place. So, we didn’t have a big plan honestly. And in this journey of, you know,
starting your company, having a plan and things
not working out or things working out, is there that moments
or your “aha moments”? Is there that moment
where you ever feel like, “Aha, this is it! I figured it out! or I finally did it!” Or do these moments not really exist? From my experience,
that “aha moment” doesn’t really exist. Because once you think
you are at the moment something new happens and new challenges
come along the way, that moment again seems pretty far away.
But don’t let it discourage you, because it’s great to have the whole journey and step by step you will get there in the end. For me, I never had the “aha moment”
a lot of times, I’ve got the “oh no moment”. So that won´t happen a lot,
but if you have a plan and then you get the first steps of it,
it’s exactly what Heleen is saying, then there are new issues
of new problems. It’s like if you climb a mountain and
then you finally are on the top, and then you see a lot of more mountains,
and then you’re not happy that you achieved it but you see new problems.
So that’s how it works. It’s good to know because otherwise
you hope you can celebrate a lot. But from that point
it’s interesting to say that don’t forget to celebrate every moment.
So the first client, the fifth client, the tenth employee.
So just celebrate it, because otherwise you’d do what I do, forget the moments. Yeah, that’s really good.
I mean I’m at a stage where I’m building my team, we’re growing
and I have that expectation, right? I have that expectation for that “aha moments”
like I’m working so hard and I’m just feeling like
there’s going to be this one time where it’s all gonna click and
it’s kind of like “aha”, but that’s good to know. Did you get one already or? No, I feel like what you’re saying is so true,
which is just like you achieve something and all you can see is just the next milestones ahead when you find that mountain.
Once you’re on top of the mountain you kind of don’t really realise, you’re like “Okay, I just have more mountains to climb”,
which is really good advice. So, once you’ve created your business,
things are kind of set up, what really kicks things off for you?
Is it PR, is it marketing, is it sales, is it networking?
What do you attribute to be what really kind of fires things up
for the business? In the end, I think it’s a mix
but if I should choose, then I would say network, because in a network,
you find people who have more experience than you have probably,
who can help you further, who can make introductions
and don’t be shy, because people are really willing to help you. And nobody tells you no
or you can always ask why not, and that’s my experience. On network is what you need
to get your clients, that’s what you need to get great staff
that wants to work for you, and that’s also what you needs
when you want to expand in other countries.
People you can trust, people who can give you energy and other entrepreneurs
who can inspire you. I didn’t hear you say
a kick-ass product or service? Is there a reason? So in the mix,
you also need a great product or service, and the most important thing
depends on which product or service you have or what’s the problem in the market. But when I look to
the different companies that were startups that are already seen, is that the thing they most forget to do is feels.
So I think everything is even important to do, but the thing people forget is to sell the product, so don’t forget to do that. The product sometimes sells itself also
because it’s so good. That´s the best product if it works like that. And what were your biggest mistakes
or we can also call it biggest lessons, if you see it that way? Well there are many of course,
but let’s point out one that is. I think looking back
I wasn’t ambitious enough in hiring new talent, because
it’s a big investment and probably you know, I thought champion league players were not probably willing to join our company,
which is nonsense because if you don’t ask you’ll never know. And once I came to the point
that I dare to ask, it appears that they actually found it
very interesting to consider a position in our company. I think be very ambitious
in who you surround yourself with in your team makes
all the difference if your first hire is an intern or
a real senior person that will make all the difference in how
fast you will grow your company. Think big from that perspective,
it’s my experience. I think my lesson that I learned is that sometimes the things I talk about the products are too complex. So if you start explaining and explaining and explaining then you know you’re wrong,
so that’s when I changed it to make it more simple,
because if you show in a market then you want to solve every problem, but if you solve only one problem, then it’s easy to explain and then it’s much easier. That makes sense. So, speaking of hiring and of course this varies a lot on like which kind of business you’re in, and what kind of product or service you have, but which was your first hire? Was it sales? Was it operations? Was it marketing? What is like the burst first big key hire for an entrepreneur that’s starting it? That’s a nice question, because for me it changed over the years, so when I first founded a company like fifteen years ago, the most important person was a technical person, because I wanted to change with a digital change. So I thought I need somebody that understands the technology, so that was my first hire. And in the second company, the technology was a little bit okay, we know what it is. But it’s technology, is not interesting but can you work with technology, so my first hire was a UX person. I thought okay, this will ever be the most important person, because UX is what you use. And then I started a new company and the most of the things we get now are UX´s. Now the first hire is a data person, so it changed over time. So I don’t know what’s gonna be in five years, maybe you know but I don’t know. And when you’re building your team, you’re hiring people. Nowadays distributed or remote companies, are kind of this big thing that’s do you focus on building and hiring remotely? Or do you hire locally first and then hire remotely or both? I think first locally, because when you start and of course,
later remotely this is what you definitely should do
in order to attract more talents but when you
start your company, the culture of your company
is extremely important. I’m not saying anything new
I guess. But to build your culture at first,
I think you need a strong base and
then I think it’s necessary that you see each other more often.
