Maarten ter Keurst (PureTerra Ventures): Focus more on who you need to know rather than what you need to know - Unicorn Nest

Maarten ter Keurst (PureTerra Ventures): Focus more on who you need to know rather than what you need to know

By Roman Bdaitsiiev

28 Aug, 2020

Maarten ter Keurst is Director of Investments at PureTerra Ventures
Maarten ter Keurst is Director of Investments at PureTerra Ventures

After leading a successful turnaround for a large direct marketing organizations Maarten moved to Shanghai in 2013, where he has consulted foreign SMEs in the water technology sector on market entry strategy in China as a run-up to PureTerra.

Maarten is an expert in deal structuring, financial modeling, managing Chinese networks, partner selection and has an intimate knowledge of the global water technology sector.

He holds a MSc in Economics from Tilburg University and has attended executive courses at London Business School.


How it all started? How did you decide to enter the venture investment business?

I came to China more than seven years ago. Very quickly I joined the mother company of PureTerra Ventures, which was founded by two Dutch entrepreneurs who came to China 25 years ago. They set up a number of businesses and did very well for themselves. With one of their businesses they organized the largest water technology exhibition in the world and next to that about a dozen other events in the water space. Initially, I did a management consulting business and that was very interesting. But we always have the ambition to do more with startups. Of course, a consulting business is different because you are working on fees and startups have difficulty with accepting fees.

We were looking for a way to have an impact on the work that we do and also on the world as a whole, the planet, and the environment. With consulting you can do that to a limited extent because you’re making a report and people do not always follow your advice. That’s the nature of consulting. We always felt that with the network and the experience that we have within our organization, we have more to offer to startups. That’s why we decided to start looking at investing in startups in the water and environmental space. Initially, we started with quite humble ambitions by using the founders’ money as a semi-family office. Very quickly that escalated into setting up a full-fledged venture capital firm investing in water technologies with really the ambition of helping those startups through the commercialization phase of their business.

We saw that the value proposition that we have as PureTerra has got a lot of traction in the market, a lot of interest from various parties, and fit in the industry. Then we decided to scale that up and spin it off into a separate company. That’s how a PureTerra Ventures was born and I’ve got into the venture capital space. I have a background in economics and it’s a natural progression for me from a form where I was in consulting before.

What is your investment strategy?

We are a little bit different from other traditional venture capital investors. We are very sector-focused and are targeted on companies that are involved in the water, wastewater, and environmental technology industry because we feel that it is the industry where we can add the most value. We have a global network and working experience, combined per a hundred years, in the water and wastewater industry. We understand on a very technical level which technologies have the potential to become successful and which don’t. Not a lot of investors have that when it comes to environmental technologies. That’s a very specific skill set that’s needed. We have a large network in that sector as well, both from organizing the exhibitions where, just imagine, 200,000 people are coming: distributors, governments, industrial A-players utilities. Everybody comes to those exhibitions and we have those contacts. By operating in the industry, we also have very strong partnership relations.

We like to stick to what we know and the way we approach investing is a little bit more towards a private equity approach, almost in terms of how active we are comparing to traditional venture capital. That stems from the fact that water and environmental technology are not techs. The market dynamics are very different. We’re not selling apps or software platforms. That means it’s often less scalable and much more technical. The traditional venture capital model is to invest in a hundred companies and to hope that two or maybe even one will become a big hit and becomes the next LinkedIn or Facebook. And that makes a fund. That doesn’t work in the water industry simply because here unicorns are really unicorns – they just don’t exist. At the same time, your failure rate is also much lower than in traditional tech sectors. The aim of the game is to make sure that you very carefully pick the technologies you invest in, and then spend a lot of time guiding those companies towards scale-up and a successful exit.

The other reason why that active approach is really necessary is that the skill set that is needed to commercialize a technology is usually not present in the company. You have to imagine these people. As a rule, the founders behind these businesses are incredibly smart people with double PhDs in material science, biochemistry, etc. When you are talking to them there is a feeling like you are the dumbest person in the room. They’ve spent somewhere between 4-10 years just perfecting the technologies often living on private and government grants or friends and family loans. They are almost nerding in a lab and perfecting what they’re making. The entire company has been built around that. The company culture and KPIs are all around how to make the product better.

