Koen Loor (22, living in Amsterdam) started his first business when he was just 16 years old. He is currently active in multiple successful start-ups in Amsterdam. The following interview on his experiences, success factors and latest activities is the first of a series of interviews with successful entrepreneurs providing valuable insights into the question: ‘What does it take to be an entrepreneur?’
You started a company called ‘Local Leads Factory’. What is it all about?
Local Leads Factory is a leads generating company for small businesses. We deliver clients to a variety of businesses, varying from accountants and lawyers to plumbers. These businesses are too small to introduce their own marketing department. Based on their input, we build a framework that optimises their business: we build their websites, manage the internet marketing, and design their social media. In short, we provide small businesses solutions that are associated with the activities of a marketing department of a multinational.
How did you end up in this business?
Seven years ago, I got into trouble in high school. They offered me a choice: either better yourself and get your thoughts straight, or be expelled. The ultimatum got me thinking about my future, and I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur. At the age of 16, after getting the necessary raising of distraint in court, I went to the chamber of commerce to start my own company: LoorMedia. I still wasn’t able to buy my own cigarettes, but at least I was legally responsible for my own business. Loor Media provided website and marketing solutions. I knew how to make a website, but not on the level the clients were expecting it to be. Therefore, I hired guys that were talented in programming and design to build the websites, while I was managing the relationship with the client. From that perspective, I started meeting people at entrepreneurial community meetings in Amsterdam. As a 16-year-old entrepreneur, I was provided with business opportunities by small and big businesses.
What do you think is the reason for your success?
Referring to the famous slogan of Nike: ‘Just do it’. Besides, finding, acquiring and having the right people believe in you formed an important success factor. My business partner, at that time 62 years old with experience at top 500 fortune companies, became a mentor to me. He taught me everything he knew, varying from strategic planning to marketing and human resource management. Not that important to me at the time, but still necessary. It expanded my mindset, thinking beyond the limits of a small company. After 10 months, we started a company together: Business Web Balance. The company produced websites from a different perspective. During a business reflection in four hours with stakeholders and clients, the old ‘front door’ was transformed into the ‘back door’, while turning the new website into the ‘front door’. I didn’t say much during these meetings with professionals with more than 30 years of business experience, but I learned a lot. Thinking you’re the smartest guy in the room is allowed, as long as you don’t act like it. In the end, I’m glad I started with entrepreneurial activities at a young age. When one graduates from university, one is supposed to work at a professional level, having responsibilities a 16-year-old doesn’t have. As a consequence, a mistake made by a 26-year-old has bigger consequences than one made by a 16-year-old.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Employees determine 90% of your success rate. At the start-up phase, one has to work and think hard to keep the business running, but that doesn’t necessarily provide clients with a better product. After a while, employees that focus on one particular aspect of the company are hired. Naturally, the product keeps developing as the employees working on it are flourishing as well. Thus, employees are vital to advance and grow the business. Without the right employees, it would be impossible to succeed.
Does one have to work hard to be an entrepreneur?
First and foremost, being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle. One can’t learn to be an entrepreneur: you either are one or you’re not. Furthermore, there are different types of entrepreneurs. Strictly speaking, one is an entrepreneur once they’ve started their own company. Personally, I think an entrepreneur is setting up a series of businesses, constantly looking for new opportunities. Entrepreneurs are different from everybody else, always looking for an edge, looking for improvement. That requires hard work. Sometimes one works at night, sometimes one doesn’t sleep for a week because of imminent deadlines. That’s the life of an entrepreneur.
What would you say are important skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur is an excellent people manager, especially when hiring and managing employees in the start-up phase. Second, entrepreneurs need to be able to see the opportunities, while taking calculated risks. In the end, I am happy that I didn’t finish university. Not that the education system is ineffective, but I learned to recognise failure. While others were studying academic papers, I got the chance to get familiar with business processes, seeing all opportunities and failures that are associated with it.
Did you ever think of quitting?
Never. I did think about returning to university, although I questioned the added value. In the end, you’d have to ask the question: ‘Do I want to be an entrepreneur the rest of my life?’ Over time, one could act as an investor, but one would never lose the distinctive entrepreneurial way of thinking. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.
If you could time travel back to day one of your start-up and have 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and headache, what would you tell yourself?
I think I wouldn’t say a thing. Every mistake, every challenge, every experience was worth it, because it made me a better entrepreneur. I wouldn’t want to miss out on any experience, even if it would save me a lot of time and trouble. I think I will enjoy the moment of seeing my 16-year-old megalomaniac self again, dreaming big, facing the challenges along the way.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Success is achieved more easily when you have the right people surrounding you. Conglomerate a board of advice filled with smart people. When writing a business plan, ask advice from the board, but don’t stop believing in your idea. Partner up! Individually, making the step to financial success is tough, because one has to do everything by thyself. Business partners that complete each other are far more effective in reaching success.
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
First, I like cherishing the small successes such as getting your first client, getting your first investor, or getting your first 1.000 leads. These don’t have to be business-related successes; it might as well be that you’ve bought a funny-looking fish that made your day. These small successes keep you motivated. Second, I like the freedom that is inseparably connected to entrepreneurial activities. Yes, an entrepreneur works hard, up to 100 hours a week. However, unlike a regular Joe with an office job, I’m free to have a beer with a friend during my lunch at 2 p.m.
What are your future plans?
I am not really interested in the optimisation processes that are associated with a maturing business. Therefore, I would love to remain active in the concept phase of companies. I want to keep searching for opportunities, starting innovating businesses, being a successful serial entrepreneur. Being a part of those start-up activities is one of the most fascinating aspects of being an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, one can change the world.