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Coupon Entrepreneur On A Global Journey To Help Save Money

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Jochem Vroom entered the affiliate marketing business when he started Imbull early 2009 with the launch of two Dutch voucher codes sites. The most recent and largest project of all so far is the international coupon site Flipit.com. With Flipit, Jochem has garnered a lot of attention and today he shares with The Asian Entrepreneur, how he is personally working to help the world save money.

In your own words what is  Flipit?

Flipit is a global money saving portal that delivers eCommerce coupon codes and lifestyle articles to users in more than 20 countries worldwide. The whole site is dedicated to bringing the best all round money saving experience to each country’s user base in their native language, tailoring this information in a personalized manner.

How did you come up with the idea of  Flipit?

Following the successful launch of two original Dutch couponing sites that myself and co-founder, Jelle van der Bij, came up with- and seeing how rapidly the coupon market was being adopted, we felt like it was the right time to expand the game even further with Flipit.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up  Flipit?

I saw a window of opportunity and took it. I noticed trends like big eCommerce giant Amazon expanding to India and thought to myself that it doesn’t cost too much time, nor effort, to actually hit the go button on a few emerging markets and some strong neighboring European markets that are comparable to that of the Netherlands. Since we already had a strategy going for the Dutch sites that was picking up like a charm, penetrating similar markets like Belgium first and learning from that experience nurtured us as we started to expand into more different and challenging markets like the US. The ongoing learning process of starting an internet startup like Flipit is to keep following up on variable market trends and adapting the process as you progress.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

Startups are no walk in the park. The learning process is central to success and the Internet industry is rife with constant change that always has to be on your radar if you want to succeed. Therefore, our largest difficulty in my opinion was first keeping up with the constant demand for change that was happening as the Flipit team and site grew into one massive multi-cultural hub. Using the same framework for every country we were launching in brought in different results. We started to notice how important being versatile is- for instance, focusing on making our platform fully responsive to mobile, which was particularly important for markets like India and Singapore. Paying attention to the correct use of language in each country and hiring the right people who know a lot about each country’s culture and habits became more important the further away we drifted from the Dutch market.

How have you been developing  Flipit since startup?

We’ve been focusing a lot on revamping Flipit’s design to make it more appealing, and have been incrementally introducing more features that allow for more personalization and interaction with the interface.

What kind of feedback did you get for  Flipit so far?

We’ve received great feedback from our advertising partners and the affiliate networks that we work with, and have been complemented about the look and feel of the Flipit brand. We cater to an average of over 50,000 daily users who don’t seem to have any complaints either.

What is your strategy against your competition?

Naturally there’s a lot of competition. Just think about original coupon founders like Retail Me Not who are still huge in the US or Voucher Codes who are blooming even more in the UK. Then there are similar concepts like Groupon, which is the first thing anyone thinks about nowadays when you mention the word coupon (even though the way they operate their service is quite different from coupon sites). Our strategy is to keep going and to focus on unique aspects of the Flipit brand, which is ultimately having quality global presence.

What can you tell us about the industry? 

It’s tough and unpredictable. The main industry insight I can reveal is to always be prepared for unexpected change. If you don’t have the means to quickly adapt, you’ll get knocked out. That’s one of the reasons why more traditional, larger companies often struggle to become successful within this niche.

What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

The coupon industry is continuously expanding especially as internet penetration becomes more popular in developing/emerging markets. These markets are picking it up really quickly at the moment, so in order to stay relevant and have a fighting chance, you have to veer into those markets without hesitation and work your way up before competition establishes itself.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

Perhaps, the manner in which global publishers are treated if they do not have local presence in the countries they are live in makes it a lot harder to become successful in those respective countries. You have to be willing to travel internationally and/or have correspondents who can do the job for you. You don’t want to make some advertisers in certain countries feel like they are less important or undeserving of your full attention and time, but it just isn’t possible for you to take control of every aspect of your business and be in every corner of the world at the same time.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? 

Asia is an extremely interesting market because it’s totally different from Europe and the west. Naturally, if you’re from the region and are acquainted with its laws, culture and how business is run, you can become a successful Asian entrepreneur quite easily thanks to the wealth of opportunities. That would make it seem like it’s easier. However, the same can be said about being a European entrepreneur in Europe- though the market is much more established- delving into European business investments can be a bit more costly and challenging without the right resources and connections. Then again, there are different laws in Asia which European entrepreneurs might not be aware of that make it harder to be an entrepreneur in Asia. It all comes down to how well prepared you are and how much of an entrepreneurial will to succeed you have. That works for every region of the world.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

A lot can be said about both Asian and Western entrepreneurship beyond the scope of my opinion, but here’s my story. I was born and raised in Europe, so I’ve always been more inclined to think and act like a Western entrepreneur, though my personal journey these years trying to really crack the global scene has shown me how important it is to adopt a global mindset that bridges the gap between west and east.

