Is tech’s ‘Great-Man’ myth – the idea that particular individuals drive history – indeed a myth and based on utterly flawed reasoning? Is Elon Musk, our contemporary embodiment of the ‘great-man’ changing history single handedly? Of course not. The lone genius doesn’t exist, but to completely ignore the importance of individuals that take the lead is too easy. To paraphrase another ‘great man’, Isaac Newton, people who see further do so because they stand ‘upon the shoulders of giants.’ Similarly today’s entrepreneurs don’t live in a void, but built amazing things because they have the unique ability to inspire a group to achieve a shared objective.
Though maybe not ‘great’ individuals, whether they are artists, politicians, doctors, teachers or entrepreneurs, they do change history. It’s these agents of change that propel our society into the next wave of economic prosperity that the Dutch Loey Awards celebrates. An award that was initiated by VC firms Van den Ende & Deitmers and Peak Capital in 2010 and has over the years commemorated Dutch online entrepreneurs like Rogier Thewessen (YoungCapital), Pieter Driessen (Spil Games), Pieter Zwart (Coolblue), Lars van Wieren (Starred) and Fabian Dudek (Nestpick) and inspired many more.
In this interview Samir Saberi sat down with Patrick Kerssemakers, CEO of the e-commerce company FonQ.nl and chairman of the award to discuss the importance of such an award, it’s objectives and the broader Dutch startup ecosystem.
Can you tell us why Van den Ende & Deitmers and Peak Capital decided in 2010 to initiate the Loey Awards?
The objective was to increase the attractiveness of the Dutch online industry so a new breed of young people would get inspired and start building their own online businesses. But the partners decided to not go for the easy option by organizing an award for the best startup or internet company. From the beginning the idea was to celebrate those who have the courage to start something new and encourage others to start their own online company or work in the online industry. Our thesis is that everyone in the industry will benefit if we celebrate our accomplishments and commemorate newcomers.
Can you explain the reasoning behind the specific focus on the entrepreneur instead of the company?
The Loey Awards put an emphasis on the entrepreneur because there is always one guy or girl that is pushing the company forward. This also counts even if there is a founding team. Even then there is always one person that is driving things forward. The Loey Awards is all about honoring the accomplishments of this person.
September 2th the Loey Awards will run for the sixth time. What has changed in the last few years in the online industry?
It has changed dramatically. You only have to look at StartupJuncture to see how much more capital is raised by Dutch startups compared to a few years ago, signaling the amazing quality of Dutch startups and their founders. For us it’s therefore much harder to curate the potential winners. The pool of really good entrepreneurs is much larger.
Why is the Dutch startup ecosystem booming?
I think we have demonstrated that the Dutch can build global technology companies like Adyen and Booking.com. The Dutch startup ecosystem is maturing with successful entrepreneurs building their second or third startup and investors are taking note. I also think that as of lately the involvement of Neelie Kroes is one of the best things that has happened in the Dutch startup ecosystem. It’s really praiseworthy to see a woman with her track record focus on doing the best for the country.
So how does Neelie Kroes help in your opinion?
I think that the most important thing she is doing is telling the story of the Dutch startup ecosystem. There are many individuals and companies, both from the Netherlands as well as abroad, that want to start something new, do business, create, but don’t know how. By connecting people Neelie and StartupDelta are enabling people to create.
The 2015 Loey Awards Starters finalists are Hanneke Stegweg (iLost), Tim de Kraker (Bardoggy) and Derk Roodhuyzen de Vries (Fixico). Can you explain why these startup founders made it to the finals?
The three pillars of the Loey Awards are the ability of entrepreneurs to innovate, inspire others and grow their business. Though all the semi-finalists delivered great pitches these three startup founders stood out in their aptitude to deliver on these issues.
You’re a successful online entrepreneur yourself. Do contests like the Loey Awards help the entrepreneur?
Four years ago I was Loey Award nominee myself, although I didn’t win (laughs). It nevertheless brought me a lot. The network of the Loey Awards exists out of successful entrepreneurs and business people. You can really learn from their experiences and they function as a sounding board. They also help by becoming partners, investors or clients.
Fonq.nl, the online warehouse you founded has been growing for many years. What’s the secret to your success and what would your advise be to young startup founders?
It’s very important to be on the ball every day. Therefore we as the management team help our departments solve their problems and achieve their goals on a daily basis. I think it also helps that the company is divided in small cells. This gives us the flexibility to start very lean with new projects and stop them just as quickly if we find out that they don’t work.
But what sets you apart as an entrepreneur?
It’s always strange to talk about yourself, but I do think that some issues are important. I always want to be the first to start something new. If it’s technical, a product or anything else. So I am quite fanatical about innovation. I am also laser-focused on growth, which means aligning all the activities of the company to achieve that one single goal. Inspiring your colleagues, customers and partners is also critical to be successful as an entrepreneur. This means giving them more than just products and a salary. It should be about more.