Is subscription based furniture going to be a thing? And what’s the difference between a boss and a leader? Willem Straat (KeyPro Furnishing) and Wies van ‘t Slot (365Werk) discussed the opportunities of a recession and the importance of transparency and autonomy in your company.
The two entrepreneurs shared their stories during the final edition of Founder Talks for this year, with plenty of time for questions from RTV Noord journalist Bart Breij and the audience.
The coolest office in Groningen
Willem Straat won the Young Entrepreneur Award in 2016 with KeyPro, the company providing the furniture for housing agencies, expats and even the Eurosonic music showcase festival, to name just a few. The new City Lab near the old sugar factory was his idea and now their office, and of course also decorated by KeyPro. That office can also be transformed into a big stage for the Kadepop festival, yet another of Willem’s initiatives.
KeyPro’s succes came from necessity. “My first project was a hotel for expats at the Eemshaven”, Willem says. “I got a loan from the bank right before the Great Recession kicked in and in the end I had to sell my shares for one euro to avoid going bankrupt. The idea was solid, the timing just wasn’t right.”
With the recession also came a great opportunity: ”A lot of buildings were vacant, but the construction of power plants at the Eemshaven also meant a lot of expats coming to Groningen. They don’t generally stick around long enough to invest in furniture, but they don’t want to live in a house with old grandma furniture either. So we started renting furniture package deals to housing agencies, along with paintings to fake plants.”
No is too easy
KeyPro mostly focuses on companies. “But we are thinking about offering our services to consumers.” What about the similar plans a company like Ikea has? “I’m not really worried. We’ve been doing this for 7 years, so we’ve got a head start. I actually think it’s a good sign though. If Ikea has those plans, it also means consumers are ready for something like that.”
Willem’s golden tip for entrepreneurs? “I don’t like pessimists. No is too easy and it isn’t constructive. When someone tells me an idea sucks, I’m gonna try it anyway. It’s about positivity and looking for opportunity instead of obstacles.”
Busses to a German disco
Wies van ‘t Slot has had an entrepreneurial spirit ever since she was very young: from picking and selling flowers to arranging bus transportation to a German club near the border when she was still in high school.
After college, she worked her way up at a large employment agency, but she didn’t care much for the rigid company structure. She worked for Young Capital right when it started growing explosively, but she still felt like something was missing. She started her own employment agency, called 365Werk. The company now has a revenue of €13 million and Quote magazine named her one of the 100 most influential Dutch businesswomen.
“After Young Capital’s success, I thought I knew everything there was to know about running a company. But boy was I wrong”, she says, smiling. “I did everything by myself and it was a lot of hard work and struggling. But I’m glad I did, because when you set things up on your own, it’s easier to let go and delegate. And you also gain a far better understanding of all the different facets of your company.”
Being the captain is too old school
Wies doesn’t care too much for managers. “I don’t think they really add a lot, so we don’t have them here in our company. I think the idea of me being the captain is too old school and I consider myself more of a leader than a boss. Big difference.” But can her company sustain that level of openness and autonomy if it keeps growing at this rate? “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but I certainly think so.”
Fake it till you make it
Her gold nugget of advice? “It might not be politically correct to say it, but fake it till you make it! Especially in the first few years. I remember discussing a business offer over the phone and I said I would have to run it by the legal department first. There wasn’t a legal department, so I ran it by myself and called back.”