When the team grows with you
and everybody’s pretty clear on that I think it’s more easy
to build it out remotely. That’s my experience that works best. What I found out in the
beginning is that, because everything is open,
it’s open at what time you eat food. You don’t know
what the strategy is. So there are a lot of things
that are open and there are a lot of people
that come into your company don’t like
that everything is open. They don’t want everything
to be a question so if you are a little bit
more together, maybe it’s old-fashioned I don’t know,
then you see who are the people that have problem
with all those open issues, so you can help them a little bit more,
but maybe it’s all-fashioned and in five years
we’ll do it all remote. I sometimes want
to see the look in the eyes. Yeah, that is so important.
If they are still very happy. So let’s talk a little more about
the personal side of things. Imposter syndrome
is huge amongst women, and if you guys don’t know what
impostor syndrome means, it literally means when you find
yourself at a position or a certain role. It can be a leadership role
and you’re constantly questioning, am I good enough to be here?
Am I doing the right thing? Do I have what it takes?
And you guys having been in leadership positions and having been successful, does that happen to you?
And if it happens that once insecurity hits, how do you deal with that? 100% I think it happens to me,
it still probably happens but it happens to all the big leaders in the world, so don’t worry it’s very natural. But I think all about how
you deal with it, and for me it was actually when I realised
that I positioned myself in the company even though we were like 150 staff. I still considered myself as one of the guys,
because that’s how I like to see myself.
I wasn’t the founder whatsoever I was just one of the guys,
which is, of course, ridiculous because in real life
you are the founder and people look at you as the founder.
And when I realised that, I realised that I actually could take
advantage of that, because as a leader people look up at you
or you inspire them without you knowing that you actually do this. So, your behavior is
an example for the rest of the company, and once you find out,
like I did, then you can actually use it in your advantage
and you can achieve probably way more.
So from that perspective, I think when I realised I could turn it around,
it helped me. It’s interesting because
I heard at the moment more often about the impostor syndrome.
I didn’t know it like 10-15 years ago, but what
I find out that everybody is uncertain, and if you know that,
even the men they don’t show it, but they are uncertain about the topic as well.
So, if you know that, then you feel relief and okay.
So that gave me a lot more power so okay, they don’t know, I don’t know, so let’s go together. And if you don’t know exactly,
if you’d know a little bit more than you know so much more
than a lot of people, you can use that. It’s a little bit like
that they’re the same, like the doctor and the patient.
We all think that the doctor knows more than the patient,
but what we see now is that the patients read and read and
read about a syndrome or something. And they read so much so they know much more than the doctor,
and they learned it in a month. So if you know that,
you can be very good at a topic, much more and much
better than somebody else. If you know that then maybe
you don’t have the impostor syndrome, but it’s like
with every syndrome, you have to feel that it’s gone. Yeah, that’s a very good point
to feel that like okay, if everyone feels that way.
If everyone is kind of insecure and unsure,
even though most successful people, then let’s just all be insecure together. So talking about leadership
and kind of playing that role as the leader, as the founder, as the CEO, what do you think makes
you a good leader? Is it some personality traits?
Is it a habit that you cultivate? What do you attribute
a successful leadership position to be? One thing I know is that
I trust people a lot, so if I’m starting a company,
it doesn’t matter to me what education you have,
what you did before, I don’t really mind. I trust them that
they are going to do the right thing and because
I trust them, they do much more than they should
and they learn very quick. I think that helped me to found companies,
I think that I did different to others.