We like to invest during what we call the commercialization stage when the product is proven, the technology works and there are paying customers, they have their first revenue, there is a proof from the market and now they need to scale that up and expand internationally. That’s when we like to come in, but that takes a completely different skillset. You need to start bringing in salespeople who think in a different way and act in a different way. It’s a different personality. KPIs focus switching from ‘perfecting the product’ to ‘actually selling what we have’ and ‘increasing margin on that’. That is a completely different culture. And that culture switch is very difficult for these companies to go through.

That is what we like to help with. That means that we get really actively involved. We take a board seat on a weekly basis. We sit down with the CEO or the management of companies to discuss their progress; we sit on sales calls; we join them on installations; we open up our network and that way we can maximize value for our portfolio companies.

What industries are you interested in?

The industries that we look at and the type of technologies that we look at are quite broad. If it touches water we’ll consider it. Some of the things we look at are treatment methods for drinking water and wastewater. That’s more of the hardware side and that can be chemicals, filtration, or any other type. Electric chemical treatment, for example. We also look at some of the smart water technologies, which are really interesting. Smart monitoring allows us to look at what’s in the water by doing that in a smart way and in real-time. It is connected to the internet, gather data and making something interesting from it – AI platforms on how to manage your water network and, what to do with that information.

There are always a couple of things that we look at as an investor. Not everything in water is interesting because it’s a very conservative industry by its nature and for very good reason. Water is essential to life and if you’ll make a mistake in your water network it’s going to be pretty costly and with pretty large consequences. Players around the industry are pretty conservative, some more than others. Utilities are extremely conservative and we stay away from them. What we really look at – is the technology really disruptive? Is it really able to upend an existing treatment train or an existing way of doing business? Is it scalable? Hardware products by thier nature are usually less interesting if they’re very capital intensive. Software solutions are very light capital products or add-ons. We look at who is the end customer and what are the pain points that they are focusing on. Lat’s look at drinking water on a municipal level; you can spend the next 20 years developing a product and trying to sell it to utilities. You’ll be a grandfather before you’re successful because they’re just so incredibly conservative in the utility sector. It’s not a commercial sector either. The correct incentives are not always in place to save money or to improve something.

We are more focused on the industrial side of things. For example, industrial wastewater, where companies are just getting fined or even shut down if they don’t meet their discharge targets, or where you can have a massive decrease in costs and where you can show a very clear ROI on the purchase of new technology. That’s the kind of sector that we are really interested in. The digital side is really interesting for us because water digitizing is about 5-10 years behind the other utility sectors like gas and electricity. There’s a lot to be gained if you look at how water is being monitored right now. Usually, it’s literally a guy in a van who drives around, takes a grab sample, puts it in his truck, and drives that to a lab. Then 3-4 days later you’ll get a result and it tells you that some days ago you had a problem in your water network and you should have done something about it. That’s the way things are being done now. And more and more you start seeing that smart sensors are doing that in real time with an internet connection. There is a dashboard where you can analyze data, combine it with other data, get insights from that and take action as soon as it happens rather than 3-4 days ago, where you say: «Ops! I put something in the water distribution network that I shouldn’t have done».

The amount of data that is coming from those types of technologies and how to use that efficiently to make smarter decisions on investments in an industry where investments usually run into the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars – that’s a really interesting proposition.

What geography of companies are you interested in?

We look at technologies globally. We look at western technologies because realistically that’s where most of the innovation is coming from in the water and wastewater space. North America, Northwest Europe, Scandinavia, and Israel are very strong in the water. Singapore is up and coming, and a lot of research coming out of there. That’s an interesting space. We are agnostic as to where the technology is based as long as it has applications in worldwide markets. Then it’s interesting for us.

