How culture can overcome a startup’s outsider position
Bas van Essen,
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
They are plodding around in no man’s land. That is what startup founders in the Dutch urban districts might think about Laurens van Geffen’s and Tim van den Heuvel’s efforts to build Superbuddy in the distant town of Zwolle. But they seem to rightly believe that culture drives the performance and satisfaction of their software engineers.
It’s a struggle for every startup, to find the right skilled people for all the stuff that has to be accomplished in a noisy and fast-paced environment. Especially as most startups need software engineers, while the availability of talented developers is much lower than the actual demand. In all cities around the world this imbalance in the market is a huge problem.
For this reason, there are hundreds of bootstrapped tech companies that operate with far-away developers in other countries, start as ‘serverless startups’, or open up a completely blue ocean that does not yet consist of fast-paced competitors. Their counterparts, those who closed a something-million dollar investment round, usually choose to move their HQ to urban districts where gentrification is ruling. Assuming they can gain software engineers’ commitment through high salaries and surroundings that breath a strong hipster atmosphere.
Striving to cultural excellence
Superbuddy on the other hand, an online order & delivery platform that raised €1.6M and aims to be the European counterpart of the $1.6 billion(!) backed Instacart, deliberately chose to keep its company in an ordinary county city. “What the hell are we doing in Zwolle?, are you guys maybe thinking”, says CEO Laurens van Geffen (50, see top picture) at a typical pizza and beer meetup in its office. “But we’re very happy to be here. We have a great and committed engineering team and relatively low costs. And developers keep coming. I’m not sure if we would pull that off in Amsterdam.”
Van Geffen, Superbuddy’s founder together with Tim van den Heuvel (31), focusses on an alternative way to efficiently and effectively scale a startup: creating a very safe culture where everybody dares to be him or herself and enjoys to speak up.
Superbuddy strongly believes internal communication can make a big difference. Maybe only the seasoned startup founders will immediately understand this point of view. If you have been there, you know that poor internal communication leads to monoliths, often not completed sprints, and several other bottlenecks in the ability to scale a startup solution.
“For me, a company culture determines everything”, says Van Geffen. “When I joined Superbuddy in its very nascent stage, in an old post office with two very small rooms, unhealthy and improductive interaction between team members, I soon came to realize this whole situation had to change quickly.”
That one guy that stayed
“We moved to a more open-spaced office, stimulated the internal communication through the concept of ‘leading by example’, and eventually have said goodbye to those that couldn’t find their spot within the new standards that were set.”
“But there was one guy out there in the old post office, Jurien, I saw him sitting in the back working his socks off and trying to make connections with his peers. I thought, he’s the kind of developer we can build on, extremely high skilled and passionate about his work. He is the only one from the software development team that is still working for the company.”
This guy Jurien Hamaker is now the lead developer at Superbuddy. He has built a team of young guns around him, nearly all coming from Zwolle’s college of higher education, Windesheim.
Do you recognise the smart thinking? The municipality of Zwolle contains just a handful of startups, while at the same time local software engineering faculties are popping up at other regional educational institutions and also accepting more and more students.
In a state of startup success
Van Geffen: “In the beginning, our software was not more than a PHP monolith, which was very hard to continue to build on. Now we are highly capable of rapidly expanding our platform infrastructure and functionalities.”
Maybe more importantly, at least as a boost for the company morale, Superbuddy recently managed to attract one of the world’s top food retailers as a partner. This huge enterprise known as Ahold agreed with Superbuddy that the startup provides and maintains an application for a couple of its locations, from which customers can order their food and drinks and get these delivered the same day. Which is basically the experience that Superbuddy can offer to any retailer and consumer in the world. Let therefore Ahold be ‘leading by example’ to all other retail giants out there. We hope more beautiful successes will be celebrated in the Zwolle office of Superbuddy.
Also published on Medium.
Categorised in: Featured
This post was written by Bas van Essen