Mike van der Niet, visualfabriq’s first employee shares his journey so far…
In September 2013, Mike van der Niet was the first employee to join visualfabriq and fill a key team role. Over the past three years, he’s experienced the ride from start-up to scale-up and he is ideally positioned to reflect on how time and experience have shaped the business into the scale-up of today. Mike had enjoyed a successful 14-year career in business intelligence, with the last six years spent as a Managing Consultant for Deloitte Consulting, where he had met visualfabriq co-founder Carst Vaartjes. The business’s other co-founder, Jaco Brussé had once been a client of his.
So what was it that tempted Mike to leave the well-heeled consultancy industry and take his place on a small team with no track record in providing cloud-based SaaS solutions? “What Jaco and Carst had on the go, was something totally new,” Mike says, “Here were the ideas and the clear potential for developing, implementing and supporting the real, tech-savvy solutions that Retail and FMCG companies most need and want. This wasn’t a start-up of techies coming up with ideas for something to sell. They were industry professionals determined to solve problems they had deep experience of. Because I had so much experience consulting to Retail and FMCG companies always grappling with lots of Big Data and no real-time insights, that was very exciting to me.”
“I was also attracted by the lure of a small company,” Mike adds, “The field is open for you to have different working experiences, and to learn, stretch yourself and excel in new places. Positions aren’t fixed in a start-up; you get the chance, for a while, to be a jack-of-all-trades as you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done to build the business and bring an entrepreneurial vision into reality. I saw it as a fantastic career opportunity and a risk I was very happy to take.”
Mike started out in visualfabriq working closely with the tech team in Granada while fulfilling the role of Chief on-the–ground implementer for early Dutch clients, Heineken and Unilever Netherlands.
Almost three years down the line, Mike looks back at where we’ve come from: “visualfabriq hit the ground running with a number of great customers; so right from the beginning, we had a lot on our plates. What we had on our side, is a great team of committed people who were determined to get our game-changing solutions into those first customers’ hands. These early implementations were filled with learning, and we’ve used that to take a great step up in our processes, procedures and routines. Led by our COO, Sjaak Langeveld, we’ve positioned ourselves to go from start-up to scale-up, ready to take on more implementations.”
Another interesting insight of Mike’s is around the intense collaboration with those early customers: “visualfabriq’s customers have been really great. They have been much more understanding of the challenges we faced as a start-up than I imagined possible. They have been so enthusiastic about thinking with us, and working with us to find solutions to challenges. This customer relationship has just been very different from what I experienced consulting to clients by the hour. For our very first customers, every aspect of our solution had to be customised – that’s every screen, every deal, every calculation… We were literally developing our solution hand-in-hand with those first customers. Now we have got to a level where there are a lot more standardised elements to the solution, and we are shifting towards customers being able to make many of the customisations they require themselves.”
“I think my main highlight of the start-up phase,” he adds, “Is the enthusiasm, not just internally where everyone works with great enthusiasm to get a client up and running, but also the enthusiasm of our clients. From the start they have recognised the potential of our solution and they have been excited about what it can do for them. Now that they are working with it, they are so happy. As the business is maturing, so our client relationships are shifting and maturing too. With changes and the building of trust in these relationships, so there is less need for us to be on-site with clients.”
So what is Mike looking forward to as visualfabriq scales up?
“We’ve now developed into a process-led organization with clear procedures, routines and ways of working to manage implementations, development and customer support. Structure has been added to the business, and I like that because I am quite a structured person and I like having procedures in place. It is the sign of the business maturing. As far as the solution goes, we are experiencing increasing standardisation, which is a good thing; we can solve problems now within clear time-frames. Knowing what to expect gives us a new a level of professionalism, which I like. This also starts to free us up to generate new ideas and start developing and releasing new functionality. From a corporate standpoint, there’s great excitement at going international and to be in the process of looking for suitable implementation partners around the world. Growing as a company also means bringing new people on board into our new office. They are bringing fresh energy and ideas, and that’s exciting. We are a fast-growing, agile SaaS Company with a great team of people, and every person who joins our team has a high impact. I think that what we can all look forward to is that this growth is going to enable us to develop more tools, solutions and enhancements, while managing expectations well. This is going to make more time and space for getting back to what we’re good at – transforming ideas into new tools and solutions.”