One geographical focus that we do have, in terms of exits, is the Asian market. Being in China or Asia already for 25 years we have a pretty broad and deep network here in the water sector, but also the financial sector. And that’s interesting because the problems with water and environmental pollution in Asia are much more severe than they are in the West. We clean our water and make sure it stays clean much better in the West. Technologies that are needed to treat the water in Asia are often, paradoxically, more advanced in the West. It means that there’s a higher need for innovation. Sales networks are quite local. There are a lot of players that are looking to buy technologies and companies which have such technologies, that later can be rolled out to the sales network and commercialized in Asia.

The only thing is you need to already be in Asia and to have installations there. You can have a thousand installations in Europe or the US but they are going to say that It’s a different water and it doesn’t work in Asia. Sometimes that’s true. Usually, it’s not, but that’s just the way they think. Once you do have that traction and they are interested in buying you, the EBITDA multiples that are being paid on exit in the Asian market are about twice as high as in Europe on average. From an investor standpoint that is very interesting. So, what we like to do is we invest in companies wherever they come from and then introduce them to the Asian market. Then we make sure they get traction and then start looking if there are parties in the Asian market that would be suitable exit partners for this particular technology. If they buy it, then that’s fine and it’s not a risk. That’s the desired outcome for me.

What was the most unusual startup you ever supported?

Unusual? Our portfolio is relatively small. We are a young fund so far invested in two companies. One of them is interesting for a number of reasons, mainly because it has applications in water and also outside of water. This company is called RUBIX. It’s a French startup, which has invented a completely new way of using existing sensor technology to create a fingerprint database to identify pollutants mostly in air and potentially in water. They take existing sensors, which you can buy anywhere for a couple of dollars. These can be temperature, NOx, PM2.5 sensors, or whatever you like. When normally, if you have, for example, a temperature sensor, you put a constant voltage through it and try to keep the actual electronics of that board at more or less a constant temperature and whatever changes on the outside, changes the output. And if you have a certain output, you can say that outside it is 24.76℃. What they do is they start modulating those parameters and playing with it. For each composition of air it gives them hundreds of millions of data points of which they know for none of them what they exactly mean. But that gives a fingerprint.

It acts like Shazam: when you listen to the music and hear a song with words «We all live in a yellow submarine» it says: «That’s the Beatles». It recognizes the pattern of that sound and it takes a lot of data points from that it. Then it connects to a database, which has all the songs in the world, and it identifies it as being Yellow submarine by the Beatles. RUBIX is doing exactly the same thing by taking that fingerprints. They have a database of pollutants and smells that have been identified. This solution is used in a variety of industries and in the water sector they are mainly used in wastewater treatment plants.

A lot of wastewater treatment plants were built 30-40 years ago in the middle of nowhere. Today they are in the middle of the city because of urban expansion. People are starting to complain about the smell that comes off wastewater too. The soothing plants get fined because of that. Of course, there are multiple sources of smells. There are industrial parks, cities, glue factories, animal carpets factories, and loads of stuff that can smell. It’s not necessarily just that one facility. They’re used to be placed around the city to identify exactly where a particular smell is coming from. Then the wastewater treatment plant can say: «Hey guys this is not us». But they’re able to identify by the smell, that something going wrong in a particular process and what exactly it is.

It could be used also in port facilities where ships are burning off oil or dumping chemicals. They can smell that and identify: this is oil being burned and it is from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Iraq. And we know exactly which ship has that oil on board.

They are also being used in airplanes where they identify bleed air that is a huge problem. Airplanes are pressurized by using air that comes out of the engines and If some of the seals are not properly working or leaking a little bit then hydraulic oil is burned off. The gases from that can end up in the cabin and that’s extremely unhealthy. They did tests on the metastasis and the breast cancer of air hostesses and about 85% of them have these kinds of substances inside. The unions are starting to pick up on that because hostesses are getting breast cancer at highly increased rates versus other people in the population. They’re trying to test for that but it’s really hard because specialized equipment is needed. Let’s look at how it works. The host smells something or thinks she smells something. As soon as the plane lands, she shouts to the ground staff. They have to bring in special equipment, go into the airplane and by then, of course, the smell is gone and they don’t test anything. Being able to do that in real-time, very accurately identify whether these substances are present in the cabin and whether that plane needs maintenance is extremely valuable there.

