DSMN8 Team: Introducing Roel van de Ven – Enterprise Sales

Regardless how innovative the idea, or how widespread the problem that it solves, any start-up must sell their solution to the masses: communicating why, exactly, a market must embrace and adopt a product.

While the start-up world turns at a head-spinning pace, and traditional thinking has long argued for a stripped to the core, lean approach for the start-up team – without the right sales talent, even the most ground-breaking products would falter.

As others around us in the software industry continue to advocate services teams as nothing more than a cost – to be replaced instead with third-parties, we know that strong customer communication and on-the-ground insight can only come from the right sales talent – for which, we’ve found Roel van de Ven, our new Enterprise Sales Executive.

Introducing – Roel van de Ven – Enterprise Sales Executive

From taking his first steps into the corporate world as an office assistant at an Attorneys’ Firm, Roel has taken increasingly larger leaps – moving onwards from Junior Business Developer at G4S, onto Henkel, a world leader in adhesive technologies, beauty care and home care, grossing 18 billion a year.

Roel’s initial internship would transition into positions on steadily higher levels – Regional Marketing Assistant, to Regional Product Management and finally securing Regional Pricing Manager, all in the space of 3 short years.

This heady rise into the upper echelons of a global leader’s business team demonstrates an impressive business acumen, yet Roel’s career history has been far from all work and no play. Following a stint as a Wealth Manager, he would go on to become co-owner in a wakeboarding business in Dubai – quite the stark contrast to the straight laced and serious world of financial services. The tenacity to be just as effective for high-net-worth individuals seeking financial advice, as adrenaline junkies looking for a speed thrill, is not to be underestimated (and truth be told, as an avid wakeboarder for over a decade, this is also a real labour of love).

As DSMN8 prepares for growth, it is in Roel’s direction, communication and insight that we’ll secure interest, clients and, ultimately, long-term sustainability.

Q&A 

What did you do before joining DSMN8? 

I ran my own water sports company called Wake Evolution, based in Dubai, which is still going strong. Prior to that I was part of the Regional Marketing team at Henkel – spearheading campaigns and growth in India, the Middle East and Africa (IMEA).

Describe your role in 5 words

Develop and maximize growth opportunities.

Who or what inspires you?

There are many great people in the world who I’m inspired by, but I would say my top 3 would be: Tony Robbins, Will Smith and Richard Branson. Each of whom have taken on industries, questioned the status quo and achieved progression by breaking with convention. They also know what true leadership looks like, Branson puts this best:

“A company is people … employees want to know… am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.”

Why did you choose to work at DSMN8? 

For the challenge, potential and opportunities – challenge comes in many forms when positioned in the fast-paced start-up world, whereas potential can only be realised when ground-breaking opportunities are fully understood and strategically exploited. Around me are a team of leaders who have track-records for success – alongside them, we’ll be hitting the ground running at a speed that start-ups demand.

How does your role fit into the rest of the DSMN8 Team? 

I bring the business to the table – but this begins with a robust understanding of the product features and the ways in which I can bridge the divide between the end user, and our development team. In this way, I’m the cog that makes refinement of features and UX possible. This link is critical to developing a product that users need, and that users love to use.

What are the main challenges for Enterprise Sales at a Startup organisation? 

Starting from ground zero is fraught with many challenges – from an enterprise sales perspective, the most imposing is getting your name out there in front of big brands, over and above your more established rivals.

We’ve achieved this with vigorous research on what customers want from an advocacy platform – this has ensured we’re developing the right features and user experience. Of equal crucial importance, is our robust sales funnel, and our CRM that helps us talk about the right things, to the right people.

What sales tech do you use to make your life easier in identifying leads and booking pitches?

We use HubSpot which is an awesome tool for prospect and pipeline management. Besides that, we use old school tools: LinkedIn, cold calling and networking. Perhaps the most vital form of networking are trade shows, which place us face-to-face with industry leaders. We’ve met some fantastic brands at CES, NAMM and most recently IPSO.

How do you spend your time out of the office? 

I’m a wakeboarding addict, when not in the office, you’ll likely find me in the water at Wake Evolution or at the cable at Al Forsan.

If You Can Keep Your Head When All About You Are Losing Theirs…

2016 is shaping up to be quite the annus horribilis. Quite apart from the passing of such legends as Bowie, Rickman, Cohen, Wogan and Corbet, there has been unprecedented political turmoil, with UK’s vote to leave the EU (“Brexit”) and the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.

