Founder & Publisher at Silicon Canals
Founder & Senior PR Consultant at PR agency Proudly Represents
Startup mentor at Startupbootcamp
Member of Economic board at Regio Gooi en Vechtstreek
You are an entrepreneur with a journalist background, how did you become an entrepreneur? How did you start to mentor start-ups?
Wow, it’s a long story. In 2008, the high point of the crisis, I lost my job as a sports writer for a daily freesheet and I didn’t know what to do, so I became a freelance journalist. But rates were declining and I felt my career would go nowhere if I stayed just a journalist. Back then, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media were on the rise. I was a social media consultant for a while, with clients like insurance companies and a union, but wasn’t particularly good at it.
I nearly started working for a PR firm, but they couldn’t hire me – again, the crisis.
That didn’t stop me though, and I looked for a good book on Marketing & PR until I found The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott. His motto: think like a publisher, and as a skilled journo that suited me well.
As a way to promote my business, I started blogging for Marketingfacts about marketing, social media, and PR. It landed me a gig for 123 people, an Austrian startup, as a country expert doing PR, social media, and business development. The team there was the best I ever worked, for instance, one of my dearest colleagues is now the Senior Comms Manager CEE for Uber. Others have started a thriving startup. That was my start, basically freelancing my way into the startup community. Over the years, we got in contact with Startupbootcamp, and we mentored many of their startups. It’s good fun, although some of them have gone bankrupt. A startup is no picnic. Even good PR will not save you. Just recently, one of them has gone out of business after three years of intense mentoring and advising. Always painful, but it’s part of the game. It’s a fucking rollercoaster ride from hell…
How did you start Silicon Canals and your PR agency Proudly Represents? Where were the ideas coming from?
One thing led to the other, and by 2013, the business grew into a boutique PR agency catering to startups like Treatwell, Scoupy, Helloprint, Hotelchamp, Quicargo, Trustpilot, Studytube, Hiber, Watermelon, Healthy Workers, Cobase, and many others. We hired a naming consultant, got a logo from a designer, and we are doing the same ever since: corporate PR for startups. Back then, we had an employee who was good at building WordPress websites. I was always nicknaming Amsterdam Silicon Canals; half of our clients were on the canals and cycling around was a daily habit. Luckily, the domain name, Twitter, and Facebook page were still free.
We started it as a fun side-project to evangelize startup-life to other media basically, in Dutch. Nothing more than a hobby project really, but when StartupFest hit Amsterdam we decided to go for it and switch to English. We launched in the same week as Startupdelta with Neelie Kroes taking the helm, for us that was the recognition that our timing was right.
What is your growth strategy for Silicon Canals to be the leader of the start-up’s news and a hub for inspiration?
We surely have had our ups and downs, although recently I met Akansha Srivastava. She’s an experienced managing editor from India who came here with her expat-husband, a senior developer at Booking.com. I was surprised she was on the market still and first hired her as the senior editor. Not soon after, she was promoted to the editor-in-chief, as she grew the pageviews 110% in merely four and a half months. We’re now closing in on 50,000 pageviews, with the ambition to hit 100k next year. For us, it’s about improving everything step-by-step. Better and more writers, more paying clients, a new logo, a new website, four yearly events, etcetera.
How do you combine all your different roles Founder of Silicon Canals, Founder and consultant at Proudly represents, Founders and Director at Nederlandse Persdienst, mentor at Startupbootcamp and other board member positions?
So, besides Akansha who works with me as a near-full time freelancer, we have no fixed staff. Only freelancers. Either I outsource tasks, or I use software that enables me to do my job more efficiently. For the coming year, I am scaling-up those efforts. We have an experienced project manager joining us. We want to grow the publishing house for sure, by opening up new startup blogs in France, Germany, India and perhaps even the Middle East. However, to be completely honest, often I am struggling. That’s why I don’t mentor as often as I would like, and I recently killed the MVP of De Nederlandse Persdienst.
You combine an interesting profile of PR with entrepreneurship. How important is PR for a start-up? Is it all about the branding and the creating the buzz?
PR is all about trust and reputation. Especially for an early-stage startup, which is often more a promise for the future, owning a solid image means the world. Quite often, startups forget to announce their funding rounds. However, investors, corporates, potential partners, and government officials track the rounds and list them accordingly. Hence it’s extremely important, so are partnership announcement, big milestones, and other releases. You can’t imagine what a difference a story in Telegraaf, Sprout or Silicon Canals makes in the eyes of the beholder.
How do you mentor start-ups? What are the first key steps a new start-up has to do?
Launch! Sometimes, it takes forever for a startup to launch, as they tend to overthink or over-engineer. The only way to move forward is to begin as soon as possible. It’s like a good friend, and known investor Ohad Gilad always says: why don’t you start by selling from an Excel sheet? Get some fucking clients and start doing some GD business!
How do your mornings look like?
Chaotic. I have two young boys, and they usually jump on top of me to wake me up. My wife and I take turns in making breakfast and bringing them to school. After that, it’s just a five-minute bike ride to the Bussum office, or I’ll hop in the car to our Amsterdam office. Other than that I have no routine, besides getting coffee asap.
What are you doing with your spare time and during the weekends?
In my spare time, I don’t do a lot. Mostly I am watching some Netflix with my wife or a football game. Because I work so intensely, in the evening, I am completely knackered. In the weekends, we do fun activities with the kids, mostly outdoors as they’re very energetic. In general, we live a relatively sober, family-focused life.
You can read his Golden Rules for Living, here.