One of the things that’s more current is that they’re working on disinfection. Their technology was used in the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that was infected with COVID-19. When they docked and all these people were on board, this technology was used to remotely monitor how effective and how frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the common spaces were done without having people to be present. That was done effectively enough to make sure that the environment is safe. This is an example of one of these digital technologies that are related to water and are usually not just applicable in water. You can apply them to different verticals and that makes it more interesting for us as an investor.

At what stage of the company’s development are you investing?

We look at commercialization and beyond it and at growth stages. A company should have from a couple of hundred thousand to a couple of million in revenue already and usually not profitable yet. The best way to describe it for us is – we’ll take ‘Can you sell it?’ risk and we don’t take ‘Does it work?’ risk. We need to know that the product is developed and finished (of course, it’s never completely finished), there are market prool and demand for the product. They have proven that they can sell it. They have proven the business model. They have proven that the product works. Now it’s time to sell and scale it up, do that internationally and make sure that you scale that sales organization. That’s where we like to come in.

If they are before that point, there is not a point for us to invest because fundamentally we’re not engineers. I don’t have a Ph.D. in biochemistry. If they are still developing their company or their product, there’s not a lot of intelligent things that I can say in a boardroom. And that goes for most people in our team. That’s not a point where we can add value. If you start commercializing and you start thinking about how will you build your organization, on what markets should you be focused, price points, and business models to look at, then I might sometimes have something intelligent to say.

Again, our demands are not very high and strict. Annual revenue should not be exactly 200,000. If we see a company that has a hundred thousand, then it’s really promising. We can deviate, but the typical range is $200,000 – $2,000,000. That’s where a company becomes interesting. Before that time you are usually still talking about just doing pilots, which is interesting, but it’s still part of proving that your technology works. Once you start passing that level of $200-300K then you are talking about real paying customers that are full-size installations.

How big is a check you usually issue?

Usually, the initial check that we write is about 1-5 million euros. Then we save something for follow-up investments. Typically, it’s about the same amount of follow up.

What percentage of ownership of a company is fair to take for investment?

Since we are such an active investor, usually we are looking at significant minority ownership. It is flexible and depends on the level of the company and where they are, how much faith we have in that company, and how much specifically we want to have exposed to them. What’s more important to us than the specific ownership is the amount of control that we have. Are we able to influence some of the commercial decisions that are being taken and strategic hires, making sure that the company doesn’t get excessive loans and those types of protective provisions? But usually, we’re looking at somewhere between 10 and 30%. That’s the typical range.

What multiplication of your investment do you expect on exit?

We won’t look at technology if we don’t feel that we can’t make 10 times our money back. If that’s not possible, then it’s not worth spending the time and the risk of investing in that company. Do we feel that we are aiming for an excess of 20-25% IRR? That’s our projections, of course. That’s very easy to say, but when you look at it from a market perspective, the vast majority of exits in a water space are in the bracket of $100-500 million. We are usually investing in an evaluation that lays somewhere between $5-20 million. That is a typical range of evaluations and you can do the math on the multiplication here.

What do you want to see in the company’s product?

I think the product and technology need to be proven. There can always be adjustments. There are always new features that you can add and you can make it even better, but fundamentally the product or service that the company is offering should be proven. There should be people, that are willing to pay full pop for it. We should know that the product and the business model work. And it’s a matter of scaling that and finding the right business model for the right type of customers, picking which markets you approach first and what the channels are going to be. If you only have a minimum viable product and you’re still tweaking it, then you’re probably a little bit too early stage for us.

Investors prefer to work with teams. But have you ever supported a one-person startup?

Nope.

What is your due diligence procedure and how long does it take you to cover the whole way from the first meeting with founders to contract and check to sign?

