This is an interview excerpt with José Zurstrassen, the #EUCrowdShow Ambassador, and MyMicroInvest Chairman.
Question: Why don't you tell us in your own words about your experience as a founder. Why might a CEO or founder in Europe want to meet you, what is your background?
José: It's an important question. Well here In 1994 I left University and in those days, in Belgium you only had the internet when you were at University. There were only 3 internet access providers and they were all targeting the geek audience- the programmers and the IT people. And I was one of them, but I wanted to expand this access to all. So we founded Skynet, with my brother and a friend, with the goal to give internet access to everyone in Belgium.
The motto of the company was to ‘put the rest on the internet’. And pretty soon, we discovered that indeed, we were beginning to have farmers as customers and so we had reached our goal very early in the life of the company.
Then the national telecom began to be interested in what we were doing, for two major reasons: The first reason was the quality of the connection. With our tech skills, we were able to actually tweak the modems to make the connection very stable. Back in those days, when you had a dial-up internet connection, it used to break off all the time. Since we strove for quality, we found a way for our connections to remain open for our customers. Actually one of our early stage investors decided to invested because he stayed online for 36 hours without disconnecting. So back then it was a technical progress.
And the second reason why our national telecom was interested in what we were doing is because we automated the back office.
And so as an entrepreneur what I can share with other entrepreneurs: (1) to strive for quality. And (2) automate as much as possible, remove the tediousness in the backend, so you can focus on the growth of your company.
So with Skynet, we were lucky, we took advantage of the early opportunities with the new internet. At the end of 1998 we ended up with more money that we ever had in our life. And so, hmm, what next?
Well, once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. But what problem would we tackle now?
The situation was - suddenly we had this money, but we were still in Belgium and we weren’t able to invest our money on the stock exchange, on the New York Nasdaq, from Brussels. No one at the time was offering a direct investment option on the Nasdaq from Brussels. We decided to create a company to do it, KeyTrade.
And we created our business plan on the back of a beer coaster, because we were still young and when the ideas come to you over a beer, you have to seize them.
After about a year, because of those 2 principles of quality and automaton, we had about 3 Million in revenue with 3,000 customers. But there was a glass ceiling to our growth. It was difficult to reach the next level. So very early on we made the decision to go public with an IPO. This spurred a period of growth for the company, 1 year after that we’d multiplied the revenue by 7, to around 20-21 Million and we multiplied the profits by 14, from half a million to 7 Million.
We used part of the profits to invest in the company, of course because we are not there to only create and distribute profit, we're there to grow the company. So we were really happy, we had a nice operation of growth and we came to realize that we never used the money that we raised during that IPO because the growth, which was triggered by the publicity of our IPO, gave us so much cash flow.
And how did we generate so much attention for our IPO? We went on a roadshow, we traveled to 16 countries and talked to anyone who would listen, about our company, what we were were doing, and why it was important.
Just 3 months after our IPO we’d broken the ceiling to reach 14,000 customers. From 3,000. In 3 months!
We realised that other companies could benefit from the same process. But, the drawback is that an IPO is something that only happens once. It’s a single bet.
So most of the growth had happened in the recent months during the roadshow and just after the roadshows that was really really short and we came to realize that other companies could actually benefit from something like an IPO, the only drawback is that, if you take your company public, it’s something you can only do once, it's a single bet.
That’s where MyMicroInvest and crowdfunding comes in. It can help a small business to have the benefits of going public but the security to do it multiple times.
We decided to create MyMicroInvest to enable entrepreneurs to get investment. It’s the possibility to make a public call to fund, which is the first phase in IPO, without the listing, and without all of the heavy burden and responsibility of managing these funds.
My advice to new entrepreneurs is to host a crowdfunding campaign as fast as you can, because it's going to help your growth. That way you can focus on managing your company, on your technology or core business, instead of spending time fundraising and reporting.