I’m not controlling it but I’m not sure if that is the power of it. I think also stay close to yourself,
because that is who you are and be vulnerable.
For me that was not hard to do, because that’s
how I am and always try with the sense of humor
and optimism deal with the situation at that moment,
and then go on. But being vulnerable and really be yourself,
I think looking back that’s what staff really appreciated,
because you also show that you don’t know
the answers and you need them had to make you stronger and make the company stronger. That’s a very good answer.
So we have a lot of entrepreneurs and aspiring
entrepreneurs in the room. They’re building
their companies, they’re growing their teams and as investors,
what do you look for in a company when you
are deciding to invest in it? And what do you look for
in the company and what do you look for in the founder?
So when you’re trying to judge, okay
is this a good opportunity for me as an investor,
what are the things that you consider? First of all, obviously it’s a team, right?
So if you need a complete founding team,
most investors -of course you have the angel investors
which is I think a different league,
with the funds, they would definitely look at complete founding teams.
So, a single founder teams are
normally not that popular amongst funds, because
what happens if that one founder is dropping out or whatsoever,
there’s not so much left in the company, so that’s one.
You would like to have typically a team
with a tech, like the hustler, with like a hipster guy, which is the product guy. So you like those three,
you want to be in the team. Who has a co-founder in this audience? Few of you, okay.
I think it’s very strong to found the company together,
because with all your peaks but also your hard moments,
it’s great to share. I always try to find co-founders.
I think there are so many of you here
so probably you´ll find your co-founder here.
So that’s team and then of course it’s a market you look at,
so how big is this market that you’re trying to solve
the problem for, is it big enough or is it very niche,
super small and how easy it is to execute on your plan.
Those are a few things that we as investors look at.
And try to think big, so how is the team thinking?
Is it really small? And are looking at today
or are they looking more strategically to the future?
And I think there’s so many opportunities
and markets are so big, there’s still so many problems
to solve in this industry also, that I think it’s only just begun, don’t forget. I mean, this industry is still so young,
so I think you all have huge opportunities,
it could become extremely successful.
But then make sure when you are the smartest in the room,
you’re in the wrong room. Try to surround yourself with
the most ambitious people. I’m very convinced
that you then can accelerate your business. I agree, well maybe to add on that, for me as more as an angel investor,
I look at the team or a product, what are they doing,
but the most important thing is the people or the person, is that he or she believes
in what he is doing. And if I ask questions
then they have answers and if they don’t have answers,
and look at me which what should you do,
then I go, okay, I don’t know, it’s your business.
So for me it’s very important that I get the answers, but I don’t mind if in a year the answers are wrong, that’s no problem. But if you don’t feel the power to answer the question with
a way you think you should do it, then maybe
you’re not the right person to lead this journey,
so that’s what I look at. So let’s talk about a different kind of investment. What do you think is the best investment that you’ve made and
this doesn’t have to be money, it can be time, it can be energy,
it can be focus. What is one thing that
you think you got a really good ROI from? I think for me it’s two things.
One is I became a member of EO,
which is the Entrepreneurs Organisation. It’s an international organisation
for entrepreneurs and you share experiences with your peers. This helped me a lot.
It’s an international kind of context and then the second one is a non profit, by the way,
I find myself a coach which helped me big time. I’m a strong believer in lifelong learning and if you find yourself a coach who is independent, because at home your love has some kind of benefit from you,
and your friends and they want you to be happy.
It’s probably it’s harder for them to marry you than independent people
and for me it helped me a lot to define a good coach,
that suits the face that you are in at that moment.
That would be the experience I can share and I can recommend everyone to do the same. For me it’s the journey
that is the fun part of it. And in the journey I think in the moment she hasn’t have to laugh a lot. There was a moment when the company was a company that did well in the Netherlands and then wanted to go to already was in France and then the next step will be United States. And they made a decision, let’s go to New York, so we’re going to open an office in New York, and then I talked to the guy and yeah I’m going to New York. Oh nice! where is it? Yeah I’m going to open an office and then he said, it’s my first time in New York! And then we had so much fun, because can you believe? With your first time going to New York and you’re going to open an office! So that journey is like having fun. I like that kind of, maybe that is an “aha moment”. It’s the moment where you are small because “I don’t know” and you are big at the same time. That’s what I like. Amazing. Okay, I think we’re running out of time, thank you so much for joining us.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *