How to build a company – Network DNA

Yesterday I was back in The Netherlands for one day. I had scheduled a couple of meetings, and it turned out to be just the kind of day we were hoping to have several times a week when we decided to start a network enterprise.

At eight I met Hjalmar van der Schaaf, who shared the ideas behind his new company 17rabbits. He is building apps for companies, outsourcing some of the work to Eastern europe. We discussed the apps business and concluded that although building apps is probably something that can soon be done by many people in many places (like building websites; currently mostly done by hobbyists) his forte is creating apps: from concept to execution and integration. They are now actively approaching clients with ideas, such as a small but focussed utility, for whom they are developing a metering app that helps the customers send their meter readings to the supplier, meanwhile giving them more insight in potential savings. Connecting customers is probably the biggest value of apps. If they recognise this, Hjalmar and 17rabbits could be winners.

When Dennis van Alphen walked in we discussed his thesis. He is researching network companies like Qhuba, and he is working with Thomas Blekman, who wrote a book about Effectuation. Based on the original research and publications of Saras Sarasvathy at Carnegie Mellon University, his book is full of real examples of how Entrepreneurs that are successful do not think in terms of causation (striving for control by selecting means to reach a defined goal, based on data from the past, and assumptions about the future) but in terms of possibilities and curiosity: based on given starting point such as Who am I, What do I want and Why, What capabilities do I have and Who do I know, they transform the uncertainties into opportunities and have flexibility as an integral part of their strategies. Sarasvathy called this Effectuation.


Although I have read only a few chapters of the book, it sounds so familiar and is so close to what we are trying to do every day, that I wish I had written this book. Instead, I will spend the rest of the day reading it on the beach, and probably writing about it later this week. Meanwhile we all are eagerly awaiting what Dennis will produce. If his research and writing are done with the same diligence and hard work he has demonstrated while running our Mid Office, high expectations are set.

The third meeting was with HM, the Chief Financial Officer and Managing Director of one of the Netherlands most successful industrial enterprises. Active in more than one hundred countries (and paying taxes in fifty-three) they have managed to maintain a level of pragmatism, entrepreneurial spirit and focus on people that is rarely seen in companies this size, but often seen in private companies, especially those that have not moved to the big cities, but risk is a day-to-day reality for HM, on many levels. Currently the company has projects and assets stuck in Middle Eastern countries, due to political instability, it has a constant risk of staff in many countries making decisions that might prove to have negative effects, and obviously foreign exchange rate is a continuous challenge. Instead of trying to capture all these risks in model, creating a false sense of security by making them measurable, and mitigating them through processes and procedures HM works on the basis of trust, allowing mistakes, but insisting on learning from them and on the basis of playing close on the ball and adapting where necessary. Sounds familiar? Of course, the foreign exchanged risks is hedged, on insistence of the banks. The same banks that trade foreign currencies, thus creating the risk. The same banks that, without having a real product, make a profit from the hedging service. These kinds of schemes drive HM to madness. Don’t get him started on how only forty percent of people create something that is new and valuable, such as products or services, and the rest maintains schemes that only take: banks, the tax departments, lawyers, accountants, insurance companies. In fact: do get him started. He knows what he is talking about. Working in a global setting, he also has strong opinions and feelings about globalisation, work ethics and education. Although seemingly controversial, they make a lot of sense, because they stem from practical experiences from working with Dutch managers, Indian application designers, Chinese engineers. And the good part, of something needs to be done in his eyes, he actually does it, and currently plays a role in the Dutch education system in the area where his company is located.

The fourth meeting, in our office in Utrecht was with Edwin Kalischnig. Edwin, formerly with Philips and Oracle, now an entrepreneur in the field of RFId and NFC solutions addresses his issue of not yet having enough clients for this innovative technology (although he has a launching customer), has decided to put his capabilities to use and look for interim assignments. He can help companies to make innovation a driving force in their strategy.

Meanwhile I received calls and e-mails from Daphne Reurslag, a ling time friend who works for Successfactors (who have created a SaaS platform for Strategy Execution), connecting me to the HR Director of a large utility who has questions about a SAP HR project, from a former airline CIO, to introduce a candidate, and from Kees Engel, the CEO of Quion, for a catch-up meeting. Kees by the way is a guy with unexpected interests: he collects guitars and hotrods.

So I met with a potential partner, a professional on the payroll, a client, a candidate or associate, external partner with a client opportunity all friends. All Qhubans in our definition. So what do all these people have in common? They share characteristics that we call the Qhuba DNA. They do what they find important, they have a sense of purpose. We call them URUC: Unconventional, Reliable, Uncompromising and Connected. Unconventional is good. it means that someone has his own way of looking at the world, and realises that his views may differ from what convention, or the procedure prescribes. Reliability is a sanity factors, but not always found where you expect it. Reliable people are transparent, they like to share, and have no hidden agendas. This does not imply that they can or will not take political decision, but if they do, they do it with a purpose, not out of self-interest. Uncompromising may sound inflexible. What we mean is, uncompromising to principles that guide their professional and personal life. That do not pursue lost causes, they do not try to win just for the sake of winning. They are prepared not to do things or to stop doing things, or making things, or selling that are not right, or just plain wrong. If it looks like shit and it smells like shit, it usually is shit. And they all understand the value and fun of being connected, of knowing people, of finding peers, of doing things together, of sharing ideas, enthusiasm, knowledge, opportunities.

They are our tribe.

I have made a follow-up appointment with Hjalmar, scheduled a meeting with Kees, promised HM to invite him to our WhatsQooking events, and offered to work with him on finding talent for his organisation and share experiences on global rollouts, I will introduce Edwin and the other candidate to our recruiters, and connected the Utility HR Director to Peter Rappange , who runs our PPM practice and has many years experience a SAP HR programme manager. And now, before anything else, I will see what we still have in the kitchen and in the fridge, cook a meal for wife and kids, definitely bake a chocolate pie, and then read that book. That is effectuation, too.

One Response to How to build a company – Network DNA

  1. […] an earlier blog I wrote about Effectuation. At the time I had started reading the book of Thomas Blekman called […]

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