Our Vlerick Venture Talks bring students face-to-face with pioneering entrepreneurs – and a chance to discover the real-world secrets of their success.Part of the MBA experience is getting the inside track on how to start up from seasoned – and successful – entrepreneurs. Our Vlerick Venture Talks bring MBAs, Masters students and alumni together with trailblazers from every sector and industry who share insights and real-world lessons learnt along the way.
Earlier this year, Luis Zambrano (Full-time MBA 2019) had a chance to hear from Stefan Tournoy, co-founder and managing director of e-retail platform, Vente Exclusive, and Thomas Paris, founder and head of growth, MAD Kings, one of Belgium’s leading e-marketing agencies.
Here are his five key takeaways on how to navigate disruption and plot a route to success in a crowded and volatile space.
Reframe the problem
Something that both Stefan and Thomas stressed is the need to sit down and really think about the business problem that your start-up is going to address. And this resonates with something that Professor Hans Crijns talks about in our Entrepreneurship classes. Entrepreneurs sometimes make the mistake of focusing on the solution before they’ve thoroughly understood the challenge in all of its dimensions. Successful businesses are those that reframe the problem, looking at it from an array of different perspectives, so that they can confidently and effectively anticipate and respond to every aspect of it. Professor Hans Crijns referred to a quote by Albert Einstein that I think sums this up beautifully: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Fail it till you make it
There’s an expression in popular culture – “fake it till you make it.” In entrepreneurship, it’s more about failing than faking.
One of the distinguishing traits of the successful entrepreneur, as Thomas explained, is a kind of resilience to failure. Starting MAD Kings took a lot of attempts – putting together different business cases and seeing them fail time and time again until he and his team got it right. Entrepreneurship is a marathon and a lot of start-ups fall by the wayside because they cannot sustain momentum in the face of failure. So it’s critical to have the talent, the resources and the stamina to try. And try again.Give it your all
Part of building resilience to failure is also being prepared to give everything you have to starting up.
For Thomas that meant withdrawing from several other projects to focus exclusively on MAD Kings, which he believed to offer the most potential. You have to be 100% committed to your idea and be able to share this commitment – and your belief in your business – with potential investors and clients. If you don’t give it your all, no one else will either.
One of the most insightful things that Stefan shared was that true entrepreneurs are constantly alert for new ideas and opportunities to grow or diversify. He has learnt to leverage the understanding and the experience he has gained from starting Vente Exclusive to spot and evaluate new ideas, and to go after them with energy and confidence. There’s little room in entrepreneurship for complacence, especially with the pace of change and disruption that characterises today’s landscape. The successful are those that stay restless.
Those who dare win
Successful entrepreneurs are also those who are prepared to dare.
Both Stefan and Thomas had plenty of stories to share about the different challenges they’ve faced and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome. Along the way they’ve learnt a great deal about the importance of finding the right balance of belief, knowledge, skills and persistence to sustain momentum when the going gets hard. But by far the most difficult thing either of them has faced is taking that first step, and daring to bring an idea to life in the first place.
Listening to Stefan and Thomas, I’ve come away with a new understanding: entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are most definitely worth it.