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.