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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.

Smog vacuum cleaner

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. 

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