It’s these last two events that have caused all businesses – but particularly start-ups – to face increased uncertainty, difficult markets and most of all, higher levels of risk. Though I think Brexit is likely to affect UK businesses more than Trump’s success (it’s going to be a key topic of discussion at the ‘TechCrunch Disrupt London’ event in December), even sectors such as renewable energies are facing disruption after the election, according to Elon Musk.

“An Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down” Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.

So what’s the problem? Entrepreneurs thrive on this risk and uncertainty – without the thrill of riding out the waves of uncertainty there would be little interest in venturing into the world of start-ups to begin with. When uncertainty hits, it’s natural for your brain tell you to panic, but those with entrepreneurial acumen automatically begin thinking rationally – how can they effectively assimilate and deal with this new information? How do you keep your head and continue building your plane?

When I started my last business I had absolutely no money, no staff, no business plan and a sizable amount of unsecured debt to my name – not to mention my wife, Viki, and Ofelia, our six-month-old baby, to support. And it was slap bang in the middle of a recession! Five years later, at the age of 31, I sold my company, E-Tale Marketing Solutions Ltd., in a multi-million-dollar deal; after selling to, and competing with, some of the biggest businesses in the world. Despite the challenges it was something i felt compelled to do. I simply had to do it, and i trusted myself that, whatever the challenge, I could overcome it. The journey was peppered with a huge amount of risk and uncertainty, but it’s how you deal with it that marks you out for success. These are some of the mental strategies that kept me going:

1. Think Positive

During the good times, entrepreneurs can find is easy to forget about focusing their mood, because the smiles come easy. But when the tough times present themselves – and they will – try to find a happy or positive thought to rebalance the panicked reaction. Whether it is a business breakthrough from recent weeks, or a promising event happening soon, remind yourself that good things can (and will) happen and that focusing on negativity will not help you to get through it.

 2. Let Go

As much as the entrepreneurial instinct is to micro-manage everything, there are some things that are simply out of your control – such as the outcome of an election. When these situations arise, you need to be able to accept that, yes, this will affect your business, but no, you cannot prevent it or ignore it. So your job is to ride it out and decide the best course of action to see the other side with minimal damage. Try not to exaggerate the situation to yourself or those around you – acknowledge it with a level head for exactly what it is and plan using the information you have available.

3. Prioritise

Understanding the difference between a make-or-break decision and an inconsequential one is vital for when tumultuous situations arise. The truth is that every decision made during the running of a start-up brings uncertainty, but by using the information available and focusing on the most important decisions first, whilst weighing up a range of possible outcomes will save a lot of your energy and relieve enough stress to allow you to wiz through the small choices later.

4. Trust Yourself

You started the business on your own and sometimes you must trust the same instincts, that used to scream at you that this was a good idea, to carry it forward. Start by listening to your instincts on small matters and learn whether your first impressions are to be relied upon or if you’re the kind of person who needs to research more thoroughly. Many top entrepreneurs know how to settle their brain and focus on the issues – Steve Jobs took walks to make decisions, whilst Einstein went sailing to clear his mental blocks.

5. Stay Agile

I’ve said it before, agility to is the best defence against uncertainty and by adopting an agile, or flexible approach to your business, you gain a competitive advantage. Now is the time to take a progressive view, remain dynamic and revert to Entrepreneur 101: remain agile and look for opportunities.

 

Knowledge is the key, and whilst it is vital to remember that there will be things you cannot possibly know – you can take the information you do have and build upon it to make plans. Whether it’s finding funding, or choosing the people you want to be by your side, plan ahead and never let negativity hold you back.

How do you see it? Is your business facing new challenges as a result of Brexit or Trump? How do you handle uncertainty? – let me know below.

‘Proposition Q’ and CSR: We’re Better Than This

This week a story I saw in The Guardian, TechCrunch and others really fired up my jets. Basically a few highly influential tech entrepreneurs and investors are funding a proposal that gives SFPD the power to remove homeless tents from the sidewalks of SanFrancisco. Officially called ‘Proposition Q’, to date it has principally been funded by Michael Moritz (Sequoia Capital), Ron Conway (a tech Angel Investor), William Oberndorf (SPO Partners) and Zachary Bogue (Mr Marisa Mayer) who between them have donated more than $150,000 to the Proposition Q campaign (the majority of the current $270,000 campaign fund).