How can you go global if you’re stuck in the ways of the west or the east? I found myself asking this question when I launched Flipit India, which was one of my first non-western ventures. It’s better to take from both. For instance, we’re more exposed to and encouraged to pursue our dreams, even if they don’t align so well with what we learnt in school. On the other hand, I’ve noticed how Asian entrepreneurship tends to follow a more traditional route and entrepreneurs in Asia do come off as more conservative than western entrepreneurs, probably as a result of their educational upbringing. Asian entrepreneurs seem to apply more pressure on themselves, while here we’ve got a pretty good welfare system to fall back on in case things don’t work out the way we planned, which makes western entrepreneurship more lax and the people behind it even more so.

I also recently read about how Asian entrepreneurs tend to be more “self-sacrificial”, dedicating longer hours and relentless schedules to their businesses, which seems to back my impression. However, as we approach a more unified scene, these differences are becoming less obvious in successful startups that often have a nice mix of entrepreneurs. People don’t talk about the origin of an entrepreneur as often as they used to in the past and that’s because we’re all realizing how much we can learn from one another.

What is your definition of success?

Moving up the ranks, seeing traffic go off the charts and sales starting to pour in are objective measures of success. Then there’s a more subjective version of success, like having people recognize your brand organically when they pass by your logo thinking, “hey, these guys are great. They’ve really helped me with this and that”. If your company’s name becomes synonymous with what you intended to achieve and you see actual figures double and triple, that’s golden.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I always knew from the beginning that I wanted to become an entrepreneur- I’m a born natural! Being one has always been my calling: my mind is constantly full of ideas that I want to see become a reality. There are certain things a person cannot achieve when they are employed by others. Being an entrepreneur means having the freedom and guts to explore how far you can go on your own, or with a few trusted partners, without the limitations of everyday employment.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

When you have an idea that you know is feasible, go for it without over-thinking things or waiting for them to happen too much. Thinking things through is good and paramount to the process, but if you wait too long to act, then it might be too late! Taking action even if you are not 100% certain of what will happen is even more important. Don’t wait until your plan is ‘perfect’, because there’s no such thing as stagnant perfection. Another key to entrepreneurial success is being willing to take on risks, but also knowing when to pull out or read the warning signs that things might not be going too well before it’s too late. A healthy balance between preparation, risk-taking, analysis and forecasting is essential.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Always be prepared for change.

Connect

website: http://www.flipit.com/

Linkedin: https://nl.linkedin.com/in/jochemvroom

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jochemvroom

Entrepreneurship

Why Angel Investors are Shaking Up the Global Startup Scene

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Candace Johnson is someone who has made a global impact on our modern international telecom and broadcast business. She co-initiated the foundation of SES-Astra and SES Global, which today owns a fleet of 54 satellites and broadcasts 6500 TV channels. And she founded the world’s first Internet-based online service, Europe Online, making it into one of the first broadband Internet services.

But it was in her role as president of EBAN, the European trade association of several hundred business angels, which brought her to Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus recently. She explains why angel investors are making a difference to the global start-up scene and explodes several myths that surrounds the way they do business. She spoke with StartupDelta’s Jonathan Marks.

Building the match between angel investors and hardware startups

“People often think that angel investors are people who do investments around the corner, locally, or in services like e-commerce. To be frank, when the HTCE management told me that they were focussing on the hardware side of things, I was thrilled.”

“What I’m trying to do as President of EBAN, and having incubated MBAN (MENA Business Angels Network) and ABAN (African Business Angels Network) under my presidency, is to extend the scope of angel investments. The vast majority of angels are already tech savvy. But we need to educate our successful angel investors to invest more in hardware and infrastructure. We also need to help start-ups develop a pitch that speaks to the interests of angels, so they can get funding for their initiative.”

“We run the EBAN Training Institute with the goal of raising standards. We’re seeing more and more that the best angel investors are serial entrepreneurs. They bring their trusted network, expertise and experience to the table.”

“Money is important too, but it is not at the top of the list. Business angel investors are high net worth individuals who usually provide smaller amounts of finance (€25,000 to €500,000) at an earlier stage than many venture capital funds are able to invest. They are increasingly investing alongside seed venture capital funds.”

Angels are more important than most people know

“We follow the guidelines and standards developed by the European Venture Capital Association. For over seven years, during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 until the recent recovery started, it was the angel investors who took over the role of early stage financing. More than €7.5 billion are being invested annually in Europe, with a sustained growth in recent years. Of that €5.5 billion comes from angels. In fact we have had to professionalize our profession to meet the demand of the growth in this early stage ecosystem.”

