Camiel Kraan is the CEO of Convious, an Amsterdam-based startup business dedicated to streamlining and optimising e-commerce b2b solutions for the experience economy. Inspiration for the company actually came after a conversation with a friend who owned a zoo. He found that without the help of external vendors it was tough to fill the venue, leading Camiel to question how these traditionally ‘offline’ businesses could become more self-sufficient by embracing Convious’ adaptable e-commerce b2b software.

Whether it’s zoos, theatres, cinemas, theme parks, or museums – these business models had placed so much focus on the experience in the venue itself, that the online side of things had been somewhat neglected.

This meant they were spending heavily on external platforms in an effort to ensure their venues had steady streams of visitors. Convious aimed to flip that, putting the power back into the hands of these venues by providing dynamic pricing software which would allow them to become more self-reliant.

As well as tackling the flawed pricing system, Camiel wanted an e-commerce b2b solution which allowed companies more control over the customer experience as a whole.

“Besides just building this pricing model, we actually started adding several components of what we nowadays call the customer journey. So how could we make sure any possible touchpoint with their visitors was being automated, and was being delivered by the company itself and not an external company?”

“Any step that you can think of in the customer journey, will be managed and will be powered by our software. That goes from a native app, to in-park spending, ad optimisation, price optimisation, loyalty management, and voucher management – but also goes from simple pricing structures into actually managing your resellers based on your own pricing rules and inventory.”

Altering perceptions

One of the biggest difficulties Camiel encountered in the earlier days of Convious, was convincing customers that dynamic pricing was the model they should be utilising, as opposed to more traditional methods.

The other obstacle was essentially encouraging established businesses to alter their habits in terms of their approach to software and embrace what was to them, a completely new e-commerce b2b platform. A difficult thing to do when some of these operations have been around for decades.

“We were basically evangelising e-commerce to a non-e-commerce-focused industry. We were telling people that were doing the same job for 20 years, that selling online was different than just putting a box office on your website, and that dynamic pricing would make sense in a business model that was seasonal.”

“E-commerce was something that they’d never touch, so for them, it was a totally new way of trying to do business, and the whole pricing thing was seen as: ‘no our pricing structure is last year’s price, plus 10%’, because that’s what we’ve always done and our industry is not ready to move to dynamic pricing as it would be with airlines, hotels, Uber and so on.”

To tackle this Camiel had to ensure a huge amount of trust was being built between his business and its potential customers. While it was of course paramount to have this great software that offered a genuine solution and a clear product-market fit, without that initial trust it would be far more difficult to sell.

According to Camiel, finding success with the software ultimately came down to “creating a comprehensive and convenient solution, but also by building a lot of trust with the customer base that we’re really helping them, and not just shoving a solution that we think would be great, but they wouldn’t understand.”

When cash isn’t king…

This actually led to one of the more surprising revelations, that despite being able to near-enough guarantee an increase in income, something which is usually the biggest challenge in terms of selling software, that alone would not be enough.

“It was all to do with trust, belief, and understanding. Did it fit the look and feel? Did it fit the brand? Did it fit how they would look to their customers and how they would like to treat their customers?

“It was more about the customer than actually bringing in more money.”

Getting over that initial hurdle was frequently the biggest task, though once overcome, those relationships had a much more solid foundation and a greater understanding of the value offered by Convious.

“The moment that we started selling our software, up until the actual sale it was super hard. We had to prove and prove again that it would work. The moment that we actually went live with the customer, they loved us to death. The lead to that point, we thought that would be easy because we were bringing in money.”

Removing emotion from hiring talent

In the early stages of operation, ensuring that the hiring process was tackled in the right way was another vital component to the business’ success. For Camiel, focusing solely on a person’s experience is not the right way to go, as it could close the door on a lot of talented candidates.

With that being said, it’s also naive to hire people just on the basis that you like them, or that you may have crossed paths in the past.

“Especially in the early stages, it’s probably the most important thing, to get the right people in this phase. It’s very hard to get the ingredients right if it’s just an idea. You need to bring in several types of people to make it work.”

“It’s very easy to lean back and say ‘I like these guys, or I’ve been working with them in the past’ and just make the assumption that it’ll work again. The one thing that helped us was trying to take out as many personal feelings and emotions on which way we needed to go, and what we needed to build and what we needed to prove”

Utilising data in the hiring process allowed all decisions to be backed by solid reasoning. Camiel explained how one of his earliest hires came in the form of a chief data scientist, who could analyse then build algorithms that took at least some element of ambiguity out of the decision-making process.

