November 9, 2018

Exploring the unknown: 3 key ingredients to successful venturing

Over the past decade, alongside my partners, I have been testing, failing, succeeding and learning while creating a variety of different concepts all tackling parts of the innovation and venture building process.

For some people our work may seem difficult to grasp. But for us, there has always been a clear common denominator, the one thing we’re all passionate about: exploring the unknown.

Today we announce the next step in our journey by grouping all of our initiatives into one brand: Unknown Group.

Unknown is a global innovation agency. We unlock future business potential by internal and external venturing. Together with our partners, we explore new options for future growth.

To mark the launch, I’d like to share my three key ingredients to successful venturing.

1. TALENT: It’s all about people

To me talent is key. I don’t invest in ideas, I invest in people. However finding the right people can be a tough challenge.

Spotting talent is a skill to master. Since we started the company we invested heavily in building an infrastructure that could give us a continuous inflow of talents, which I think every business owner should do. Through our network with universities and in startup communities worldwide, we are at the grassroot of where talent is born.

Today we bare the fruits of our labour – without our great team we wouldn’t be active in +100 countries, run 10 regional offices and work for top brands all over the world. Our Clients like PepsiCo and L’Oréal are also benefiting from our scouting mechanism as we provide them with the talent and startups they need to explore business opportunities.

Attracting talent is not enough, you need to unlock their potential!

My formula is this: put them in the right spot, challenge them with increasing responsibilities, give them freedom to operate and most importantly give room for failure. I have proof it works. Two interns that started in 2011 now enrich my leadership team as business partners. Things can start flying, as long as you unlock the right talent around you.

To put our money where our mouth is (read more in point 3) we founded our own accredited university this year – The Global School for Entrepreneurship – which is educating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, fostering the next generation of explorers.

2. BUILD: Is it all about luck?

Focusing all of your efforts on talent isn’t enough. You have to explore the unknown, have the guts to pursue opportunities and work your ass off. Some people argue that it’s all about luck but I beg to differ. Yes, luck plays a role but you can foster opportunities yourself, you just need to be ready and willing to step into the unknown, chase it and accept that ‘failure’ could be one of the outcomes.

From my experience there are a few things to take into consideration when building a venture:

If you fail, fail fast

Take our failed venture Chef in the Box, a delivery service for freshly made meals conceptualised in 2011. Witnessing the success of concepts like Deliveroo and HelloFresh, we had addressed a market need but we were far from ready, both mentally and financially.

As my father once said,

It’s easy to start something, but harder to stop.

Although it can be difficult to pull the plug it’s better to fail fast than wasting additional resources and time which prevents you from chasing new opportunities.

Always be ready for scale

That new opportunity for us was our startup platform, Get in the Ring. After launching in 2012 we scaled at enormous speed to 100 countries in less than 3 years.

The secret? Innovative concept, key launching partners and a team with the ambition to take it above and beyond.

I am very proud that today we have supported thousands of talented startup teams from all over the world make deals with big brands, secure millions in funding and gain international exposure.

The key to scaling quickly is understanding why you got traction in the first place and how this value can be captured to its full potential.

Making an impact

It’s all well and good building a venture, but how do you make it last? We all want to make something that outlasts us but that requires persistence and patience.

Building ventures is what we do, making them last and scaling their impact is our ambition.

A great example of a venture that we built and are still managing for our client is the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE). I am proud that in only a few years we managed to build a leading expert centre for entrepreneurship in Europe.

How did we manage to achieve this? Well, with every venture I create I do this exercise: understand all the kinds of value you are creating and for who. Think about how you can make this tangible so that the ones benefiting from it can support you in return, preferably financially.

For example at ECE, our value is supporting startups. But this doesn’t only help the founders, it also creates jobs for the economy, which is something governments are willing to support.

3. INVESTING: Putting the money where our mouth is

Once I spot potential, standing on the sideline is not enough for me. Real commitment comes only when putting money on the table. I strongly believe in sharing upside and risk. A lot of people are enthusiastic about business opportunities until it comes to making a financial commitment. A big part of success comes if incentives are right – that’s what sets Unknown Group apart.

The art of investment

I spent my early twenties learning the art of investments. Our learnings were recognised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands who supported us to publish a book helping new angels that want to start investing in startups.

If you want to start investing, I recommend you first invest with other business angels. It’s more fun, you learn a lot and together you can add tremendous value to startups.

A successful investment we did in a syndicate was in the Dutch Learning Company, which later got sold to RTL Ventures. A big f*ck up was Glashelder a fibre startup which the established firms pushed out of the market. This concept of co-investment is how we started working with James Caan. Together we set up a programme to guide corporates with their investment in startups and scale-ups. We keep them informed with the latest technologies that are ripe for investment in their markets.

This ability to spot potential will become the basis of a new investment vehicle we’re launching next month… so keep your eyes open for that.

It’s these three ingredients: talent, build and invest that form the recipe for exploring the unknown.

Unknown Group is the mothership connecting our work over the last decade and embodying our brands like Get in the Ring.

By capitalising on our experience and expertise, we help our partners formulate their venture strategy, attract the best talent and technology, collaborate with innovators and capture value through investment.

I hope that by reading this, you are able to make better decisions when it comes to building your venture. Better still, I hope it inspires you to explore the unknown with us.

What’re you waiting for? Let’s see what we discover.

Yours, Hendrik