Jeroen van Onna: Focus is the norm and turns when necessary
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Jeroen van Onna: Focus is the norm and turns when necessary

Both focus and agility are success factors, but you use them in different circumstances. Jeroen van Onna, investor at NOM, concludes his webinar with seven tips highlighting that at least the startup needs to focus.

NOM Webinar - Focus & wendbaarheidJeroen van Onna's NOM webinar has focus and agility as its central theme. His story is larded with anecdotal experiences from the life of an investor. For the examples about focus and agility he draws effortlessly from his experiences at NOM, making it an entertaining half hour. Big names like Catawiki and Web-IQ and their search for the right identity pass by.

How unpredictable everything is proves Kalooga

The story about Web-IQ is very typical of how unpredictable a company's life can be, as it begins about 15 years ago with Kalooga, an image search engine. Especially for media. That search engine works adequately and, in the process, stumbles upon large amounts of pornography and child pornography, which is reported to the police, but who, at the time, do not appear to be equipped to deal with it seriously.

Jeroen van Onna: ,,There was also some tension on the relationship, because the police didn't really want to cooperate with a party that also works for media. That was sensitive. In the end, Kalooga decided to start with Web-IQ.'' This Groningen company dedicated itself to the best possible technologies to fight international child abuse. And Kalooga no longer exists. It is a feat of optimal agility.

In failure, focus is the same as stubborn

Moments earlier, Van Onna listed a series of examples of blown agility and focus. "An entrepreneur said so beautifully the other day: if you succeed with your focus then you are called tenacious and if the mission fails then you have been stubborn." It's all very nuanced, he wants to say. ,,That you are agile as an entrepreneur, fine, but don't drive your customers and your employees crazy. Make sure they continue to understand you.''

And it shows the Holiday Auctions site. No vacations are shown there since corona made its appearance. It now sells fryers. Van Onna: ,,In this example you do see some tension between focus and agility, but then again, you can't say that about the bankrupt D-Reizen anymore...''

For employees, focus is good

Van Onna has worked with about 150 entrepreneurs over the past 25 years. And read and learned a lot. He mentions companies that do all kinds of things and at first glance lack any focus (GE, VDL), but also companies that were too focused. ''For the employees, focus is often good, they then know exactly what is expected of them,'' he says.
But there are limits to focus. Van Onna cites the example of Porsche, which until the early 1990s made only sports cars. ''The focus no longer made money, because at one point only 14,000 cars were sold,'' he knows. Today, nearly 150,000 Porsches a year are sold again, three-quarters of which are not sports cars.

Most focused entrepreneurs at Catawiki

The turnaround at Porsche came through a new focus. Van Onna: ,,The focus was shifted from men driving sports cars to men who would like to drive sports cars. The larger cars are now used to run errands and transport the family. Porsche grants its target group cars that fit their identity and Porsche is now the best-earning branch within the Volkswagen group.''

Countless examples pass by in the half-hour webinar. But we'll just pick out the appealing Catawiki. Looking back, Van Onna mentions this: ,,A great adventure with the best focused entrepreneurs - Rene Schoenmakers and Marco Jansen - that I have ever experienced.''

Like boxing: focus and agile

Catawiki begins as a broad platform for collectors. A place where the collector is taken seriously, says Van Onna, a community with which the collector can identify. ''The starting point was the collector and they would see what worked and what didn't,'' Van Onna looks back. ''It was like boxing in the ring: both focus and agility.''

The first auction in 2011 was an immeasurable success. That becomes the success factor. Catawiki grows more than 45,000 percent in a few years. An unsurpassed success. Van Onna: ,,Everything was focused on the bidding game, winning the auction.''

'Growth had become too much the goal'

After the initial success came a reversal. That was after Schoenmakers and Jansen left the company. Van Onna: ,,Growth had become too much of a goal. For example, there were lots that were less suited to Catawiki. Renewed focus under new management led to new growth, but less steeply than in the past.''
The idea of a collector's platform has been abandoned. Van Onna: ,,I am sometimes asked if that is not a mistake. It might be. It will turn out. Meanwhile, Rene Schoenmakers and Marco Jansen are following up on the original collectors' platform with the website "LastDoDo.''

Seven tips from Van Onna

After another treatise on bestselling author Simon Sinek's "Why, How, What," Van Onna concludes with seven tips:

  1. A starter needs to focus;
  2. a successful existing company should diversify and tackle new business as if it were a start-up (preferably outside the existing company);
  3. Think carefully about the company name;
  4. strategy should be good;
  5. when focusing on an idea, the starter does need to have the "why, how and what" in place;
  6. chair optimism not ignorance;
  7. focus is the norm and turns when necessary.