Every month we ask an entrepreneur, CEO or investor that visits Holland Startup 5 questions, and share their answers with our community. This month we asked Pascal Ontijd, co-founder of SnappCar, to share his vision, insights and experience with us.
What do you believe that few people agree with you on?
There are a number of issues in the world that require a much higher sense of urgency in pushing for improvement. I’m mainly focused on climate change, social isolation and inequality at home and around the world. People around me do acknowledge and observe these issues but many people do not agree with me on how quickly we should move to solve these problems. It’s time to kick into high gear to address these fundamental issues.
What’s something you’d tell your younger self?
I should have started my first company earlier than I did. Just start and you’ll learn and improve much quicker. I probably should not even have finished my university degree. From high school onward I felt like my way of thinking did not fit the system. I probably could have spent my time much better by just doing and learning that way. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time as a student. But I did not take away any skills that I really needed and could not have learned by just going out and doing what I wanted to do. If I would have started my first company earlier I would have found and developed my own style of working much quicker, instead of trying to follow someone else's process.
What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your gut feeling. This may sound easy but it really isn’t. It is a constant point of attention for me. I have encountered the struggle with my gut feeling tens maybe even hundreds of times. What would have happened if 5 years ago I had not followed my dreams and started SnappCar? This struggle continuously surfaces in the small choices of daily startup life.
Are there any lessons you’ve had to learn multiple times?
As I said among other things the realization that you have to follow your gut feeling. I need to constantly remind myself of this personal rule. I also have the tendency to lose myself in the thing I’m currently working on. This results in an inability to take a step back from what I’m focusing on and make the right decisions. Finally I think that most of the times I’m already multiple steps ahead of the people around me. This causes communication problems and it makes it hard for me to focus on the current tasks at hand. Often I don’t have the peace of mind to store these ideas somewhere and work on them when the people around me are ready for them.
What’s next for you?
I want to keep making an impact on the problems that I feel are most dangerous to our society and the world. Making sure that that impact keeps growing is a big point of focus for me. I do this through my company and I hope to start more of those in the coming years. Maybe parallel to the things I’m working on now or as separate ventures. In the future I would like to expand my impact by empowering others to make a difference in areas I find important. Impact and empowerment of others are what I will be working on the coming years.
How a cow catches a customer
One of my favorite Dutch sayings is “you never know how a cow catches a hare”. It means something along the lines of ‘you can never tell how something will happen’. Last week I learned that when you start to build your first product, the opposite of this saying should be true. Let me tell you what I mean.
You are the cow (no disrespect!). Your customer is the hare. As shown on the picture, you are eagerly wagging your tail, trying to ‘catch’ your first customer. If you don’t know how the cow is going to catch a hare, you need to go back and do more research.
In order to catch the hare you need to be aware of how the hare currently solves his/her current issues. It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture: No, you need to go down to the dirty details.
You need to thoroughly understand how your customer solves issues and uses current solutions, how this solution process works. This thorough understanding is one of the reasons entrepreneurs who previously worked in the field they are building a company in, are more successful.
It is vital to know what triggers your customer to use the current solution. What steps are involved in this solution? Which steps are difficult to accomplish? And what do current solutions lack?
When our advisors asked for this process, we discovered that we lacked this level of detailed insight. This week we went back to the customer and asked, very precisely, how their current solutions worked. We found out that we could offer tangible insights our customer would pay for, which would be easier than our original (more complex) solution.
Although it is attractive to directly offer a better result (and complex solution), making a single step in your customer’s current solution easier might already help him/her a lot. This in itself could already be an awesome product. And on top of that, it is easier to make.
I found out that a cow catches a customer by closely examining how the customer walks and talks. By doing this, we were able to be much more precise in building our first product.
There is a new startup business model that gains increasing popularity, especially in the U.S while the hype breaks out more slowly in Europe and the rest of the world. For long there have been nurture programs, to support entrepreneurship in its early, most vulnerable phases. While Incubators generally speaking provide the external support for startups (like office space), Accelarators offer short term programs in order to facilitate a successfull investor pitch.
Next to these established models, there is now a new kind: Venture Building.
Contrary to, for example Rocket Internet, who primarily relies on already existing business models adjusted to new markets, Venture Building focuses purely on innovation.
The idea is that Venture Builders work together with mainly young entrepreneurs in order to solve severe market problems and turn them into startups. For this purpose the focus lays on the startup-buildind team and the support system around it. Thus, the first step is to seek motivated, skilled and creative people who have the drive to become entrepreneurs. The future entrepreneurs do not necessarily have their own business idea yet or peers they want to build a startup with.
Another crucial aspect is the long-lasting relationship between the Venture Builder who provides the experience and market expertise needed and the entrepreneurs building the startups. Opposed to Incubators and Accelarators, which are only short-term oriented, Venture Builders want to provide support for a lifetime. Their program is designed for the different phases of startup building and growth, offering individual adjustments on the way if needed. Of course this is also due to the equity stakes hold by the Venture Builder in the future startups.
The core of the business is the shared resources such as the spreading of legal and financial knowledge. In general Venture Builders profit from compressed and repeatable processes, which make the model more efficient. But most of all, they have the natural desire to create something new out of nothing. Build a company in order to solve an existing problem. Venture Builders are simply passionante about entrepreneurship.
Even within the venture builders model different approaches and types exist. While some firms rely on their internal network to validate already existing ideas, other companies have an application system to attract external talent. Already knowing the future entrepreneurs has the advantage of being able to assess skills, knowledge and potential more easily. In this way the risk of failure based on mismatching (team) characteristics is minimized. Obviously, a personal network only reaches so far. Thus, often it is necessary to reach out and find that Hipster with the coolest design skills or the Developer who knows how to turn thoughts into actual software.
As can be seen Venture Builders fill a niche within the existing business models regarding startup building. First of all, the focus is on young, skilled entrepreneurs. Secondly, these founders do not need to bring in their own ideas or building team. Thirdly, long-term investment means long-term commitment. By combining these aspects and adding the experience and expertise from multiple-time entrepreneurs/advisors and financial experts, the startup building risk can be mitigated. In this way Venture Builders offer support from the beginning phase of the startup to the exit of an established company.