Proposition Q is being sold as an attempt to help the homeless, but in reality they just want to hide the problem: the visible evidence of homelessness. It doesn’t address the issue of homelessness, nor does it provide any alternative accommodation for those who have the only shelter available to them, forcibly taken. There has to be a better way of dealing with the problem than this.

Entrepreneurial Responsibility 

It’s great that these individuals want to do something about an issue that is on their doorstep. Personally, I believe that it’s really important for Entrepreneurs (well all individuals, really) to support causes that are close to their hearts. For example, I am actively involved in the UAE with a charity that rescues abandoned cats and ensures they are cared for and re-homed.

At the other end of the spectrum, high profile tech entrepreneurs and UHNW individuals – Zuckerberg; Gates; Buffett – are committing large amounts to solving some huge social, environmental, education and medical issues. Consider the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which offers grants to causes who apply and has a website full of great statements, such as

We believe that by giving people the tools to lead healthy, productive lives, we can help them lift themselves out of poverty.”

In contrast to spending money to hide a problem, The Gates Foundation works to address the root causes and find sustainable solutions to the problems facing some of the most disadvantaged groups and locations.

The guys funding Proposition Q should be ashamed of themselves. They are not funding a coherent plan to help the homeless, they’re just removing the only shelter they have in a massively insensitive way. Entrepreneurs, especially those who are successful on the scale of Moritz (net worth $3.1bn), have a responsibility to deliver on their platitudes that they want to “make the world a better place”. Homelessness has long been an issue in San Francisco, so why can’t these guys work together with the other Silicon Valley heroes and use their technology and influence to incentivise, fund, sponsor or create shelters and programs that provide a step to permanent accommodation for homeless individuals? I’m thinking along the lines of an X Prize  – get some great entrepreneurial minds to address the root causes of the problem, rather than attempting to hide the evidence of a broken system out of view. In this connected world, if we have the means, we should all work together for the greater good.

CSR = Win Win

In addition to the greater social benefit that CSR provides to the world at large, it also has an extremely positive impact on brand image, making you more appealing to investors and boosting the morale of both employees and stakeholders. The three main wins for enterprises generated by developing socially responsible practices are:

 

1. Morale & Recruitment

Employees want to feel like they are part of something more than a profit-turning machine, and a socially responsible company attracts higher standard of candidates when it comes to recruitment, as well as improving the morale of both existing employees and managements – the feeling of making the world a better place can work wonders for motivation.

2. Cost Saving

Committing to improving your companies’ stance on environment causes, such as cutting down on paper usage, waste or increasing recycling can help businesses – by reducing overheads.

3. Brand Value

Social entrepreneurship is important in the modern climate – especially when the general public – also known as your customers and clients – are becoming more and more socially aware and starting to base their decisions on charitable and socially responsible actions made by companies. Socially responsible companies are a more favourable option for cause-conscious consumers.

I’m reminded of a Steve Jobs Quote:

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them the tools they’ll do wonderful things with them”

In an increasingly socially aware world it’s time for all of us to take responsibility for our actions and make smarter choices.

Brexit Food

The Brexit Fallout: Where Do We Go From Here?

In my last blog post, I discussed the possibilities facing small businesses in London if the EU referendum resulted in Britain leaving the EU. Unfortunately, that possibility became reality on the morning of 24th June and the resulting turmoil has left the business world in a state of disquiet, anxiety and for some, utter shock.

 

What’s The Damage So Far?

As soon as the news was reported that a 52% majority had voted to leave the EU, the reality and effects of that decision became noticeable. Within 12 hours:

  • The pound fell in value (to the lowest level against the US dollar in 32 years)
  • The FTSE 250 fell by 14% from the previous day’s closing figures
  • The 15 richest people in the UK lost a total of £4 billion collectively as markets plunged
  • Many businesses, such as Vodafone, have warned that they plan to move their business out of the UK if trade agreements fail
  • 25% of company directors plan to initiate hiring freezes during the uncertainty ahead

I know there’s an overwhelming demand for people to ‘stop going on about it’, but I really don’t think most people understand the damage that will be caused if we cut our ties with Europe. If we stop talking about it, we will never get anywhere. There’s no plan without communication.