It really does depend on what kind of technology it is, how difficult it is to gauge, and whether it’s interesting or not. Also, it depends on the interaction with the founders. Sometimes we find more skeletons in the closet than at other times. Sometimes it’s a smooth ride. Sometimes there’s some stuff that raises eyebrows and we have to figure out whether that’s a problem or not.

Typically, we tend to do a little bit more due diligence on the front end because we know the industry so well and we feel that we have the skillset within the company on a technical level to decide whether this technology makes sense and whether it can actually do what it says it does. That usually takes a couple of months in terms of discussions and looking at that, going through the data room and all the technical papers, and employing our network and our advisors, that we use on a technical level to help us decide whether this is interesting. Once you go into a term sheet, usually it taking four to six weeks until close.

What are you paying attention to?

Aside from the obvious ones – the business model and whether the technology works, the single most important thing is the people and the top management. Whether we trust them, whether they are capable and whether they can pivot. That’s very important because you are still a startup and inevitably there’s going to be challenges along the way. You may have to pivot in a more or less significant way changing the business model or the approach to the market. The company should be able to do that and whether you can have productive relationships with them.

We are not investors that just throw money over the fence and sit back, hoping that in a couple of years something will come out of it. We are very intensively involved with the management teams behind our companies. I want to make sure that we have a good working relationship with them and ideally to enjoy working with them because I don’t want to spend the next four or five years working with people that I just am having a horrible time with.

How many projects do you consider per year?

Through our deal flow we look at about a thousand technologies a year. Our fund is relatively new. We started three years ago and haven’t had any exits yet. There were some exits in our own businesses. A number of businesses by our founding partners have been exited already. But not from the venture capital side yet

How startup teams usually find you? Do you wait for inflow or scout for interesting ideas and perspective teams?

We don’t do email campaigns. Our leads come from exhibitions, online application form, and personal networks. A lot of people know us in the water industry and we are quite well known outside of it. I don’t think many people know about PureTerra, but in the water industry we’re relatively well known. So, entrepreneurs know where to find us.

Aside from that, we work with all of the leading innovation hubs and consultancies in the water, wastewater, and environmental industry. Because we have quite deep relationships with these people through the events that we’ve organized for the past 15 years, we know them quite well. They look at and work with a lot of technologies. It allows us to tap into the database that they have with a lot of actually pre-due diligence that they were already done because when they start working with these companies, they also look at what does a business model look like, how technology should look like and how it can be improved. There is a lot of note sharing that saves us a lot of time and allows to focus on the cream of the crop, rather than having to sift through all the thousands and thousands of technologies that appear in the water industry every year.

What are your red flags?

There are so many of them, I don’t know where to begin. The biggest red flag if somebody is very stubborn. That’s a huge red flag. We can’t work with them and we can’t convince them. They don’t have an open mind to hearing different opinions. That’s a huge red flag and you can see that during interactions. People are leaving the company over some time. That’s also a big red flag. Customers that have considered a product and then don’t continue buying it. A business model that’s purely CapEX focused and doesn’t have any recurring revenue component in it. That’s way less interesting for us.

There are so many red flags. It depends on the specific situation and company that you’re looking at. If they are trying to expand too quickly it is also a big red flag. That might be interesting to add, that a lot of startups immediately want to go international and start selling all over the world and build offices all over the world as well. At the same time, the smartest way for a lot of these startups is to start commercializing in their own backyard. Go poke, look for smokestacks, where smoke is coming out of the chimneys and start knocking on doors there. When you start putting your technologies in place, be able to have somebody living next to the installation, to see where something goes wrong and fix it. Do that, rather than going halfway across the world and having some partner that you’ve never worked with, doing that installation, and having no idea whether it actually does what it’s supposed to be doing for your customer.

Have you ever rejected a startup and then regret it?

Yes, sure. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it happens. As an investor, fundamentally, you’re more worried about the ones that you do invest in and regret it than the ones that you don’t invest in because the ones that you do invest in cost you money. Inevitably, when you do a selection process, you’re going to make mistakes and think that there is maybe a little bit of risk. Then it turns out and you regret about not investing in them. It’s all about managing risk.

