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Lessons learned in building a tech company

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. 

Early stage
  1. Follow your passion aggressively, regardless what others tell you
  2. Entrepreneurs are typically early with their idea, sometimes too early, timing is critical
  3. Finding a launching customer often requires a long deep breath
  4. Friendship can take you through the toughest times
  5. Limited funds can be a blessing in finding creative solutions
  6. Hire hands-on people, no corporates
  7. Read the signs of the time, such as trends: SaaS, mobile first, cloud, analytics, IoT
  8. Run your company digitally, end-to-end
  9. Get input from coaches, boards, advisors, investors, but you make the decisions
  10. 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
Growth
  1. Ensure you have the right business model before accelerating growth
  2. Invest in growth, but profitable growth
  3. Think globally from day 1, break out of your national market, but start with a narrow geographioc focus
  4. Select people on growth potential, changing business requirements will require them to change and grow into new roles and responsibilities
  5. Choose a mission, vision, core values. (Mission Qelp: Helping people outsmart technology; Core values: passion, personal growth, end-user focus, can-do mentality, openness) 
  6. Designing and rigorously implementing processes is critical to make your company scalable and profitable
  7. Building a great company is not something trivial, it takes a lot of time, hard work and making a lot of “right” choices.
Exit
  1. Ensure alignment of the interests of shareholders, management, employees
  2. It’s a marketing and sales job and you are the product
  3. Be prepared for a 6 – 12 months roller coaster, with a lot of twists and turns
  4. Share the success with your employees, share- and stakeholders.

The world is flat, a visa can be helpful…

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.

Read more…

Benelux Techtour

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).

New episode

Five years after founding ThreeFive Photonics, it’s time to move on. It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, but first and foremost a tremendously valuable experience in entrepreneurship. So much that I think I got addicted to it. Most of 2005 I have been working part time, to build a new company in parallel, Qelp Mobile Solutions, thereby leaving the semiconductor industry and going back to my mobile roots. For the past 2 months I had to get full time engaged again to work on a management buy-out for ThreeFive. Have not been able to complete the MBO before September 1 unfortunately. Good luck guys, I hope you will be successful in finishing the process quickly.

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