The only certain thing about uncertainty is that it is uncertain. The uncertainty alone freezes decision making in business, and this causes the economy to stop growing and even shrink, leading to what media outlets are terming ‘Texit’ – the presumption that tech companies will leave Britain, as Britain leaves the EU.

This doesn’t just cause issues for ‘the rich’ and ‘business leaders’, it directly impacts every single person who contributes to society. Right at this moment it makes more sense to setup a business outside of the UK than it does inside it. People seem to have forgotten that our economy is primarily built on service based companies, the contribution of which has steadily grown from 46% in 1948 to 78% in 2012.

These companies can be based anywhere in the world, but choose to be here because of the EU, our relationship with EU countries, and the certainty/stability of the pound. I would love someone to explain to me how this Brexit thing helps us in any way that isn’t someway driven by a generic statement like ‘wanting change’. Wanting change to our political system is a good thing and in my opinion is needed. However, people have been hoodwinked into thinking that leaving the EU means that we will somehow see new economic opportunity and growth.

Already, just over a week later there is buyer’s remorse from many in the Leave camp as well as those who voted to remain, and there is confusion over what to do next.

 

So what now?

We need to snap out of the haze. Like Baroness Lane Fox I believe we need to accept what has happened and begin to take a progressive view on how to move forwards. In the words of her letter to the Evening Standard “The worst thing to do now would be dwell on the result and not look to the future”. I 100% agree.

Now is the time to take a progressive view, remain dynamic and revert to Entrepreneur 101: remain agile and look for opportunities. It’s easy to look at the current situation and become so overwhelmed with uncertainty and fear that you stop trying altogether. I know that things might seem a bit hopeless right now, but I invite you to look at this from a different perspective: now is the time to make your mark! Take the opportunity to overcome adversity, stare odds which are stacked against you square in the eyes, and say “My business and entrepreneurial spirit will overcome this, this is not going to hold us back.”

There will be challenging times, but also opportunities. As global tech investment firm Atomico stated, some of the largest companies around today were born in tough economic times; “Entrepreneurs are resilient. We’ve seen this over and over again. Microsoft and FedEx started out in the 1973–1975 oil crisis and US recession. Skype was founded in 2002, during what was still the dotcom nuclear winter. Airbnb, Spotify and Uber were born during the 2008–2009 financial crisis. This, if it turns out to be a crisis, will be no different.”

The future is ours, and it’s up to us to make it work in our favour.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know I am one week early, and although we don’t celebrate this particular holiday over on my side of the pond, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my American friends a very, happy Thanksgiving! I think it’s a great holiday, and in the spirit of gratitude I thought I would share with my readers the things for which I have been most thankful during my entrepreneurial journey.

 

Family and friends

The key figures in most people’s lives are family and friends. Those close few that truly support your every venture, help you through your toughest times and give you solid advice when you need it most. Ultimately, they are also the people that keep you relatively sane through the rocky road to success. Not only do they provide the emotional and physical support you sometimes need, but they also provide (often painful) financial assistance that can be crucial to your next investment. This support is not without sacrifice and shows a huge commitment and belief in future success and fulfillment. Your friends and family can also be the listening ear and even give you ideas and the feedback you need to reach your next phase and eventually succeed, after all they should be the people you trust most! So a big thank you to my friends and family for sticking by me through it all!

 

Mentors

I don’t feel I have ever had a ‘direct’ mentor – by this I mean someone I have met face to face and from whom I have sought advice over an extended period. However, I feel I have taken some of my most memorable and valuable advice from the authors of notable inspirational texts. For example, I would have loved to meet Felix Dennis, who wrote ‘How to get rich quick’ Felix is one of the authors who has most inspired me, and I see him as a mentor. I am thankful for his wise and encouraging words, along with those of other authors in the field. No matter the time, day or night, however, unsociable the hour, I can call upon the dog-eared pages of a favorite text and find solace, self-belief, and re-light that all-important spark of motivation.

 

My team

I have always tried to motivate and incentivize my team to ensure that they are happy in their jobs. As an entrepreneur, I know there comes a point when you can’t do everything alone, and you need the support of your team. This period is a daunting one, but your team, if well-supported and fulfilled themselves, will become loyal and trustworthy, and in turn begin to drive the success of the business. From then on, you will be safe in the knowledge that you can rely on them whenever you need them.

