Starting in corona time: how Wellabee found the right focus

The young startup Wellabee wants to improve the well-being of employees. A focus that emerged through a combination of personal preferences, brainstorms, interviews and trial and error. Co-founder Suzanne Snel talks about her first year as an entrepreneur. “Everything I do is about learning.”

Ending up at a multinational through a marketing study to steer internal communication in the right direction: it is by no means a bad start to your career. Suzanne Snel was in a sought-after, challenging position at FrieslandCampina with a lot of independence. But also the "difficult business at a large company". Snel: “You make an impact, but not very directly. There is a lot of stakeholder management involved before you can do anything. I don't always have the patience for that." It got her thinking about her silent desire to 'someday' start her own business. However, she had no idea what, how and with whom. Those kinds of plans seemed like five or ten years away. Until she came across a post on LinkedIn by someone who had just taken the plunge. “I read that he encountered the same issues at Rabobank as I did in my work, so I immediately recognized myself in his story. He then turned out to have started as an entrepreneur in residence at Holland Startup, where an introductory evening was held in the same week. That's where I went and it clicked."

How do you research which direction you want to take with your brand new company?

“We started by looking at what we find interesting ourselves. Brainstorming about business themes, but also eSports and board games, for example. After we got a bit stuck, we arrived at the theme of well-being. And that there are already many well-being apps for personal life, but there may still be room for the well-being of employees. That is a very iterative process. You discuss everything you find interesting and see if you have skills that fit a subject. Keeping in mind whether a paying customer can be found. After all, the intention is to build a commercial company. But your feeling remains very important. You have to have a passion for the subject, because you are going to put a lot of hours into it.”

What steps did you take after that and how do you look back on them?

“After that you do interviews with potential customers about problems they encounter. Three or four problems. Then you notice that your attention soon turns to one or two of your subjects. And that there appears to be no problem at all with other subjects. For example, we thought it would be useful to develop a solution for the hassle of figuring out and booking a holiday, but we noticed in several interviews on the street that they see this as anticipation. That's how you frame your ideas."

Holland Startup's startups go through different phases in the construction process. What stage are you in?

“We are currently in the second phase, Discovery. The problem is clear and we are now investigating the underlying causes and possible solutions. Practically speaking, this means talking to HR people a lot. As a result, we notice, for example, that in performance management a switch is underway from old-fashioned systems to giving more direct feedback. Employee experience is becoming more important, so we zoomed in on that.”

What solution do you currently have in mind for this?

“A solution that ensures that the expectations of an employee and his manager match better. That they have more contact in the meantime, so that there are no surprises during the assessment at the end of the year. Because when there are, it ends up with HR. Those are the contours within which we work.”

How do you like having a co-founder?

“It is very nice to share what you are doing. In the beginning I only did research for a few months and then you really have to keep yourself focused at times. Motivating each other is easier. I also specifically looked for someone who is complementary to myself. For example, I am very polite and modest. Admir, my co-founder, pushes a little more to get things done. For example, arrange an appointment the same week. You can help each other in that.”

Your plans took serious shape last May, so in corona time. What impact does that have?

“The impact is mainly positive. We want to have a lot of conversations with HR managers and because everyone has become accustomed to video calls, the threshold is lower. You can talk to anyone. Before corona you spent much more time traveling and visiting the office. In addition, we are consciously working around corona, focusing on companies that have not been hit so hard and not focusing on the issues of the day, but on longer-term problems. It helps that more attention has been paid to the well-being of employees due to the many working from home.”

What are the most important things you have learned lately?

“I've gotten better at using my network for help and advice. And I've learned not to think too far ahead. In a startup, everything is very iterative. You focus on what the biggest question and the corresponding answer are right now, take small steps and do that as often as possible. That is super valuable to learn. Just like realizing that all the information you gather is subjective. And it's better to ask people about behavior they've already shown than how they would react to something if they come across it soon. Everything I currently do is in the context of learning.”

Finally, which companies and entrepreneurs inspire you?

“These are mainly companies with a great focus on service, such as Picnic, Coolblue and Bloomon. Being exceptional in this is an important success factor. Those companies do that towards the customer, but you can translate that to internally. A happy customer starts with a happy employee, which works through each other. And there is still room for improvement in many companies.”

Do you also want to start your own company? Come to our free webinar Meet Holland Startup† We are happy to tell you more about it.

Update: After some soul searching, Suzanne has decided to leave Wellabee. why are you reading here† And she shares more valuable lessons from her startup experiences here.

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