What I’ve learned, 6 months after bankruptcy (of a Dutch crowdfunding platform)

 

 

The co-founder of the crowdfunding-for-apps-startup SellanApp, Milan van den Bovenkamp, speaks out about the lessons learned after he hit bankruptcy.

I jumped on the bandwagon with someone else’s idea, after 3 years of fiercely working on making my coworking community successful. While almost burning out 21 years of age, just after finishing my bachelor degree.
Starting SellanApp together with a co-founder was not the best idea, it was a great idea and the best decision at the time. I never regret that, because now I have deep practical knowledge in (crowd)funding, investors, building a team, doing partnerships, online communities, etc. Next to that:

Now I understand technology in such a way I am endlessly excited how it is changing the world and improving people’s lives.

Every day I am reminded of SellanApp, in e-mails, in people talking to me, or universities asking me to share insights to their students. I feel that I owe my family and friends an explanation, investing their hard earned time and money in me and the idea I worked for. Thank you so much for granting me this opportunity to learn!

The culture

I can say the partnership I had with Aernoud Dekker was not healthy, for which we were both to blame. There were times I felt empowered, there were times I felt crippled. Co-founding is all about mutual respect, about being in there together. My partner wanted to be the founder, and I was the co-founder, it’s just two letters but those two letters meant the world in SellanApp.

Things were (almost) always discussed with me, but there was never a healthy brainstorm or discussion. In a company where a business model is proven, good business partners can work together and complement each other.

When you have a new model, you need great partners having healthy discussions, every day. They enable each other and good design happens. There’s one person that likes to bounce ideas back and forth to make it better on the go, and the other person that wants to plan, backed up by research and all on a silver platter. Expectation levels of a discussion needs to be in sync.

Put different people together defining success in a different way, it’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t get me wrong, Aernoud is a brilliant man with great ideas and the most impressive experience in business! But our visions were not aligned, and we took too long to found that out.

For example, when we were hiring. It’s best to put an opening up, have lots of conversations with people and compare and discuss the multitude of people. We just hired people on the spot after one or two conversations, just after meeting them. They were good people, but were they great for SellanApp? We could not answer this question because we did not talk to enough people. In our top time we had 12 people working for us (6 in house and 6 freelance), all these people were hired ‘on the spot’. It takes time to find great people for your idea and vision, but it’s so worth it.

A month before bankruptcy, my partner told me we were close of being forced to quit, rather than we had a decision. It was devastating for me, because he told me things were steady and we actually had a shot of getting some funding to grow further.

I was on a planned RV roadtrip with my dad and sister, when I got a text message from my partner he wanted to pull the plug. After that news, at the start of my holiday of a week I was all hands on deck. All the ideas I had written down over the years I turned into a solid plan. I spent hours and hours every day to find the way to make this all work. I came back jaded, my only week of holiday (for me meaning being offline and not producing, just consuming) was ruined, especially because he then finally showed me the real numbers.

By the time I saw my chance to step in… it was too late. We were in too much trouble, the red numbers overshadowed the means to change or start over.

Make sure you have a complete overview of the financials, not only a glimpse… ask the right questions by having clearer KPIs and make sure you maintain them.

Crossroad

Autumn 2013, one year before bankruptcy, we went to New York and Dublin, pitching SellanApp to investors, media and partners on The Next Web Conference and the Websummit. I was on a crossroad.

Read the rest of this story at StartUpJuncture.com:  http://startupjuncture.com/2015/04/08/what-ive-learned-6-months-after-bankruptcy/#more-8497

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