 

My clients and customers

My clients and customers have always been fantastic, especially in the early days. They gave me the chance to pitch my idea and understood what I could offer them in terms of business value, not just financial gain. The ongoing support and retention of a customer base allow a business to continue to grow and further succeed. Also, their wealth of advice can be crucial for those important next steps.

 

My blog visitors & Twitter followers

If you’re reading this post, then thank you! This year I created my blog and started to tweet again. In the space of six months, I have gained so much inspiring feedback and engagement from a wide variety of readers. I appreciate this hugely, and I will continue to update both my blog and Twitter in future. You can follow me on Twitter here: http://www.twitter.com/bradindigital (@bradindigital).

 

So one last note, a big thank you to everyone for helping me through my entrepreneurial journey, and a reminder to you to thank those who have been instrumental in your business and personal lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

The five scariest things about being an Entrepreneur

So, you’ve had ‘the big idea’. You have dedicated a large portion of your life to your new-found goals, and by now may have even received some investment to boot. To an outsider, you’re living the life of Riley – you’ve made it, you’re laughing all the way to the bank, etc, etc. Right? Wrong!

Being an entrepreneur in any business sector comes with huge risks, and these don’t just disappear once your business gets going. If anything, these risks are magnified and multiplied as the new venture gains momentum.

I want to share with you my five biggest fears while on the road to a successful business; you may relate to some or all of them:

1. Running out of cash

By far the scariest thing I can remember is running (and I mean completely running) out of cash. I was lucky enough never to have to inform the staff that they would not be getting paid, but I came extremely close on a few occasions. One moment that, will stay with me forever was having only an hour (ONE HOUR!) to spare before payroll and being saved at the eleventh hour by some clients, fortunately, making payment. Bullet dodged, for that month at least. But I still felt like I was teetering on a knife edge from time to time. Certainly my biggest learning curve as a business owner was cash-flow – on the whole it is never as good as you think it is.

2. Hiring staff

Hiring an employee is really scary stuff! No matter how many interviews, evaluations and assessments you do, realistically you won’t know if someone is a ‘good fit’ for around six months. I have had employees who had a tough start but ended up being rock stars, invaluable assets to the company. Conversely, I have had new starters who arrived as rock stars (by mine or their own perception) who ended up departing on somewhat bad terms after disastrous mismatching of personality, required roles and work ethic.

3. Firing staff

Hiring? Scary. Firing? Even scarier! Unless you are an inherently unkind person (a few choice words spring to mind), you are unlikely to enjoy telling someone they no longer have a job. However, in some cases it is unavoidable. To deal with these situations with the best possible balance between fact and tact is key. This fact/tact balance enables you to clearly communicate all the tangible barriers to them, continuing to work for you while remaining professional and civil.

Avoiding removing problematic staff simply because it is scary can have a negative effect on the staff you DO want to retain. In many cases, the remaining staff appreciate that people who are not contributing to the team effort are removed.

4. Getting outflanked

I remember vividly the day when I was told that one of my competitors had been purchased by none other than Google (you may have heard of them). It truly was an “oh sh*t” moment. If you are a startup and are bootstrapping your business, the last thing you want is to be pitched against a competitor who has unlimited cash and influence. In this instance, the acquisition actually worked in our favour, as Google decided to ‘Sunset’ the product that was in direct competition with ours, (this means they ultimately had the product ‘disappear’). Fist pump moment!

5. Going on holiday

I remember in the early days, I would dread going on holiday. It was the furthest thing from the relaxing retreat it was designed to be. It felt like losing my phone – but a billion times worse. I was cut off from the world and would not be able to deal with a potential crisis, should one happen.

I have experienced enough real and imagined crises to tell you it’s no fun being unable to firefight and manage the situation. That said, there comes a point when things become more structured, the mechanics of the business become more predictable day to day, you have trusted senior staff who can handle even fairly major hiccups, and you can confidently go on holiday and switch off your phone! When this day arrives, you may just be ready to sell your business, as you may no longer be needed!
No owner of that coveted title ‘self-made success’ will tell you that the road to their success was smooth. They will tell you it was fraught with hairpin bends, steep downward turns, surprise junctions and an often overwhelming feeling of fear! The key is to embrace that fear and use it as part of the driving force and momentum behind the growth of your business.