Jeans made by robots

Daily I’m working with startups and on technologies that have the potential to automate repetitive tasks of highly skilled and highly educated workers in the western world. While these workers face a significant change in the skills required to perform their jobs and in some cases unemployment, automation potentially has a more severe impact in other industries. 

Recently a robot was introduced that can produce 800.000 t-shirts daily. Up to now, working with soft fabrics was considered too complex for robots to handle. The advancement in computer vision, AI and robot technology now makes it possible to automate even these complex tasks. And at such a high volume it will significantly reduce the cost of our clothing and as a result will likely displace many, relatively unskilled, workers. This could have a dramatic impact on the economies of countries such as Bangladesh, where textile and garment exports account for approximately 80% of all exports (source). 

This again highlights the need for comprehensive, global, educational programs for digital skills like coding. More of the aid for developing countries should be focused on this.



Branding IP basics for your startup or corporate venture [free checklist]

Too often I’ve seen founders lost for words when asked by potential investors on ‘whether that trademark is still available?’. Whether you’re a startup or a corporate venture, you will need to have your brand related intellectual property sorted out. For many teams their intellectual property is their most important asset and branding properties are no different. Too many teams make mistakes in this or don’t give it the thought required. Doing your research and spending a bit of money saves you major headaches later on. This does not only help you protect your brand it will also help you find out whether you’re infringing on someone else’s brand. Follow these 5 easy steps to make sure you have the basics covered.

  1. Name your startup. Naming your startup is a science and art in its own and a topic of a future blogpost (for now try a google search). For the sake of this article I presume you’ve come up with a name within your team, tried it with a few close friends you can trust and move on to the next step.
  2. Check available domain names. A simple, fast and easy way to find out if your name is still available is to search for its domain name. If the domain name is still available chances are you can start using that name as your brand. Good places to start are NameCheap or as they allow you to search numerous extensions at the same time.
  3. Check trademark availability in relevant markets. Having a domain name available does not mean that the trademark is also available and that you can freely use that name. For this you need to do some research. Trademark registrations are organized on a geographic basis so you need to search your country’s register. All the European registers are combined so you can use this search form for Europe and this form for the US. Important to know is that a trademark is registered for a certain ‘class’ of goods or services. If someone registered your name as a trademark for pet food, chances are you can still use it for your online platform (probably as long as it is not a pet food platform). Not only search for exactly the name you have in mind but also search for similar (sounding) names. You notice that things are already becoming a bit more tricky at this step so if you have any doubts or you want more certainty on availability consult a specialised trademark lawyer, they can conduct an availability search for you as well.
  4. Register your domain names. Before you use your potential name in public or start discussing it with people that you’re not 100% sure you can fully trust, register your domain name. Registering a domain name takes a few minutes and costs less than a cheap meal so there is no excuse not to register your name for the most important and relevant extensions (such as .com, .net, .co .us, your country’s extension and the relevant other more topic based extensions such as .photography or .xyz). You are building some serious intellectual property here and it’s much cheaper to register yourself directly than later buying the domain from someone else. You can compare prices at domcomp. If your budget allows also register adjacent domain names for common typing or spelling errors (this can wait until you’ve secured funding).
  5. Have a logo designed. Sometimes it is necessary to have a logo designed to be able to register your trademark so this is a good time to commision you logo design work. Make sure that when you engage a logo designer that you agree with her that the full copyright of the design transfers ownership to you or your legal entity. Logo design, which is just a small part of the development of your brand, is also the subjects of entire books and websites and likely a future post.
  6. Register your trademark in relevant markets. Registering your trademark makes sure you have the right to use it and the ability to protect it if others infringe on your rights. It is highly recommended that you get the support of a specialised trademark lawyer but you can do it yourself if you’re strapped for cash. Having seen startups fail to obtain the trademark for the name they were using, I would recommend to do this asap (before funding) but if you can take the risk and wait until the funding is in. You can register the trademark for the Benelux, for Europe or Globally (on a country-by-country basis).
  7. Keep monitoring your trademark. After you’ve registered your trademark it’s important to monitor it frequently. This has several advantages. If you notice new applications that might infringe your registration you can prevent that trademark from being registered. And if others are using your trademark without permission you can take steps to stop them from doing so. And last but not least you can extend your registration in case the registration period ends in a certain jurisdiction.

The above 7 steps show that it’s really easy to get the branding IP basics right. It should not take you too much time and money and it will save you trouble later on. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments.


Steve Blank on Lean Startup inside big companies

Great conversation with Steve Blank on applying lean startup principles inside corporates. Short but insightful if you’re working in the domain of corporate entrepreneurship or innovation. Key insights:

  • Allocation of resources between horizon 1 (60-70%), horizon 2 (10-20), horizon 3 (5-10%)
  • Need company wide training program to support the ‘entrenched middle’: horizon 1 executors who don’t know how to
  • Incentive program needs to change to support horizon 3 innovations by current business models executors
  • Get HR involved to embed innovation in KPI’s, job descriptions and incentives
  • Incumbents are incentivized to execute on the short term, startups are incentivized to succeed at the long term
  • Data does not equal customers, in most business it is still required to see the human reaction
  • Great CEO’s do get out of the building and connect to customers
  • Metrics: have you identified hypothesis, validated customer segments, for each customer segment a articulated value proposition. Reference to Investment Readiness Level.
  • BMC ‘customer relationship’ box changes over time. On day one you have no customer, but you get, keep and grow them (acquisition and activation). Later you support and service them.
  • BMC ‘key partners’ box: they’re a partner if you share revenue with them in the beginning. Otherwise they are customers in the beginning. Box changes meaning over time.

