The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 competition recognises Belgium’s ambitious, fast-growing tech start-ups. The 2017 winner, Teamleader, easily beat its rivals thanks to a spectacular growth rate of 2,097% over the previous four years. We caught up with CEO Jeroen De Wit to learn how his fast-moving company has evolved over the past years.
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Ghent, Teamleader is now active in six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. It serves nearly 10,000 customers, mostly small and medium-sized enterprises, providing them with a cloud-based solution for CRM, project management, and invoicing. The company’s ultimate goal? To help European SMEs work smarter.
How did you feel when you learned Teamleader won the Fast 50 award?
I was immediately reminded of 2015 when Teamleader took part in the Rising Star competition. Coincidentally, my son was born on that day. This time when I got the phone call I thought, now we’re here! All these events were intertwined in my mind. It was quite special.
How has your company benefitted from this recognition?
It made the biggest difference in countries outside Belgium, where we were already quite impactful. Winning the Fast 50 brings you recognition. People are aware of the award, as the competition is also held by member firms in other countries. We didn't have brand awareness in those countries and it definitely helped us.
What challenges does Teamleader face as it transitions from start-up to scale-up?
The first has to do with people. When we started, we hired our friends, like-minded people ready to conquer the world. Over time we realised we needed expertise, proven track records. Senior people have an impact on your organisation, adding structure for example. It helps you stay ahead of competitors.
Second, at the beginning you look for a business plan that works for start-ups. As you expand abroad, all of a sudden you need a scale model.
Third is technology. When you start a software company, it’s difficult to predict what will happen in five years. When you build something for thousands of customers you have to implement more processes, focus more on quality assurance, and design for more growth than expected. Also, technology advances.
Fourth is the financial level. As a start-up, you need to survive without much funding. When you transition to scale-up you start raising money. You have much more responsibility towards customers and shareholders. Some companies keep incurring losses. But I’m quite proud that by the end of 2018 we’ll already be profitable in three countries.
Is Deloitte assisting Teamleader in this phase?
We work closely together. It started with the Deloitte Booster Programme. We were selected for this in 2016. It helps scale-ups shape their strategy and expand their network. It allowed to us address topics we didn’t have the money for. After that, Deloitte assisted us with accounting, payroll, and legal services, also in the other countries. Deloitte was never far away in helping us face our challenges.
How do you imagine the future of Teamleader?
In four, five, six years we hope to become the European market leader in our SME sector. But over the next 12 months we need to make sure our brand grows more relevant in the six countries where we’re already active. Do not underestimate the complexity of adding a new country. Sure, it’s exciting, but it’s super important that you also gain market share. Having only 1,000 customers in a country doesn't make sense.
You’ve co-authored a start-up guidebook, Start-up survival. What advice do you have for ambitious entrepreneurs in Belgium?
Think globally from the beginning. We started with a very local mindset: our first 30 employees were nearly all from Ghent. What I would do differently is immediately start working with more international talent.
Also, constantly invest in yourself. As a founder-CEO, you have to constantly be critical, think ahead, search for mentors, follow courses, read books. It’s super, super important. When I create goals, I think about the development I have to go through. As a young CEO, when you go into a performance review with someone twice your age it’s not easy.
Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 is about recognising tech achievements, connecting the corporate world with tech companies, leveraging best practices in fast growth, and driving international exposure.