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On June 1, Ghent-based software company Teamleader is once again organising Work Smarter, the inspiring networking event for entrepreneurs.
What to expect? 4 different stages, an HR and accountancy dome, workshops, nearly 40 top speakers, and plenty of opportunities to network. And, just like last year, this will take place at a historic location: the legendary Kuipke and Floraliënhal in Ghent.
On the occasion of this event, we spoke with CEO Jeroen De Wit.
First and foremost: there have been many doomsday scenarios about the economy lately. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the moment?
Actually, they’re the same challenges that are always there, each moment in time has its pros and cons.
On the one hand, there is a huge challenge when it comes to talent, the famous so-called ‘war for talent’. Not only do we have to find the right people, but we also have to be able to keep them in our organisation. And actually, we’re doing quite well in that department: our employees report that they like it here. But the search for recruits for which we do set the bar quite high, remains a challenge. It’s especially hard to find highly skilled, more technical people.
On the other hand, we’re still growing and expanding. That’s always a quest. In the summer of 2022, we became part of the Visma group. By joining Visma and the broad support, we can accelerate our growth ambitions at Teamleader.
As an entrepreneur, where do you find the energy to guide you through these challenges?
We get a lot of appreciation from our customers. They’re very grateful to us. The fact that we can make an impact there, that we can drive those SMEs forward, gives us great satisfaction. We also receive a lot of praise from our colleagues. They too are growing, of course, under the wings of Teamleader and those stories are gratifying.
Now, when I think of myself as an entrepreneur, I believe that my curiosity is definitely a driving force. I try to plan a lot, but there are some things you don’t expect. In the past 10 years, I’ve had the luxury of constantly challenging myself or being challenged. This, of course, has enabled me to discover many new things. And as long as you can learn, as a person, I think you will come out on the other end as a stronger human being. So every day, when I wake up, I look forward to discovering what it is I’m going to learn that day. And that, of course, gives me energy.
As long as you can learn, as a person, I think you will come out on the other end as a stronger human being. So every day, when I wake up, I look forward to discovering what it is I’m going to learn that day. And that, of course, gives me energy.
Looking to the future, what would you like to achieve? What is your bucket-list, as an entrepreneur?
I want to continue to grow and continue to build the company together with our clients and employees. I believe we have what it takes to grow from a leader in the Benelux to a leader in the European market.
In the next phase for our company, it is important that we join a good technology partner who can help us with our plans. We have joined a winning team at Visma where we can maintain autonomy to continue our business while receiving help in the areas of technology, security, and operations. In addition, there are many companies within Visma that serve the same target audience as we do. This allows us to jointly seize the opportunities that exist in the market.
International growth is very important to you at the moment. What tips do you have for companies that also want to take that step?
It’s not easy, of course. I dare say we have gained some experience in it over the years. Meanwhile, more than 50% of our turnover comes in through our foreign offices. So, we can state that we’ve already achieved a number of great things abroad.
What’s interesting in that context is that you can become big in a small pond. In other words, you shouldn’t want to go to too many countries at once. It can be more interesting to go to certain countries, establish a branch that becomes relevant and stable enough, and then move on to the next region. Because you have to realise that this puts a lot of pressure on your organisation: investing time and money in a product roadmap, marketing campaigns, you name it. In that respect, it can certainly be a good thing to do it in different phases.
Of course, it also depends to a large extent on the market in which you’re active. If I look at our target group, the SMEs, then that local character is very important. The language, and specific adaptations to the software, and customer support, for example, are things we have invested heavily in. And that has certainly paid off.
You can become big in a small pond. In other words, you shouldn’t want to go to too many countries at once.
Yet you choose to stay here with your headquarters - for which we are very grateful, of course (laughs). But why is Ghent such a good city for business?
Ghent is a fantastic city for entrepreneurs (laughs)!
It’s the largest student city in Flanders. Last year, some 84,000 (!) students enrolled here. That means you have a huge pool of future employees. We are, without a doubt, enormously grateful for that. Ghent also has that healthy mix: students, tourists and locals. There are a lot of students (mainly from West Flanders, you know who you are) who also 'stick around' in Ghent. So we must have a certain attraction.
In addition, we’re blessed with the beautiful location of our office: Dok Noord, on the edge of the historic centre. Many of our colleagues work close to home and come on foot or by bike. By the way, now that we are talking about the historical centre, it also gives us an attractive image on an international level. We have a very rich history, with those visible monuments in the city centre. And we should not forget that Ghent has always been an international trading centre, with the textile industry and the port as important assets.
But that's not all. There’s also a lot of innovation that takes place here. What you see is that Ghent is currently bringing together stories around technological start-ups and scale-ups, so many people find it worthwhile to move here and see this vibrant growth with their own eyes. They sometimes even want to come and live here, working for companies like Teamleader. Who can blame them? There is a pleasant atmosphere here: work and life often flow seamlessly.
So: no regrets? Don’t you sometimes wish you could have tasted the benefits of being an employee first, rather than immediately becoming a student-entrepreneur and then later CEO of such a large company?
(firmly) Never! Because I enjoy what I do far too much (laughs). I like my job, like, a lot. Is every day as much fun as the last? No, of course not. There are also less pleasant days, especially in the beginning, when I didn't have much experience. But over the years I’ve grown in that respect and I’ve been able to hire people who do have that experience. Thanks to them, I was able to grow at a fast pace. Meanwhile, I can detect pitfalls in advance and respond appropriately or even avoid them if necessary.
What you see is that Ghent is currently bringing together stories around technological start-ups and scale-ups, so many people find it worthwhile to move here and see this vibrant growth with their own eyes. They sometimes even want to come and live here, working for companies like Teamleader. Who can blame them?
One final question: What’s your ultimate advice for new, unexperienced entrepreneurs?
My golden tip is this: dare to hire people you wouldn’t normally hire.
I also talk about this in your video. Sometimes you talk to people of whom you think 'maybe they’re a jacket too big for the job I can offer today!'. Of course, in a fast-growing environment, you should not be looking for someone for the next 3 to 6 months, but hopefully for the challenges of the next 2 to 3 years. Hence, when you start writing job descriptions, you should really dare to take into account the growth you have in mind. Every now and then, you have to attract a person of high calibre.
I remember moments, when we were still a small start-up, when you think 'that person will not want to come and work here, because we cannot pay that salary at the moment, they will not find us professional enough, we have not yet developed the processes enough', you name it. But you should not underestimate that many people are looking for a job in which they can make an impact and where they can increase their level of job satisfaction. That makes them willing to join a smaller organisation.