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The lessons we learned from our start-up

Early 2009, we wanted to help the senior management of organizations to make real progress, primarily relying on our own practical experience. We noticed that our advice, given by experts in the field, has a real impact and that our suggestions, made by people confronted with the same challenges, can be very effective.

However, we also realized that practical experience only wasn’t sufficient. Therefore, we started to combine our experience with the best programs available on the market. We have been inspired by the work realized by people such as Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, in the field of stakeholder centered coaching. We have built and tested some new programs ourselves. In spite of the fact that we all had lots of experience, we had to reinvent ourselves and to invest in our own training. Early 2009, we started.

Almost immediately after our start-up, we received our first missions. To our great relief. Although we believed in our proposition, we were not sure at all whether another new company would be successful. Moreover, it subsequently appeared that in the beginning of 2009, we were in the middle of the biggest economic crisis since World War II. Nice timing… Luckily, we know now that most of our clients came back to us with more business. Furthermore, people who have participated in our programs, started to recommend us in their networks. These are two essential parameters we also apply to ourselves when we assess the health of our own business.

For our company, working with low fixed costs sometimes literally made the difference when it came down to ‘survive’, especially during the first two years. From the beginning onwards, we have opted for a cost structure which is as low and flexible as possible, without giving up on the quality of our service. With a limited budget, we keep on investing quite a lot in our digital footprint. You can find us on Twitter.com (@pauldonkers, @bernarddoorenbo), on Facebook and our entire team can be found on Linkedin.com. For several years now, we are writing columns in English and Dutch. On www.tencompany.org we have developed a library containing more than 100 articles which we put at your disposal as free sources. Our website has become a source for relevant information. Recently, we have welcomed our 10.000th visitor to our website. In the past few years, we have had visitors from 66 different countries. Selective investments, patience and low fixed costs have been very important conditions for us, allowing us to survive during the first years.

It subsequently appeared that our company’s back office system was initially too simple. Meanwhile, we dispose of an internally functioning report system and a financial dashboard enabling us to visualize the financial status of our company in real time. We are proud to have immediately developed it 'in the cloud', so that it is accessible worldwide, 24/7. In hindsight we should rather have prepared ourselves to a system for a decent financial planning earlier on.

For those of you who are considering a start-up or want to become an entrepreneur, I summarize the lessons we learned:
  1. You should always be guided by the passion with which you once started your company, especially when all other elements are under pressure.
  2. All stakeholders are important, but without paying customers, there simply is no company.
  3. Keep your fixed costs as low as possible, but dare to invest in the fields making the biggest difference…
  4. … and give the seeds you have planted time to grow. In this context, impatience and budget fragmentation are your biggest enemies.
  5. Pay attention to the cash position and put the company on working capital also.
  6. Repeat your message towards the market. It works!
  7. ‘Everybody’ can sell something once. Never over-promise and make sure you sell top quality, so that your clients keep coming back and recommend you within their network.
  8. Get some advice from professionals you can trust and who complement you. It is a cliché, but you really can’t multiply without dividing.

We are grateful to all of our clients who have been entrusting us with their business during the past few years. Therefore, we sincerely say ‘THANK YOU’ to the people who have been supporting us from the beginning. Their support has made the difference for us.

Everything changes; panta rhei. Undoubtedly, we will have to adapt ourselves again in the future, but we will do everything to remain proactive and to react as flexibly as possible, with one objective: to help our clients in a better way, so that they can become even more successful.

On behalf of the tèn company team,

Paul

By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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