Four Years From ‘Zero to IPO’ : A Chat About Pivots And Productivity
mother of unicorns. not a hacker. social distancing since 2018.
I remote chat this afternoon with Joost Boer, a Dutch entrepreneur, company builder and product strategist who has extensive international experience gained through living in 5 different countries in Asia-Pacific over the past decade. He describes himself as having a beginner's mindset, happiest when creating something, a voracious reader. He is currently based in the Netherlands.
Hello Joost! It’s been several months since we saw each other on the beautiful Island of the Gods. What are you up to these days?
Hi Rachel, it indeed has been a while! With the pandemic I figured it would be wise to depart beautiful Bali and head back to the motherland, which in my case is the Netherlands. I arrived here last March and am pretty content down here. Friends, family, Spring... just a few factors that make me really enjoy my time here!
At the moment I’m working hard with my team on adjusting BigDish, a restaurant reservation app, to a Covid-19 and post-Covid world. As you can imagine, just as the restaurant industry as whole - us in restaurant tech really had to scramble.
Adjust quickly, or perish! Those are the options.
Besides that I kicked off a couple of new projects, one of which is Start24
, a content platform helping out budding entrepreneurs in the Netherlands.
Sounds like you are working on re-inventing yourself and your business.
You could say that indeed! I think as both individuals and companies you have to determine, am I going to turn this pandemic into dead-time, or into alive-time (to borrow from Robert Greene)?
You can either mope and complain and decide to wait this one out, or you’re looking at this crisis and think, where are the opportunities? How can I add value?
Looking at some of the behemoths in the restaurant reservation industry, they’ve basically said: Screw this, let’s see where things are next year. Whilst for instance, a smaller player like Nick Kokonas’ Tock, put together a take-away service in 6 days; and we at Big Dish put together a simple delivery service in a couple of weeks.
For me personally, I thought I can use my spare time to become really good at Fortnite or burn through Netflix’s entire catalogue, or I can get some passion projects going.
How did you manage to put the delivery service together?
We simplified things drastically. We hammered down the scope and eased our ambitions just to get something out there. As we speak, we’re working on a revamped version of this, one that has some pretty interesting stuff that you wouldn’t find in any of the major delivery companies.
I’m looking forward to know more about it. It has been, what, 4.5 or 5 years taking BigDish from 🚀 launch to IPO?
It was about 4 years. In hindsight perhaps a little too early. Doing an IPO is a lot of work, and it’s very distracting. I mean I’m happy that we’re a public company now, but I’m also stoked that I moved away from my role as CEO and am now CPO, which is a lot less demanding.
Over time, my personal interest has started gravitating towards business models that don’t require millions in capital but instead can be profitable from Day 1.
Dealing with investors takes a lot of time, as does doing IPO, it is a distraction - all these things take away from actually working on your business, whether its in Sales, Marketing or Product Development. As a founder, you have to really determine if you want to get involved with this.
I think it’s every young startup founder’s dream to ring the bell to launch their IPO, and you did it in a mere 4 years, that is a great achievement!
I think that depends. Ask the guys from Basecamp and they’d certainly never want to do an IPO. 😉 The thing is, TechCrunch, and similar outlets are really biased towards reporting about companies raising funds, doing IPOs etc. Perhaps this gives a bit of a skewed image that this is the only way to get a company going - I know it skewed my perception, at least.
I know you did a personal pivot - a role change - after your IPO.
From CEO I turned CPO. For me this allowed me to focus on the things I really enjoyed. Which ultimately is really critical if you’re a founder. If you’re involved for too long with things that don’t truly energise you, you’ll burn out.
So you made a pivot in your job scope as well as your location?
That’s right, as CPO I became location-independent. I always wanted to experience Bali for a prolonged timeframe so I headed there and stayed there for about a year, learning about spirituality and opening your chakras and what not 😉. Just kidding, although I dabbled a bit in Yoga and breathing exercises, I after a year could still not tell you what a chakra really is and instead was there to mainly enjoy the weather, the beach, meet interesting people and experience the local culture.
The nomadic life is really in vogue, and I’m happy I experienced it, but I would not want to live that life year after year. A stable home base is really helpful for your peace of mind - that applied to me at least!
Yes, Bali really provides a great escape. For me as well, I was there for a couple of weeks every few months, looking for interesting projects to invest in from the digital nomad scene. What else was interesting for you in Bali?
What makes Bali great is that it probably offers the best value-for-money experience you can find... which is why so many expats flock to it. The food is great, the Island is packed with beautiful sights, there are beaches, mountains, volcanos. The internet has gotten a lot faster over the years too, and there are heaps of co-working spaces where you can meet with like-minded folks.
I think what you said earlier about pivoting your role before you burn out will resonate with a lot of folks in tech startups.
I think in life it’s good to play to our strengths and interests. Identify those things towards which you have some kind of natural aptitude, some affinity with, and what is valued in the market. Stick to those things, go deep with them, and over the years keep on learning new things that can fit within these parameters. Over time you’ll have a T-shaped knowledge set at your disposal: a width of different subjects, combined with the necessary depth to add value in them.
If on the other hand you keep on doing things that really just don’t fit your interests, then things get a bit akin to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You might get it in over time, but only through brute force and breaking something. Obviously we all sometimes have to do things that we are not good at or have much of an interest in. But the point is to not have these things become the lionshare of your days.
Yes, I agree. I’m a believer in slaving at the start to get those 10,000 hours in, or work 16 hour days at early startup stages, but this can only go on for a few months, not more. I’ll usually sum this up as ‘Know Your Limits’, to the younger startup founders I chat with. Is this also why you are building Start24?
The idea for Start24 is to really have founders in the Netherlands learn from my (and my partner’s) mistakes - of which we have made plenty. You can think here about matters such as selecting the right legal structure for your venture, or how to select the right web hosting or a business bank account. But we also deal with “softer” things like knowing your limits, and understanding that your body and brain isn’t a machine. How often does that brilliant business insight come to you at the 16th hour of the day?
That’s why we’ll be allocating a great deal of content to subjects such as creating a morning routine, regulating your dopamine production and sleep. The latter especially is a fascinating subject about which many people - myself included, up until a year ago - really don’t know anything of substance at all. Which is crazy considering we all spend - or should spend - about a third of our lives sleeping.
The old cliché that building a company is a marathon, not a sprint, really is true. Those that pace themselves properly will have a better shot at making it - or at least keeping themselves healthy in the process.
The word ‘crisis’, in Japanese has the kanjis ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ in them. I find that pretty interesting.
When Malcolm X went to jail, he read so much he needed eye glasses by the end of his sentence. But he sure made the most of his time, being in a pretty horrendous situation. He focused on that which was within his control.
As a founder, I try to keep this in mind, every single day. Even though this pandemic is a messed up thing, I’m in great spirits as I focus on that which is within my control and block out the rest. And I’m actively sniffing out the opportunities this crisis brings about.
Thanks for the chat, Rachel!
I got to check that out. Thanks for your time, and all the best for your new venture, Joost.
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