It doesn’t mean necessarily that you made the wrong decision. You just made the decision based on the information that you had at the time, and you made an assessment based on it. It’s if you go to the casino and put everything on red. You were thinking about putting everything on red or number 21. Then the gentleman spins the wheel and it becomes 21. Should you have put all your money and all your savings on 21? Yes. You would have been very rich, but it would have still been a very stupid decision. That’s the thought process there for us.

What conferences do you find really useful?

Conferences are incredibly valuable. You could make networking and speak to people live. I am missing it like hell. Let me give you a list of conferences that are really good in Asia. The Aquatic China is by far the largest conference. Rethink events are really interesting. The World Water-Tech series is very high quality and very startup focused. It’s not very large, usually, maybe a hundred or a thousand participants, but a very high level and very interesting program. In the US you have the WEFTEC conferences, which are always interesting. Absolutely that would be AQUITEC. Those are the go-to conferences for us.

Has your VC approach changed after the COVID-19 started?

Yes, absolutely. Our approach has changed in some ways. Of course, we become a little bit more cautious when looking at new investments. We start thinking about what would happen with our companies and utilities if the world stays locked down for a longer time and people become more conservative and there would be less money available. There are very clear and obvious impacts here. One of the very interesting impacts of COVID-19 within the water space is that we’ve probably had five years of digitization within the space of six months. It’s incredible how many players in the water industry are now starting to realize the value of digitizing and the way that they manage their water and their wastewater.

Players who have digitized already their base are very happy. They can work from home and are able to operate their plants or water networks remotely. It’s perfect and there’s no problem. Those who haven’t done that are having a really hard time because people are not able to come to work. They’re not able to run their processes. That realization across the industry has set in and we see a significant increase in interest in those types of technologies. That’s something we’re focused on even more than we were already.

So, is COVID a threat or opportunity for VC?

It’s both and depends on what type of company you’re in. For some companies it can be a threat and an opportunity at the same time.

What are the most common areas of weakness in startups?

There is one and it’s commercial talent and commercial culture. I think I can honestly say looking at hundreds of startups by myself and probably thousands by our analyst team. There’s not a single startup that we’ve looked at it in the water sector where we could say that the entire commercial strategy and team culture is fully in place. This goes back to what I described earlier. These companies are usually quite technical in nature. Their culture is technical. Their staff is calling it’s technical. They’ve just been focusing on making the product better.

Once they start selling, somebody has to come in and say, that you can make the product 10% better, but at some point, it’s good enough. And we’re just going to sell what we already have there. If it doesn’t work we’ll fix it. And that transition is really hard because then the technical people will protest by saying, that It’s not a hundred percent ready and we could have this feature. If it goes wrong the customer will be mad. The customer might be mad, but you’ll fix it. Then the customer will be fine and you’ve learned from it and will not make that mistake again. In a technical industry, like the water industry, that’s a major issue.

Companies tend to stick in that development phase for too long rather than just go out there, test the product and sell it, making money out of it. In all the companies we look at that transition needs to happen. Some are much worse than others, but there’s always work to be done there.

With whom you would prefer to work rather, with Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk?

No doubt it’s Elon Musk. I think he is one of the greatest geniuses of our time. The way that he looks at the world and the big issues that we are faced now – he just goes about and solves them. At first, he sets up PayPal that changed the way that digital money is working, which is pretty much impossible. Then he goes around and starts Tesla. It changed the way that electric cars are being built or even invented electric cars as a commercially viable proposition. At the same time, he starts building rockets and sending people into space at a 10th of the cost that NASA is doing it, which is pretty much impossible. And then he says: «Oh, by the way, I want to go to Mars and, by the way, I’ve already solved three different most difficult technologies that we need to make that happen». And here is a life size prototype of what I built. I think that the stuff he’s working on is incredible. I don’t know how he does what he does, but he’s very inspirational.

