Rutger Bremer is the founder and CEO of the Dutch start-up Momice. Today he shares with Popwork his entrepreneurial and human journey from starting a business as a young graduate in a garage to leading a team of 25 people! He also explains how he went through the crisis and turned the covid-19 situation into an opportunity.
Can you tell us a bit more about Momice?
At Momice we help event managers become better event managers. We share insights, host training and offer SaaS event software to manage the registration, communication and evaluation with participants. Which helps save time, make it look more professional and measure the results of events. We do that for all kinds of companies who organise business events in a live, online or hybrid format.
You started Momice almost 10 years ago and now are a team of more than 20 people. Can you describe this journey and how your role has evolved?
It was and is still a great journey! I learned so many things about other people. Explored new skills that I never thought of. Starting in a garage with only 3 team members was a big adventure at that time. I graduated 2 years (Sports & Marketing) before so had no experience in being a co-founder or managing director of a software company at all. My role at that point was more as product owner and marketing manager. We grew in 3 years to a team of 9 people. This was challenging but still doable because the communication was easy and we were all on the same page.
The period we grew from 8-15 changed me a lot. I had to be more of a general manager because we got more teams that needed to work more independently. I found it really interesting to find new ways to help the team members become better in their work and make them work better together. At the point we were with 25 (last year before Covid-19) it became more and more overwhelming. I needed to rely more on an extra layer of the management team (CCO and CTO). Maintaining the company culture, signalling when team members were not happy or being able to ‘feel’ what's happening in the company became more difficult because I was no longer able to speak to everyone 1 on 1.
At the moment I am trying to find a better balance between relying on my management team and having regular conversations with everyone in the team.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago when you launched Momice?
Internally: Do everything one time to understand how it's done well (marketing / sales / customer success) and then find someone to replace you and help her/him become better than you.
Externally: Look for that specific client in that specific industry where you have a good match. Dig deep why it is a good match and focus only on that vertical. Keep that focus because that helps in all the processes of the company: the marketing activities, sales and product development. It's only after that first phase that you can expand to different verticals.
Being an entrepreneur is also building and uniting a team around a common vision. Do founders and CEOs make good managers?
No, you can't take this for granted. It can be very different in so many cases. The process from being a founder to becoming a CEO can be tough. You need to embrace that role and try to become good at it. There are many different types of entrepreneurs, CEOs and managers.
I think a founder should look for good ‘managers’ as soon as possible to give the founder more bandwidth within the company or explore more outside the company. This is important not to get buried in the daily operations. Some founders need to keep some distance with the operations to make good strategic decisions. Others need to be involved in the operations to get a feeling of what's happening. Each CEO has to find his own role.
Startup CEOs can be very involved in the day-to-day of their companies. How did you find the right balance? Did you follow a specific methodology or it was more about intuition?
This is a real challenge and I am still sometimes struggling to find the right balance.
In some cases, I become a better CEO if I am in the operations for a certain period to have a better feeling with clients, the industry and team members. Afterwards I need to shift to a more distant ‘strategic CEO’ role to make and start new bigger plans. I did not follow a methodology. I do talk about it with different ‘mentors’ in my network who have more experience. This is more a personal method but it works well for me!
How did you manage the covid situation with your teams? Do you think this will change the way you work at Momice in the long term?
Inside the company, I tried to be as transparent as possible to everyone in the team. About finance, company health, revenue and future plans. We already did that before Covid-19 but during this period we did it more often. I asked all team members who talk to all our clients and give daily updates about what's happening at those companies. With this information we were able to determine the right strategy for the short and long term. We hired team members during Covid-19 and we had to say goodbye to a few as well. We did that all together and made the current team stronger I think.
Externally, we saw this as an opportunity to show our intrinsic motivation, which is helping event managers organise better events. So we got WAY more active in our marketing and customer success helping clients organise better events. Online events were new for everyone. And we had some experience, so we dived right in and shared as much knowledge as possible with webinars, events and downloadable content.
This changed a lot for Momice in a positive way for the long term. The current crisis has even made us change our value proposition, our purpose and services (which created new revenue streams as well). Our reputation became a lot better and we still benefit from that boost during Covid-19. We are right now in the process of determining our long term strategy based on that new proposition.
What are your plans at Momice for the coming months?
The top priority is to roll out our new value proposition of Momice which is so much more than a software company. We want to make that more clear on our website, content and services we offer.
This new strategy will apply to both our current and future clients. It feels like a fresh start which has always been in our motivation to work with Momice but we never really acted on it.
Hopefully that will get us back to the growth we had till the end 2019.