I’m in Barcelona again, surrounded by young companies full of energy and ideas how they want to conquer the world with their innovations in Internet of Things & Data. During these final selection days, we’ll pick the 10 European companies that have the best fit for the 2017 Startupbootcamp acceleration program starting November 28, 2016. Here’s a video summary of the 2016 alumni, performing on stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
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Quite often I get the question from early stage entrepreneurs "what’s the secret sauce for building a successful tech company?". And then I have to disappoint them, there is not a single magic formula in my view, you actually need to do a lot of things right. Since SYKES Inc. acquired Qelp in July 2015, the company I founded, I’ve been asked to do a presentation or interview from time to time. Here are some of my lessons learned when going through Early Stage, Growth and the Exit process of a company like Qelp. Let me add that before founding Qelp, I co-founded ThreeFive Photonics, a venture capital backed optical chips company. I benefitted enormously from that experience when building Qelp.
- Follow your passion aggressively, regardless what others tell you
- Entrepreneurs are typically early with their idea, sometimes too early, timing is critical
- Finding a launching customer often requires a long deep breath
- Friendship can take you through the toughest times
- Limited funds can be a blessing in finding creative solutions
- Hire hands-on people, no corporates
- Read the signs of the time, such as trends: SaaS, mobile first, cloud, analytics, IoT
- Run your company digitally, end-to-end
- Get input from coaches, boards, advisors, investors, but you make the decisions
- Try to bootstrap your company as long as you can, venture capital has it’s pro’s and con’s, winning venture capital does not equal success
- Ensure you have the right business model before accelerating growth
- Invest in growth, but profitable growth
- Think globally from day 1, break out of your national market, but start with a narrow geographioc focus
- Select people on growth potential, changing business requirements will require them to change and grow into new roles and responsibilities
- Choose a mission, vision, core values. (Mission Qelp: Helping people outsmart technology; Core values: passion, personal growth, end-user focus, can-do mentality, openness)
- Designing and rigorously implementing processes is critical to make your company scalable and profitable
- Building a great company is not something trivial, it takes a lot of time, hard work and making a lot of “right” choices.
- Ensure alignment of the interests of shareholders, management, employees
- It’s a marketing and sales job and you are the product
- Be prepared for a 6 – 12 months roller coaster, with a lot of twists and turns
- Share the success with your employees, share- and stakeholders.
Great to see that the perception of Amsterdam has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Amsterdam is now rated 2nd in the Top 35 of European cities with the best conditions for start-ups. Ranking is based on multiple criteria including a.o. access to capital, entrepreneurial culture, mentor availability and even lifestyle. Nice PR, this will attract more talent to the city and the Netherlands.
Another cool new project by Dutch designer, entrepreneur Daan Roosegaarde. His "Smog Free Tower" cleans 30.000 m3 polluted air per hour without ozon, runs on green wind energy and uses no more electricity than a waterboiler (1400 watts). Rightfully so, Roosegaarde has been elected recently as #16 on the NRC Cultuur Top 100, listing the most influential Dutch artists internationally.
At this very hour I am supposed to be up in the sky, 30.000 feet, on my way to India, but I am not…
“Can I have your visa please?” struck me by lightning. @#*%!
For almost three years now, my company Qelp has been working closely with one, subsequently two business partners in India. For some people it’s hard to believe that we work together successfully, while we have never met in person. We do meet in cyberspace, some weeks even on a daily basis including weekends.
Last week I had the privilege of participating in the Benelux Techtour: an event where a selection of 24 “promising technology companies” from the Benelux meet with “60 senior representatives from VC funds, leading corporations and institutional investors”.
Being selected with my company Qelp as one of the 24 “winners”, I was invited to attend a great networking dinner at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. The COO of a tiny start-up from Luxembourg called Skype, explained us in his key-note speech how they became so successful. On Wednesday the Techtour left Amsterdam by boat for Utrecht and 8 selected technology companies including yours truly delivered a presentation to the investors. While I am not actively looking for venture capital right now, the event was an excellent networking opportunity to refresh some existing contacts and get some new buscards from investors, entrepreneurs, press and even a few potential customers. Compliments to Coen van Duiven and Ron Belt for putting this event together in their "spare" time. Coverage on the event can a.o. be found in Het Financieele Dagblad and De Telegraaf (both in Dutch).
While I was in London Friday and Saturday for a number of Qelp business meetings, I selected these days in particular to be able to join Andrew Snoad and Tony Bicknell in celebrating the 10th anniversary of their firm Decision Tree Consulting (DTC). They invited all those who worked with DTC in the first 2 years of starting their company for a dinner tour on the Thames. Andrew refreshed my mind telling me that in fact I was their first large customer. I had them conduct a survey in 24 countries about the decision making process for videoconferencing equipment in multinational companies. I was working for Sony in those days, setting up their European business for videoconferencing systems and combatting with PictureTel who was the market leader. Sony had spotted videoconferencing as a potential mass market( it’s still a niche unfortunately), but had little experience in the telecoms market which is why I was brought in. DTC won the assignment for the survey while in competition with Anderson Consulting and Coopers who should have been able to leverage their international presence but didn’t.
Earlier that Friday I met for lunch with Osman Mardin, who supported me while I was conducting a tough financing round for ThreeFive Photonics in early 2003. Guess what? He reminded me that I was his launching customer after he left investment bank Robertson Stephens and started Sardis Capital, his current financing firm. Do I have a preference for selecting start-ups? Not necessarily –although I sympathize greatly with them- but if you award them the business you are more likely to get the undivided attention of the entrepreneur which can lead to more value for money. You don’t forget your first date, you don’t forget your first customer – it does create a special bond.