Can you name three most breakthrough startups in history?

That’s an interesting question. I would admire fintech technologies as a general space as it’s getting more attention. It’s still undervalued in the way how it’s going to change our life. In China they are a little bit ahead of the rest of the world. Cash money doesn’t exist here anymore. That’s essentially happened within the space of three or four years. That is incredible If you think about it.

Blockchain is going to be very transformative. Not in the way that a lot of people think, but more in the way how we deal with data and track supply chains. Finally, one that is perhaps more dystopian and will going to have a major impact on our lives is facial recognition and the amount of data that’s coming from that. Here in China your face is recognized everywhere on the street. People know that the government knows exactly where you are and is able to track your every movement. I am not terribly happy with that but that’s a development which is certainly coming also to the West in a very big way and through a lot of places on Earth a lot faster, where the government isn’t as open and democratic as it is in the West.

What books/films would you recommend to a startup founder?

Due to the lack of time I usually read workbooks and books that are thinking about how to become better at my job. I am a more serious person than movies. They are usually a little bit too short for me to tell a story. There’s one book which we find very useful and which we use quite extensively in helping the startups, that we invest in, to grow and structure their business.

It is called Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0) and was written by a gentleman named Verne Harnish. It’s a way to look at businesses as they grow and how to deal with managing them; the changes in complexity that happened when you start growing and scaling your business and make you sure that as you do that, your entire company is focused on the things that matter, you set your priorities, you still running your day to day business and you have many priorities that you want to work on in each given week, month or quarter and you make sure that you track that and keep people accountable. It’s a management method and a way of running a business, which when applied correctly makes your business run like a machine. And all you need to do is turn the right knobs to push it in the right direction. But other than that, your organization will start to seamlessly talk to each other, and communication issues get reduced to a dramatic amount. We use it in all our businesses, in the businesses that we own and in the businesses that we invest in and it’s incredibly powerful. So, I would recommend that to any startup CEO.

Your three advice to founders

I guess the biggest advice is that most startups don’t fail not because of what they don’t know, but because of who they don’t know. At the end of the day, any business is a people’s business. The people that you know and the people that you’re able to surround yourself with and engage with your company or your technology or whatever your businesses is, can connect you to other people. That is what’s going to make or break you a technology. You can have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t talk to the right people and you don’t bring those people on board with what you are doing, then you are not going to succeed. You can have a mediocre technology but know the right people and be a lot more successful.

Focus more on who you need to know than what you need to know. That would be neat, but do you want to put it into the price?

What is your favorite city?

I am definitely a global citizen. When you live abroad, that automatically happens, your identity becomes more about who you are as a person and what your values are than where you actually come from. There’s a lot of things that I love and make me very proud of being Dutch. There’s also a lot of things about Dutch culture that I’m not so happy with. The same goes for China. There’s a lot of things that I respect about Chinese culture and China as a country. And there are also some things that I don’t like about it.

I think. China is a fundamentally fascinating place. The way it’s changing, the pace in which developments are happening here, the dynamism, the work ethic of Chinese people are just incredible. They have an incredible long-term vision when it comes to progress in their own lives and as a country, whereas we tend to be more focused on short term gratification rather than long term planning. That allows them to do things in a very different way than what people in the West end do. It is incredibly interesting to see that from closeups. I absolutely love living here.

Shanghai is definitely one just for the sheer craziness and size and overwhelmingness. I really have a spot for Singapore as well. I think it is very beautiful. That would probably be my top one. It’s a beautiful mixture between Eastern and Western culture, very well organized and very green. There is great weather every day and a lot of very friendly people. If you look at the way that country passed during the past 60 years, lifted itself from being a fishing village to being one of the richest countries in the world, that’s incredible. That says something about the way these people work and the way that they think very much to their benefit. I am also a huge fan of South America as well. Columbia, Cartagena, and Medellin are places that are very near to my heart as well. And Amsterdam is still one of my favorite places in the world. There’s too many to choose from. It’s hard.

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Roman Bdaitsiiev

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