We always have an exit strategy

“Angel investors can only continue to invest if they have exits. I hear many people talk about investing. Only a few discuss exits. I want to change that. I also stress that proven entrepreneurial success is essential in order to become a member of our association. We need to ensure that useful “lessons learned” are shared with the start-ups. They are always based on hands-on real-world experience. We have no time for people who are using new blood to try and correct mistakes they made in their own failed companies.”

“EBAN was started in 1999 together with the European commission. For the first ten years, I think people were too focussed on the investing part. Now we need to focus on exits and returns on investment. Without returns, business angels are out of business. And remember there is only a short window of opportunity during which start-ups can scale-up to becoming global success stories”.

“Our feeling is that you should not make an investment in a company unless you can see the path for the exit. The exit may be a trade sale, an IPO, etc. The exit also does not have to be 100 %. It does, however, have to bring you a return on your investment so that you can continue to invest. This approach helps you focus on building great companies. There’s always competition in healthy markets, so no-one can afford to waste time. We’re not a charity; we’re doing this because we love building and financing global success stories. We’re therefore looking for companies with a real marketable product, not a prototype or a collection of well-presented ideas.”

Is there specific advice you can share with high-tech startups?

“In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the accelerators alongside incubators. They have helped raise standards because a good idea needs to be validated by the market before it is the basis for a high-growth company.”

“As investors, we always need to see a start-up demonstrate that they have first clients and initial revenues. We’re not saying that they have had to scale or show market traction. But if we are going to put in our personal money, then we expect the founder to be resourceful enough to work out the first product, to have found the first clients and show us evidence of the first revenues.”

“The incubators who help get an idea into reality and the accelerators have been good at making startups better prepared for angel investment, offering the right coaching to turn an idea into a validated business. That means angel investors are better able to select the growth companies and focus on making a good return on their investment.”

Hanneke Stegweg

“We recognise that young companies need to present their business proposition to the angels attending our annual conference. So we’ve created ways that teams get immediate, honest feedback on the quality of their business presentation. We have one full day of preparation and coaching followed by a Global Investment Forum. The best go on to pitch to the entire network. This year, the “company to watch” category was won by Hanneke Stegweg, who is the Dutch CEO of the iLost company. Together with Neelie Kroes, I am keen to see more women founders lead entrepreneurial teams.”

What needs to change for things to move faster?

“We held this year’s EBAN congress in Eindhoven at the recommendation of several members. They all work in the innovation and financing of innovation field. But this region also came up in our discussions with StartupDelta. We have worked closely with Neelie Kroes when she was with the European Commission.”

“We were tipped off to the High Tech Campus specifically by our Russian members: the Russian Business Angels and the Skolkovo Foundation who are building the Skolkovo science park just outside Moscow.”

“And last, but not least, I know Eindhoven from my work in telecommunications and broadcasting hardware field. We often came here to work with Philips on the establishment of the DVD and MPEG-4 standards.”

“During our visit to the Brainport area it was clear that there is more than enough money in the region and a healthy appetite to invest in innovation. But there are some caveats that we feel need to be addressed.”

“Frankly, I think we are rather tired of the “nice-to-have” e-commerce companies. We would prefer to reinvest in world-class companies who are building something tangible, solving a real-world challenge. They need to demonstrate they can scale and become global.”

“We can see that the efforts by many have helped to raise the bar in the Netherlands and that’s good news for everyone. But remember there is a difference between entrepreneurs and SME’s. Entrepreneurs are the only ones to change our world. They create large companies, worthwhile employment, and that grows into large revenues.”

Failure is not an option

“We should get rid of this talk of failure being an option. If you’re taking angel money, it is NOT OK to fail.”

“If you take third party money, you have a responsibility as an entrepreneur to do everything you can to make a return on the investment of your business angel. The media keeps talking about friends, family and fools. But that’s nonsense! Founders, families and friends build great companies!”

“I have always been a free marketer at heart. Europe and The Netherlands need to create nations of investors. I believe in the power of private sector-led investment. Government needs to follow the leads set by business angels, not the other way round. We are investing our own money and using our years of experience to scale up these companies. An entrepreneur who is not willing to work and dedicate her or his lives 24/7 to achieve the goal should look elsewhere for money!”

“We’re fortunate that the EBAN network acts as a magnet for excellence. We were honoured to have the President of the European Research Council and the Head of Technology Transfer of the European Space Agency address our Congress to show us where the technology trends are going and where we should invest.”