Entrepreneurship = inspiration

I can’t sleep. The problem is, I’m inspired.

Today is the highlight of the Dutch celebration of entrepreneurship, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award ceremony. It’s not the company that gets the award it’s the entrepreneur behind the company that is celebrated. And this year’s celebration was different.

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists 2016 the Netherlands (c)
EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists 2016 the Netherlands (c)

The highlight of the evening are the many stories of the entrepreneurs that have been told on stage. The personal motivation, the passion that enables them to keep going. Well respected entrepreneurs share their story ranging from Dutch unicorn Adyen founder Pieter van der Does to world family business award winner Jan-Renier Swinkels of Bavaria.

Fabienne Chapot, one of the finalists, really appealed to the public by radiating the confidence that with a bit of courage you can be an entrepreneur and start your own company or be entrepreneurial within your department. She wholeheartedly supports female entrepreneurship and is a great example herself.

Although all finalists have a growing running business the balance for strategy and execution is exactly the same as for startups. Finalist Biense Visser quoted one of his mentors to highlight this fact: “It’s better to have the strategy 80% right and 100% executed than the other way around”. So true.

The common denominator however is that all entrepreneurs have a great vision for their company that they believe in with every fibre of their being. Pieter Zwart appealed to me with his vision. Coolblue is not a family business but a friends business. It’s embedded in everything he says and the way he speaks about his co-founders and employees. But above all he radiates one thing, his personal motto and the company motto: “everything for a smile”. With this there is a clear customer focus and priority. Key in the success of companies that leave a legacy. Therefore a well deserved winner of the Dutch Entrepreneur of the Year award.

There was one more common denominator amongst the seven finalist. They were all endearing on stage, a tad uncomfortable with the attention they got as a person, knowing it is the team effort that got them there in the first place. The grand finale of the evening was an impressive musical tribute to entrepreneurship. The celebration these entrepreneurs deserve.

An inspiring show but above all inspiring entrepreneurial stories straight from the heart that keep me awake, thinking about how I can be a bit more entrepreneurial and inspire those around me to do so as well.

EY Entrepreneur of the Year award winner celebration (c) Frank Zandhuis
EY Entrepreneur of the Year award winner celebration. (c) Frank Zandhuis

6 Reasons why you need a stellar elevator pitch

Elevator Pitch
(c) Shutterstock / Jacek Dudzinski

It’s a key activity for any startup founder and most accelerator programs pay a lot of attention to it… Pitching! Before the program starts I’m often asked why pitching is such an important aspect. Here are the 6 reasons why you need a stellar elevator pitch:

1. Forces you to explain your value proposition with great clarity

Building a startup is a search for a repeatable and scalable business model. The value proposition is key in this aspect. To find and attract customers you need to be able to use exactly the right words to trigger the customer or the investor that fits your business. It takes practice and validation to find the words that stick in just a minute or less. Your pitch will get better over time and that’s because you’re able to articulate more clearly what you’re doing.

2. Helps to understand your customer’s perspective

To really trigger someone, you need to be able to understand their problem better than they do themselves. In a pitch setting you’re time constrained and you only have a few seconds to grab their attention. They want to hear the rest of your story if you show them you understand them and their market so you can potentially solve their problem. Especially for technical cofounders it can be very difficult to take a customer perspective.

3. To find the people you need to make your vision a reality

A pitch is a perfect opportunity to find a new client, investor or fan. You want to get them to do something: buy your product, invest in you or open their network. Pitching is the perfect way to quickly find out if people are interested in supporting you.

Apart from your story and proposition there is one very important element in doing so: enthusiasm. You have to resonate enthusiasm to get people to become enthusiastic as well.

4. It’s efficient

A good pitch is an opportunity for someone the quickly find out whether they like the value you’re offering and decide to invest more time or not. When you’re in an accelerator and meet hundreds of new people in about 3 months, you rather spend your time with the ones that add value. A good pitch will sort this out for you (or most of it anyway).

5. Enables ambassadors to share your story in person

It’s easy to remember the most important elements of a good pitch.Team members, mentors, investors and other ambassadors in your community will spread your story for you.  Help them to do this by sharing your pitch with them and making it memorable. It will greatly enhance your chances of success.

6. Media love the pitch format

Startups and entrepreneurship are a hot topic for many online and offline media. The pitch format, whether in video or in written form is very well suited for many media formats. Having your pitch ready when talking to journalists will pay you dividends.

How to craft your pitch story and slide deck is a series of blogposts on its own but I’ll give a few pointers here. You ideally have a 1 minute, 3 minute and 8 minute version of your pitch ready. The most challenging is the 3 minute pitch as you need to go beyond the headlines and craft a story while being forced to stick to the most important aspects of the story.

Good resources for drafting your pitch are:

If I’ve missed any reasons or you have some other good resources please feel free to leave a comment.