How do you get farmers around the world to embrace big data? And how do you deal with losing a fortune? Together with local TV station RTV Noord, Founded in Groningen organized the second edition of Founder Talks, where two remarkable entrepreneurs share their equally remarkable stories, combined with an in-depth interview and questions from the audience.
During this edition at the Groninger Forum last Tuesday, RTV Noord journalist Bart Breij interviewed Dacom CEO Janneke Hadders and Tubber founder Anne de Vries. Janneke, who followed in her father’s footsteps is now in the top 50 of most inspiring women in the Dutch tech industry, and Anne (Nationale Vacaturebank and Holidot) made and lost a fortune and is now doing what he loves with Tubbber, the Airbnb of fancy boats and yachts.
Fired from Microsoft, big in Japan
Based in Groningen and Emmen, Dacom Farm Intelligence helps farmers across the world get the most out of their crops, with tailor made advice based on cutting edge data and sensor technology. The company has been an international authority in agricultural consulting for 30 years and is active in over 40 different countries. Dacom recently signed a deal with a big Japanese company too. “Being in Tokyo was one of the coolest experiences of my life”, she says.
Janneke started working at Dacom after a very brief stint at Microsoft in 2003 and officially took over the family business in 2013. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take over the company at first, because I knew it would be a lifetime commitment and I didn’t know if I was ready for that, so I applied for a job somewhere else”, she explains. “In fact, I was just hired by a company that was taken over by Microsoft that same week. They weren’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing there and neither was I, so I guess you could technically say I was fired from Microsoft in my first week!” she laughs.
The boss’ daughter in a male dominated workplace
Janneke was the first and only woman in a company of 30 people. “Surely there must have been some envy and animosity, you being the boss’ daughter and also the only woman?” Bart Breij asks. “I remember being asked if I was the new secretary and if I was there to write down the minutes of the meeting”, she says, smiling.
“But that really didn’t bother me”, Janneke continues. “I thought it was just funny. And I also never worried that much about being the only woman in the company. The only thing that worried me was that I considered myself a little too young. But working with my dad was really great, because of the mutual trust and we planned much of the company’s future direction together, before I took over.”
Big data and just doing it
Dacom merged with Crop-R last year and the company is now a fully fledged online data platform. The big challenge now is convincing the generally conservative farmer of the possibilities of big data. “We’ve recently partnered up with Reed Elsevier, who also publish one of the leading industry magazines”, Janneke explains. “I’d say the top 20% of farmers are already convinced of our product, but I’m confident we can convince the rest too. You need to be able to show and explain the possibilities of using big data for agriculture, and we can show really practical results. It’s a small industry and word of mouth goes a long way, which is why we’re already active in over 40 countries.”
“What about using the data to create a bigger social impact?” someone in the audience asks/ “Tricky”, Janneke answers. “The data is owned by the farmers, so you can’t throw it out there, unfortunately.” Her tip for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Ask yourself each day where you are and where you want to be, and just go out and do it!”
The Yellow pages and driving a bigger car than your CEO
Anne de Vries’ story has more ups and downs. As a student, he worked for the Yellow Pages, where he discovered he was a natural born salesman. “I was making a good deal of money there and I was one of 20 students writing a business plan for internet entrepreneur Jan-Peter Cruiming’s newest venture, the Nationale Vacaturebank, an online job platform. My business plan was all about an aggressive sales strategy and came out on top and landed me a job as head of sales.”
Anne was living the good life, fancy car, yacht, the whole shebang. Up until the moment the internet bubble finally popped that is. “The company was sold and, even though I didn’t have shares in the company, I left with a comfortable sum of money. I didn’t want to be on anyone’s payroll, so I decided to start another company with Jan-Peter Cruiming.”
Holidot: the most expensive course in entrepreneurship
That new venture was Holidot, a website for comparing hotels and holidays. “We were overconfident”, Anne explains. “We had contracts and advertisers lined up, 25 employees and account managers for different countries. What we didn’t have, was a website, or a product ready and when those things got delayed, that’s when the problems started.”
Anne invested 90% of his personal savings in the company. “I lost 1.4 million euros in less than a year and a half, which is why I call Holidot my single most expensive course in entrepreneurship. I was overconfident and materialistic, and around the time Holidot went under, my father died and my relationship ended. It was a shitty period and the day I had to tell my employees they were out of a job, was the shittiest day of my life.”
Tubber and traveling Greece
“After that period, I decided I wanted to do something I was passionate about”, Anne continues. “I love sailing, so I decided on starting Tubbber. I didn’t have any contacts or a network and I certainly learned from my mistakes, so I decided to travel to Greece and Croatia myself for a few months, check out boat rental companies and meet people in person. That also meant sleeping on those boats some a few nights, because money was tight. But I ended up with a network of people I could vouch for personally, which I think made all the difference in the success of Tubbber.”
“What inspires you the most?” Someone in the audience asks. “I’m not as materialistic as I was. I would say my kids really inspire me. Not just because they’re my kids, but because they love sailing too. With the general population ageing, not a lot of young people take up sailing and it’s not as much a part of your upbringing as it used to be. But when I look at my kids and how much they love it, I’m still confident sailing isn’t a dying hobby.”
Anne’s tip for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Believe in yourself and what you do, and do what you really love. If you’re passionate about something, that’s half of the the success, even if you don’t make a lot of money doing it.”
Photo credits: Douwe de Boer