What does it mean to make it in the north? In this series, we will be featuring local people, organisations, and companies working to further internationalise Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. In this instalment, we meet Derren de Jong, who is a business developer that specialises in Dutch and international start-ups.
By Morten Pedersen
Derren de Jong might look relaxed as we meet in the Drents economic powerhouse of Emmen, but his hoodie and cap belie an unbelievable drive to help start-ups.
What made you work with start-ups in general?
I’m a big fan of Elon Musk and the way he has been doing business. In the beginning he sold off his companies and then invested those money into even larger enterprises, and then sold them off and then invested an even larger sum into his next venture, and so on. It’s the type of entrepreneur I would like to be, where accruing money isn’t the goal, but the method through which to dream and build even larger successes. Of course, I would like to earn a good living, but it’s not the main thing for me. I don’t really like being extravagant!
Or to say it simply – I’m not motivated by money on a personal level, but what you can do with money: that motivates me.
You do business coaching and business development for small start-ups that usually don’t have large funds. How does that work out?
One method for business coaching is to charge an hourly consultancy rate in agreement with the start-up or a monthly fee, but that often means that you don’t get a deep feel for a company. Our preferred method is called ‘Zero to One’, where we take a minor equity share, usually from 8 to 12%. It makes it more difficult, but it also gives us a shared responsibility with the start-ups to actually advise them the best way possible. And then sometimes we also do a hybrid model between these methods, where we take a smaller equity share and then the company pays us a small monthly fee, for example.
The drawback from the equity model, is that it can take sometimes up to 3 to 7 years before there’s any profit. In those first years, profit is unlikely to occur, but every business needs time.
Do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
No, not really. I was the child who got bored easily (and still does). My mother thought that I was lazy and pushed for me to either join the military or be a sailor and so I joined the maritime academy and sailed for something like 2 years. I’ve sailed on a chemical barge and on a sand barge and then one day I just got fed up with just doing the manual chores, like cleaning rust off and servicing machines and I asked myself, “Is this what you really want to do?”, and the honest answer was “no”. Then I went back to school and started studying law, so something completely different, and on the side I worked as a copy-writer, translating and writing text for webpages and so on. That grew and suddenly I had my own business with 60 customers.
During that period, I got tired of working alone and wanted some colleagues, and somebody recommended me to Growing Workplace, a co-working space in Emmen. I loved it and soon after, someone asked if I could help them with different stuff in the organisation behind the co-working space and I ended up on the board after a couple of months.
During this period, I realised there was a lot of different things related to start-ups that was way more interesting than copy-writing, such as coaching and starting up projects and business and I ended up setting up a lot of projects and business’ together with other people as well.
And now you work with international start-ups in Emmen. How did that happen?
The thing that set me off, was when I experienced how a friend of mine from Ghana had so many problems getting his business started here in the Netherlands. The need for facilitators, the need for a specific visa, and a lack of guidance through the process in my local area (this was before the IWCN!). My mantra is that to be entrepreneurial is a mindset, and that mindset doesn’t have a nationality. It also doesn’t have boundaries: it is just a way of being. So when I saw this entrepreneurial spark in this friend, I felt inspired to help him and others. If we and other organisations didn’t do this, it would not only be bad for the individual start-ups, but it would also be bad for the regional economy to lose out on all this money and brainpower!
Morten Pedersen is a facilitator working on the Make it in the North site. The IWCN is one of The Northern Times’ founding partners.