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Bees and Hyves

Have you ever realized that a speaker is outstanding after listening to only a few of his or her words? Have you been interested in a lecture after just a few minutes of sitting in? Sometimes a witty remark right after the first few sentences is enough to attract the attention of a crowd. Great speakers share something that makes their presentations captivating without a need for eye-catching slides, gimmicks or fireworks. They posses a certain air about them, speak clearly and articulately, and make clever use of humor. Several entrepreneurs are bees in this hive (or Hyves in this case). This includes Koen Kam, one of the founders of Hyves – the Dutch social networking site – and an alumni of TU Delft. Koen was the guest speaker at ABC Delft's latest lecture held at the Art Centre Delft on June 5th.

Koen went through the phases of a high-tech start-up based on his experience with Hyves. This included booting-up the start-up (like you would with a computer after pressing the "on" button), dating angels, avoiding red flags, operating in stealth-mode, airing a product, and eventually scaling-out. The lecture started with a brief introduction about the advantages students have in starting a company. Big words were mentioned – optimism, future, and risk. Koen considers students as "empty vessels" that haven't been spoiled by corporate muddling (he started his own company when he was 19). This quickly captured the student crowd's attention. Then Koen took a sharp turn by confidently stating that a Business Plan is not needed, at least not in the very early stages. A few mumbles were heard from an audience that featured students from the course on 'Writing a Business Plan'!

Being smart and agile as an entrepreneur includes knowing when to seek funding. Money from venture capitalists is hard to come by for a young company without a product and no track-record. In short: you won't get it! according to Koen. Some entrepreneurs, he said, are lucky to date an "Angel" – provided they have something to show and can convey huge market potential. This can be done through a demo. With this mention of a demo a former classmate from Starting New Ventures whispered in my ear "…this is not what Ken taught us" (in reference to Ken Morse's example of scaring a jury away with a demo). This guy was missing the point, as Koen was talking here of the very early stages of a start-up when a company barely has one customer whereas Ken's lectures focused on selling an existing solution to a jury in the context of a global company. This confusion was similar to the one caused by the controversial 'you don't need a Business Plan' statement. This made me realize that early in the game a demo can speak more than a Business Plan, especially in the case of a high-tech start-up. For a cross-check with history Koen mentioned the case of Google, Apple, and other legendary high-tech companies. 

Then came the red flags, always something to watch out for. Koen mentioned a few – big salaries, marketing budgets, and change of plans. While operating in stealth-mode entrepreneurs should hold back, work hard, stick to their plans, and tell everyone about their ideas. Pitching, Koen said, gives entrepreneurs the chance to spread their vision and get some feedback (which can sometimes include the horrible truth as I would soon find out).

The most interesting part of Koen's lecture was his detailing of the scaling-out phase. At this point Koen mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point." This is a great book about how little changes can make a big difference. Having read the book, I knew what Koen meant when he talked about the importance of leveraging different types of people, hiring A+ players, and how getting things done and a short-time to market can be crucial to success. The first is about identifying different types of people; some are better at selling and communicating, others at analyzing and informing. Knowing the right people and leveraging their "type" can do wonders for entrepreneurs, like for example igniting the flame of word of mouth marketing.

My favorite part of the lecture came during the Q&A. Koen was asked about his dreams. He answered that his dream is to play at the same level as companies in Silicon Valley. Resisting acquisition shows he truly believes in his company and his answer confirmed it.   

After the session was over I walked up to Koen and thanked him for a great lecture. I even took the chance to pitch my idea to him, following what I'd just heard. Koen gave me the horrible truth! Although my idea was nice, he said, I shouldn't loose sight of the bigger picture and instead think of all the options and consider market winning propositions. I really appreciated his comments because I found his straight and direct feedback more useful than a complement. As for the idea, I won't pitch that here just yet as I'm now developing it further…

Until next time 😉 

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