In this monthly podcast, we put a few of our many startups together in one room, to talk about their road to business success. In this episode, we focus on technology with two tech-entrepreneurs: Johan Vos, co-founder and CTO of Gluon, and Hilde Van Brempt, co-founder and Business Development Manager of iDalko.
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When did you take the jump to become an entrepreneur?
Vos: At my first try, I didn’t even realise I was doing something entrepreneurial. When a started my PhD in 1996, I needed a language to visualise physical processes. I looked into the Java language, which was very new then. But Java didn’t exist on Linux back then, and I worked on a Linux SPARCstation – I was probably one of only 5 or 6 people in the world. So with a group of people, we decided to do it ourselves and we ported Java to Linux.
Looking around me, I saw many IT projects failing. Companies which have invested in back-end systems in Java, wanted their functionalities on mobile as well. Their users were begging for it. They went into a panic mode when it comes to mobile. The projects were outsourced and written in non-mature technologies, by people who didn’t care about security and privacy. To combine the need of enterprises to offer security and privacy, with the software that was available at that time, we started a new company.
Are you currently building products, or building a company?
Vos: I still prefer to work on the product, but I also realise that the bottle necks of our company are not in the products, they are in the whole entrepreneurial aspect. You need to have Sales, Marketing, Finance, Legal, Support… For me, as a techie, that’s the difficult part. But it’s extremely important, otherwise there would be no company.
Do you feel the same way, Hilde? Do you need to build a company, in order to build products and bring them to your customer?
Van Brempt: Absolutely. I’m mainly interested in the building of the company, my co-founder is the technical guy who worries about the product. What I really love to do, is build a company around the product and then make sure it gets to the right market. I have a technical background, but I‘m more into business development. I know how to talk to the tech guys, but I do like setting up the operational part: the support, reaching out to customers, setting up campaign and so on.
How did you get started with iDalko?
Van Brempt: iDalko was only born a few years ago. I had previously worked in big IT companies, where I learned a lot about internationalisation, globalisation, product marketing, working with sales… But a few years ago, I thought: “been there, done that”. I really wanted to start something of my own and use all my knowledge to start a company by myself.
We’re talking about tech, but most people don’t get very excited about the world of technology, although they experience the consequences and possibilities every day. Do use cases make technology more tangible for people?
Vos: What we are doing at Gluon is pretty boring to most people, even my family has no idea what I do. But it’s actually very important. We are enabling enterprises to extend their functionalities to mobile and embedded. We offer extensions that give enterprises control of their mobile back-end or cloud, and that rely on the safety, security and privacy procedures of Java.
That may sound abstract, but you can develop many things on top of our software. One of the nice things that I’ve see came from NASA. Once their satellites are in space, they are pretty hard to navigate. Their trajectory depends on the gravity of all the other solar elements. In order to calculate the best trajectory, NASA uses a tool called the Deep Space Trajectory Explorer. That tool allows them to visualise how a satellite would go, if it is launched it a bit more to the east, or a bit later in time, for example. For that visualisation, NASA uses one of our tools, on personal computers, laptops, tablets and phones.
Hilde, you create tools for Agile teams. Is Agile still the way to go or are there other technologies coming up now?
Van Brempt: I asked my developers that same question and they tell me it’s still the way to go. Agile more or less breaks down a big problem into smaller problems, and then starts solving those problems. There are still companies contacting us because they want to evolve from older methods to the Agile method.
What’s interesting about Agile, is the fact that its moving out of the software development sphere. Now, you have Agile project management or Agile business, building Agile organisations for example. Agile has been lean and mean, ready to change - just like its name says.
Is that a philosophy we see in the startup world as well?
Van Brempt: Yes it is. As a startup, you need to be lean and mean, you need to be agile and discover the market as you go along.
Before we move on to the final part of this podcast, I would like to know how you found out about Start it @KBC. What did you get out of the community that helped your business?
Vos: We were introduced to Start it @KBC by our American users. They told us about this startup hub in Belgium that we had to check out. It’ funny that we went all the way to the US to find a startup hub in Leuven. Start it was very useful for us, with our limited knowledge in HR, legal and so on. The network that Start it offered, was very helpful to us. We still occasionally contact legal companies that were introduced to us by Start it, for legal advice.
iDalko was one of the first startups to benefit from the Start it @KBC fund. How did you close that deal, and what did you get out of it besides the funding?
Van Brempt: We started with an idea and after two years, we had the product Exalate. That product was completely funded by ourselves. But to grow a network of thousands of companies, we needed to grow faster than just the natural, organic growth we were experiencing. Instead of growing slowly, we needed extra funding. That was about the time the Start it @KBC fund was founded.
To close a deal like that, it’s important to show that you know the market and you know the figures. You need to be prepared and have a business plan ready. We now have someone of KBC Securities on our board. It’s always a good idea to have someone external involved, for a fresh view on the business. With an external board member around the table, those formal board meetings keep us alert and focused on following our business plan. So it’s about much more than just funding.
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Have you listened to the first two episodes? Our first podcast starred Steven Pyck of Sympl. In the second episode we focussed on Diversity, with entrepreneurs Ingrid Renders (Maison Slash) Aline Muylaert (CitizenLab) and Hassan Al Hilou (AGE Diversity).
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Hilde Van Brempt is the co-founder and Business Development Manager of iDalko, a specialised service provider on the complete Atlassian product suite. The company’s flagship product is Exalate, a tool that connects and synchronises the data of companies with that of their business partners. Follow Hilde Van Brempt on Twitter.
Johan Vos is the co-founder of Gluon, a company that provides end-to-end solutions by developing cross-platform mobile apps that easily connect to enterprise back-ends and cloud services. To find out what he’s up to, follow Johan on Twitter. Want to know more about Bruno Lowagie, than be sure to check out iText.
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