“From a venture and entrepreneurial financing perspective, we were most grateful to our colleagues from the United States who joined with our European, MENA, and African colleagues to set the bar high in creating, building and financing global success stories. Amongst those joining us in Eindhoven from the United States were the president of the Global Accelerator Network from the USA, the president emeritus of the Angel Capital Association of the USA, the President of Start-Up Angels and Board Member of Up Global from the USA. We also welcomed the President Emeritus of the Crowd funding association of the US as well as the chairman of New York Angels. And we were delighted with the presence of David S. Rose, the president of GUST.com. These are some of the world’s best experts in angel investing.”

“They all said they were pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the startups that came to Eindhoven from all over the world. It was well above what they had expected. Start-ups from Africa, Middle East and Europe traditionally explain what they do, rather than explaining to investors why their idea is important. But that’s changing rapidly for the better. Entrepreneurs are also getting better at defining what they need in order to scale-up.”

NEXT STEPS : It’s all about active networking

“I should explain that in expanding our reach in Europe, with have formed alliances with the European Space Agency and the European Research Council. They also have their own accelerators and incubators. I think the onus is on the angel investor community to help bring this scientific community to a higher level of entrepreneurship. They need to think about the market for their inventions from the beginning. I believe we can help these organisations filter out the very best ideas and give those the attention they need to scale ideas into real businesses. There needs to be a validated market need for the technology they are developing.”

“We have two main events. There is the annual EBAN congress, this year in Eindhoven and next year in Porto, Portugal. And we run the EBAN Winter University, this year running from November 17–19th in Copenhagen. We’re doing this with leading organisations active in Europe’s creative industries. And all this is in addition to individual events and competitions organised by EBAN members at a local, regional and national level.

Increasingly we’re assembling cross-border syndicates, both between European countries and increasingly inter-continental networks linking Europe with innovation hubs in Africa, Middle East and North America. As companies scale and go global, it is important they have access to an international shareholder network. It’s a softer landing when they cross continents.

We also believe there is a way in which we can build partnerships with techno-business parks around the globe, led by the flywheel initiatives shown by High Tech Campus Eindhoven over these very fruitful days in the Netherlands.

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About the Author

This article was written by Jonathan Marks, Executive Director at Photon Delta. See more.

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Entrepreneurship

Myths & Facts about Entrepreneurship

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Today, there is a pervasive and nearly deafening mantra insisting that you quit your job and become an entrepreneur. The collective says you should do it today because every day you wait brings you closer to a life of poverty and regret.

A central theme in the entrepreneurial world is challenging the status quo and questioning conventional wisdom in search of new and better ways of doing things. If you’re just going to follow the pack, you may as well just get a real job and call it a day.

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

Let’s take a glance at some of the Myths of entrepreneurship:

1. You’ll be Happier

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

2. You’ll have more freedom, control and work-life balance

If you’re on your own, chances are you’re going to find yourself wearing all sorts of hats and working 24×7 for a very long time. Work will become your life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone feels more freedom and control that way.

3.You’ll be more fulfilled

Do we know what just about everyone loves to do? Great work that accomplishes goals they can be proud of. One can do that working for a big company, a small company, or their own company. Fulfillment has nothing to do with business ownership. If one wants to manage, lead, or run a business, it’s better off learning the ropes in a good company before starting your own.

4.There are no jobs; technology and outsourcing killed them all

It is shockingly untrue. If technology destroyed jobs, then which one will you call the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry on the face of the earth.That’s right: technology. If you can’t find a job, chances are you lack in-demand skills or education, in which case, yes, you might want to consider starting a small business which does not require much of exclusive skill sets in particular.

5.Entrepreneurs Live a Glamorous Lifestyle

That’s again untrue. Most entrepreneurs do not live a glamorous lifestyle; if they do, their investors should cringe. Entrepreneurs are notoriously frugal, hard working and opportunity-obsessed with little time for outside activities. These qualities are not hallmarks of the glamorous life.

Now,Let’s look at some of the facts of entrepreneurship.

  1. Most successful entrepreneurs succeed by exceptional execution of ordinary ideas: See Jiffy Lube, Starbucks and Charles Schwab.
  2. Most successful entrepreneurs concentrate on minimizing risk rather than taking huge risk at the time of starting their companies.
  3. Successful entrepreneurs use their innovative passion in many ways, such as buying companies, creating new ventures within larger companies and re-strategising nonprofits.
  4. More than 80 percent of new ventures are boot-strapped from personal savings, credit cards, second mortgages and the like. The median start-up capital is about $10,000. Waste Management began with a single truck; Sam Walton started with $5,000. So, in short access capital is not required to startup.
  5. Being first to execute well and delight customers is not at all important for success. A lot of startups have entered quite late in a particular startup industry and have done well.

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About the Author

This article was written by Utkarsh Sharma.

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