When entrepreneurial blood really exists, it flows through Mike Kolker's veins. At 13, he already had his first business. "If I could have started it even earlier, I would have done it.
Together with his two companions Thijs Rotman (34) and Mike Campbell (34), Mike Kolker (30) runs his company Mundu from business premises in the business park Het Witte Lam on the north side of the city of Groningen. With Mundu, the three Groningen entrepreneurs operate giant digital billboards at eye-catching locations, in city centers and at busy traffic intersections, for example.
With funding from the NOM that, among other things, enabled an acquisition of Amsterdam-based industry peer OpgeLED, Mundu has taken a leap in growth. As a result, the Groningen-based company is now on the radar of major parties looking to rent screen time on the smart digital billboards. 'Smart,' because to make the ads as effective as possible, the ad videos on the billboards vary with the time of day or weather conditions, for example. After all, in hot weather, an ice cream manufacturer is extra eager to show what goodies it has.
For Kolker, the road to now was an almost inevitable one. Friends wanted to join the fire department, or become police officers. Kolker's ambitions did not fit as well into that calibrated expectation pattern for little boys: 'For me it was crystal clear at a very young age: I wanted to start a business. I think I was born with the idea, I just had to do it.'
Even though the idea was in his fibers, as a teenager you need some help to set up the business. So Kolker's mother went with him to the bank and the Chamber of Commerce to sign autographs on the registration forms for the Kolker Media company. The youthful entrepreneur managed to turn it into a profitable web development business, which he sold after a few good years. On to the next project.
An entrepreneur is like an artist
For Kolker, entrepreneurship is something like sculpture; he sees parallels between the entrepreneur and the artist, both working from creativity. 'I might have become an artist. I love building something from nothing, creating something and making something beautiful out of it, making sure it becomes a living organism.
"As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to think outside the box - out-of-the-box," Kolker says. An entrepreneur who lacks creativity, he says, will not go far. 'Creativity has to be in you. It is necessary that you can think more broadly than non-entrepreneurs; after all, you have to deal with so many enormously different facets.'
Be a perseverer
But setting up a business, of course, doesn't get you there yet. All in all, this is the easiest step. You register at the Chamber of Commerce and you're already on your way. Making that business a success is already a lot harder. 'Ambition is necessary, otherwise you don't even start. Just like opportunism, being able to seize opportunities quickly. But I think the most important thing is to be a perseverer.'
Where most people will quit an idea after two or three setbacks, an entrepreneur, on the other hand, keeps going, Kolker argues. Continuously persevere, even when things are exciting and your fears play tricks on you. "Everyone has their fears, but if you want to achieve something as an entrepreneur, you have to be able to control your fears in a good way.
Kolker's biggest fear? "That the business will eventually fail. But you just don't want to dwell on that. If you do, you come to no decision.'
Entrepreneurship is about making sacrifices
With Mundu, Kolker is doing twentyfour-seven. That may seem like a sacrifice, but Kolker does not experience it that way at all. 'The company is extremely close to me,' he says. 'But that also makes you go for it rock hard. For an outsider that can be difficult to understand, but that's how it works for me.'
For example, Kolker didn't mind that he barely made a penny with Mundu for the first two years. That is part of starting a business, he believes. I can live on bread and water for a few months, because I also see that dot on the horizon.
Nor is that what makes it tough sometimes, Kolker emphasizes. It only gets tough when people's interests are at stake, as Kolker experienced with Mundu when a reorganization proved unavoidable. Long days, all right. Earning little in an initial phase, also okay. 'But going through such a difficult process all together, I certainly found that difficult.'
It also touches on the pitfalls any entrepreneur can unexpectedly fall into, according to Kolker. As far as he is concerned, there are two. Not selecting staff with sufficient focus is one. 'It is difficult to build a successful team. Harder than you think. You don't just have a good team when you put a few puppets together.'
Another issue entrepreneurs need to watch out for, according to Kolker, is that sometimes ambitions are greater than reality allows. "Most entrepreneurs think they can go faster than practice. That happened to us with Mundu as well. That can be dangerous, because you can take irresponsible financial risks as a result.
Rather, Kolker speaks of the satisfaction he derives from Mundu. 'Seeing that a plan you have is actually succeeding, that the business is starting to pay off. For me, that is the core. Setting goals for yourself and achieving them. Not standing still for too long, but moving on quickly and constantly staying focused on what you want to achieve in the future.'
Not necessarily a big company
Mundu is now well on track. 'We want to make something beautiful out of it in the coming years. First and foremost, that means a company where money is made. We want to be a party that matters in the Netherlands.'
What Kolker and his co-directors will be doing in a few years is a question that is now somewhere far in the background. Kolker: "I found out that I like to do some development. I'm not someone who necessarily wants to run a big company. So for Mundu, there may come a time when we sell it to someone who can take it to another level.'
Kolker will probably start something new again then; he needs impetus and thrives on developing ideas, he says. There is the little voice of the thirteen-year-old boy again.