In addition to being the CEO of Iron Group, I am also a mentor @ Lafayette Plug and Play I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dounia Agharbi from Lafayette Plug & Play where she collected advice that I give to start ups during mentoring sessions.
“Have you met Anne de Kerckhove…💫
Anne de Kerkhove, CEO IronGroup & Mentor @ Lafayette Plug and Play
Anne has over 15 years of experience in leading some of the fastest-growing technology, media and entertainment companies in Europe. 💪🏽
She is currently the CEO of Iron Group, a company specialized in building and investing in digital subscription businesses. In addition, she also spearheads Iron Capital, its investment fund.
Anne is also one of the most well received mentors to our startups within our strong mentor network. We wanted to share with you the precious advice she regularly provides to our startups. 🤗
Anne de Kerkhove, CEO IronGroup & Mentor @ Lafayette Plug and Play
Previously, Anne was the Managing Director EMEA for Videology, one of world’s largest online advertising technology platforms, where she drove the company’s expansion in over 16 countries in just under three years. She was called the tigermom of Videology. 🐯
Anne is also an angel investor and mentor for early-stage startups and entrepreneurial funds including Metail, CRE and Daphni, and currently holds board positions with 7digital and WeMoms.
You’ve helped Videology expand to 16 countries. What are some of the best advices you can give to startups looking to enter new markets?
The first thing, actually, is to be ready. International readiness is key to developing your product in a new market. Have an amazing product or service, Find the right team, secure the investment and have the right mindset of success which includes taking big risks. You have to be very open and listen to grow your business abroad and love a good fight against international competition.
You have to be bold in your approach, be focused and be sure your ambitions are tremendous.
The second thing is : you must be 100% sure that your product is awesome because you will be the second choice for customers in the new market. Local companies will prefer to work with other local companies except if your product is much better. You will not be the obvious choice therefore your product has to be ready and surpass the other available options. They will have to justify the risk they take to work with you. Be honest with your team and your prospects and be sure to be super stable and beyond the competition.
Financial backing is a key asset. Be ready to invest when you go international. International Growth is risky, you will need a comfortable financial situation to go through the mountain of work and challenges.
#The perfect team 🤝
Mix local people who know the country with people who come with founding experience of your start up. The international team have to be part of the DNA of the company. Local knowledge is important but it needs to be mixed with people from the existing team who know the company and its product inside out.
When you go abroad, you have to have a huge amount of energy. It can be scary and lonely and you are dealing with long hours and jet lag. You have a lot to deal with. So you have to be supported and trusted by your entire company. Trust and support is the key to keep working hard and staying motivated. That and good health. SO take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise even on business trips.
Last but not least : plan your international expansion like a military operation
You have to build a play book with all steps of the process and interdependencies to sequence everything effectively. Military precision is essential mixed with a lot of improvisation.
Be aware that failure comes with international expansion. Stay super honest with your team and acknowledge that failure. Make sure you learn from your mistakes and adapt super quickly.
At Videology, we made loads of mistakes when we first went global. But those mistakes allowed us to learn and reduce the time to enter a new market from 6 months to 6 weeks by constantly learning.
And remember its all about connections. Keep charming people. Use your personality who you are to engage the people.
And laugh about the ackward moments.
At Inspired, I grew our business across 18 markets. Once in Italy, I was hyper prepared for a big pitch. I had researched the company inside out, I had got all key metrics right. I felt on top of the world before the pitch. But when I came to present to the board of directors I found out nobody spoke any English, or French or Spanish; just Italian. So I borrowed a local waiter from a cafe to come pitch with me and the board loved it. I connected with the client and won the deal. 😎 🏆
How you choose the startups you invest in through Iron Group ?
At Iron group we have 18 startups on our portfolio.
When you invest in early stage companies, you don’t have a track record or financial metrics to judge. So you must rely on something else: Your instinct and feeling about the product and the people and the alignment of the vision and the plan.
DO you feel you are meeting amazing entrepreneurs? If no don’t invest. Also Even if the startups have an amazing pitch, if the product/market fit is not clear, I won’t go ahead with the investment.
If the team cannot convey a vision with passion and conviction, I wont invest.
What are the technologies you identify as crucial within the e-commerce and retail industry over the next few years?
Data is at the base of consumer understanding. For any business, leveraging data to improve your communication and your customer experience is fundamental. We are lucky to live in a world with extremely rich data. Now we need to turn it into extremely rich insight.
2. Tech and Cyber Security
It is an obsession we are all going to have. There are so many security issues on so many fronts, from data protection to payments. We have to invest in it.
3. Ubiquity of experience
Connecting offline and online. The relay between digital and physical have to be more seamless and a reflex for all the retailers. They need to leverage on what people think to engage them in the product strategy and build a unique customer experience.
4. Technologies that remove friction
All technologies that make the purchase easier is essential. We must remove the friction from the ecommerce experience from discovery to selection to purchase to delivery. Make things easier for the consumer.
An example of this is Hotel Tonight or Deliveroo. We were always able to order food to our home or book a hotel online before they came along, but these companies have made the selection all the way to the payment for the services easier, thus significantly increasing user experience.
Our startups think of you as a queen when it comes to business strategy. As the closing of deals is one of the major issues for startups, can you give us 3 big tips ?
A real problem for all the young companies is closing and moreover it is very hard to move from trial to big deal.
The more meetings you have, the closer you get to actually closing the deal. Sometimes, You might have to have 10 meetings just for one trial. The thing you have to keep in mind is : how am I going to get the next meeting and progress down the funnel? You have to be proactive and problem solve for your clients to close the deal. You have to be on their team by the end of the process. You have to identify the link between each meeting and understand the needs of all the stakeholders.
Get to know the whole decision making eco-system and the right champion of the projects and then constantly focus on problem solving.
#Ask questions and prepare yourself
Stop pitching without listening. People love talking about themselves. Let them talk ! Leverage people’s information. Prepare well for the meeting, knowing the agenda, the topics you will go through and the ones they want you to go through.
When you close the deal, make connections. It is very important to connect with your client to secure your position and optimize the upsell process as well.
Make sure you pitch to solve a problem.
You are one of our mentors. What’s your feedback on the startups of Lafayette Plug and Play ? What do you get from these mentoring sessions?
The diversity is very impressive. The quality of the people and the passion these CEO’s have is fantastic, and most have identified a real problem. It is incredibly rewarding to share my experiences with them!
I know that being a CEO is quite hard. You feel alone, you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders. And during these mentoring sessions at Lafayette Plug and Play, during a few minutes, I like to making them feel like they are not alone. We share their difficulties and talk very openly. I can feel that it makes them feel reboosted.
Also, these mentoring session are making me more successful at my job! It opens my mind and makes me look at problems differently. Its really a two way process”
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