Don’t let anybody tell you not to do it. Don’t ask your friends, because they’ll say it’s a great idea. Be resilient.

Camiel Kraan, CEO @Convious

Culture over experience

Instilling your culture and values at the recruitment stage is another way to ensure you’re attracting the right kind of people to your business. Having this alignment can outweigh however many years of experience a person might have.

“One of the things that worked out very well for us, it was much more about do they fit in the culture? Are they eager, hard-working, no nonsense, transparent people?”

Camiel does warn, however, that maintaining that same startup culture as you begin to scale can become a challenge, and that it’s inevitable that things will change as you grow.

“The hardest part is to keep the culture when you scale. You have to accept that things will change, as long as the core values stay the same. We’d never actually written down our core values until a couple of months ago, we saw that we’re now moving into this high-scaling organisation, we need to write this down, because it gets harder and harder to keep it aligned with all the different people coming in.”

Equity versus knowhow: Cracking your funding strategy

Another thing Camiel warns entrepreneurs of is being too quick to dilute your company when shaping your funding strategy – though admits it can be a tricky balance when you need cash.

“It’s a road paved with mistakes. The most common mistakes are diluting too fast, giving away too much. I think there should be a balance between equity and knowhow, you need to make a choice, ‘what do I need most? Do I need the money most? Or do I need the expertise of a funding partner?’

“I would say it’s totally fine to get external capital in your organisation, as long as it’s not tipping the balance in the wrong direction – that can be on a dilution basis, or people trying to tell you what to do.

“What worked best for us, that although we got funded quite early, we were always focused on the money. We were very cash-efficient, we would never like to be super-dependent on the next funding round. It can be a very tough project, it’s super time-consuming, and straining, so we’d always like to have as much leeway as possible.”

And while Camiel did admit that it can be tough for Dutch startups to find funding right now, a “golden generation” of VCs from outside the Netherlands is on the horizon, ready to transform the ecosystem for the better.

Discovering pandemic positives

Then of course came the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on businesses across the globe, so how has it impacted Convious? Camiel has taken positives from the situation, particularly when it comes to setting up meetings, both with stakeholders and potential customers.

“From our customer base, it became easier to get meetings, get demos, get introductions, get talks set up – because usually before the value of a meeting, you needed to drive over there for four hours or whatever.

“The decision-making process online is now much more embraced, you can now have a presentation where all the stakeholders are in one room, which is usually super-hard to get.”

Why Rise?

As a participant in Rise, Camiel highlighted what it was that attracted him to the acceleration programme, citing not just the content covered but the highly-curated nature of fellow members that played a key part aiding startup growth.

“We’re in an extremely exciting phase with our company and there are tons of ‘support’ programmes to choose from at this point.’s Rise for us made the most sense the moment we came across them.”

“Not just because of the programme itself and the focus on the exact challenges a company faces when scaling up like we do, but also because of the curation of participants. Driven entrepreneurs, sharing the same passion, facing the same challenges and all willing to really share and learn from each other.

“For us this has been pivotal in making a number of choices within our team, product and go-to-market strategy.”

A priceless piece of wisdom

Upon being asked to share the best bits of business advice he’d ever been given, Camiel recalled a piece of wisdom from the owner of Bwin, who sponsored Spanish footballing royalty Real Madrid at the time.

“Care about the problem, care about the solution, and not so much about the industry that you’re in. He said: ‘I’m not a great football fan, but I don’t need to be a football fan to understand how important football is for the rest of the world and how I can benefit from a company perspective.’

“It’s not so much that you don’t need to care about the industry, it’s more care about the problem and solution, get that right and then you can be successful basically in any industry. That’s something that I like a lot, I don’t want to be successful in one industry, I like it to be in several.“

The other is to not care too much, in the sense that when you find things are beginning to affect you personally, outside of the business, then for your own sake you must be able to take a step back. Naturally, you’ll devote a lot of time to your business, particularly in the early days, and that’s fine. However, losing that balance, in the long run, becomes counter-productive.

Finally, Camiel shared his own key bits of advice that he would offer to someone just getting started on their entrepreneurial journey.

“Don’t let anybody tell you not to do it. Don’t ask your friends, because they’ll say it’s a great idea. Be resilient,” were his three parting tips for his fellow founders.

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