Vincent Walstra is the type of entrepreneur that media loves to cover: young, enthusiastic, open and smart. From his investment in the company Ayold.com in 2016, the growth was impressive and media coverage was plentiful. The portal for the coatings industry was on the rise and a far-reaching partnership with Akzo Nobel, plus Ayold's global ambitions captured the imagination.
Three years later, the entrepreneur still believes in his concept, but has also learned some lessons. For example: that getting too big too soon does not work and that a broad global strategy has drawbacks. That is why Walstra recently changed course. We are now focusing entirely on the Netherlands. With the online platform coating.nl we now serve the business market and with verflaag.nl we serve the private market,' says the entrepreneur, who will break even early next year.
We started by focusing on the revenue model. In the past, we sometimes let our own ambitions drive us crazy.
Vincent Walstra, shareholder Ayold
'I was always interested in the Internet and online business,' Walstra states from his office overlooking the Zuiderplein in Leeuwarden. 'As a student of Commercial Economics I got the chance to start a business in web hosting in 2010 and I thought, 'I'll quit school and give it a try. If it doesn't work out I can always pick up my education again.'
One thing led to another, and after several wanderings, Walstra stepped into Ayold.com in 2016; an international platform for the coatings industry, which had been founded in 2014 by coatings expert Erik van der Schaaf. Partly due to a close collaboration with Akzo Nobel, the company gained tremendous momentum. 'Growth shot through the roof pretty quickly, but we learned that something can also go too fast. Our broad global scope yielded a lot of sales and a tremendous number of leads. However, actually capitalizing on all those apparent opportunities proved difficult. People don't call back, don't respond to e-mails, or use your portal as a source of information and then go about their business themselves. There goes your commission. It didn't feel right anymore. So we decided to change course.
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Data gold mine
And in doing so, Walstra and his fellow shareholders did not opt for half solutions. It was decided to first shift the focus fully to the Dutch market and even choose another unique selling point. 'That was exciting and sometimes not even fun, because with that course we also had to let fine people go, but it was necessary. We knew that our coating portals just run heartily and are basically a data goldmine when it comes to coating. But the business market - especially the large mid-market segment - needed advice and, above all, fast and optimal service.'
The revenue model: any party who needs a special coating for an area from about one hundred square meters can find a wealth of information on the website coating.nl, as well as submit a project directly. This customer is then called by Ayold and within a short time Ayold then offers up to three quotations from so-called 'applicators' (think floor coating specialists, ed.). Walstra: 'So by then we have already carried out an extensive inventory of all kinds of criteria, so the customer saves a lot of time and can fully trust the options we present to him or her.'
In short: Ayold's 'customer journey' starts with the online portal, only to return to 'old school' personal mediation? 'Yes, I am convinced there is a revenue model in that,' says the entrepreneur. 'It often involves special coating; for floors, ceilings, walls and often with very specific requirements. That sometimes involves investments ranging from 25,000 to sometimes several hundred thousand euros. Whoever can add value there with reliable mediation can earn good money.'
For that mediation, Ayold charges ten percent commission. A revenue model that NOM also saw potential in, although Investment Manager Jens Ruesink realizes that the model still needs to mature. There are still some important development steps to be taken, with which the rich amount of data and content can be monetized even more. And that may also take some time at this stage. NOM's investment is characterized as so-called early phase funding. Funding to support companies in an early phase of development with knowledge and capital. The business segments that Ayold now wants to serve with coating.nl look promising. This is already a fairly large market. But we also find the scalability of the concept interesting. People know a lot about online marketing and the portal functions very well as a basis for mediation. That can also be scaled up in the future. We also think it is smart that the online knowledge is also used to serve the private market through its own portal verflaag.nl'.
'BREAK EVEN FIRST; THEN THE NEXT DOT ON THE HORIZON'
Of course, the personality of the entrepreneur himself also plays an important role in participation decisions, Ruesink confirms. "We have confidence in Vincent and the team. He has had successful startups in the past, goes all the way and at the same time has the ability to leave what he can do less to others. Walstra: "That's true, I think. An example is Daan Verhorst who has joined our team. A man with a tax background who has worked at KPMG Meijburg and Deloitte, among others, and brings commercial strength. His arrival is a serious investment for us, but we can already see that opportunities are being cashed in. That gives positive vibes.
And the dot on the horizon? When can investors expect a return on investment? Walstra keeps giving the same answer despite a repeated question: "We started with a focus on the earnings model. In the past, we sometimes let our own ambitions drive us crazy. Of course we dream of great international success, but first we want to prove whether our proposition actually works. We said to ourselves: break even at the beginning of 2020; only then will we determine the next dot on the horizon.'
- Best-known portals: coating.co.uk (business market) and verflaag.co.uk (private market)
- Team (measurement date: October 1, 2019): Vincent Walstra (co-owner), Daan Verhorst (commercial manager), Marieke Krijger (marketing and communications).
- Shareholders: Vincent Walstra, Hans Jorritsma, Jochem Vroom, Johan de Leeuw, Jan Jitse Bok, NOM.
There is one other silent shareholder. NOM has a ten percent stake in ayold.com.