The highlights of the Failing Forward conference

An article from Antoine Smets from our partners at Technologium with his impressions from the Failing Forward  2015.

Last week we were the guests at the Failing Forward conference that took place in Brussels. It was a day where entrepreneurs and athletes shared their life-advices about failing in a good way. Besides the very interesting keynotes also workshops and one-to-one sessions took place. These sessions allowed starting entrepreneurs to receive personalized advice from experienced professionals.Hereunder you can find our four highlights if the day.

Marc Herremans – there is always a new opportunity

he presentation of triathlete Marc Herremans had a lasting impact on the crowd. For the ones that don’t know Marc, he is a famous Belgian triathlete. In his mid twenties he was training to become the world champion but unfortunately a serious accident during training broke his dream. Marc was paralyzed from his toes till his chest. But the vitality and mental strength of Marc helped him to surpass this misfortune. Some years after his accident he participated to the Ironman in Hawaii in a separate track. In 2006 his dream came true and he became the world champion. Today Marc dedicates his time to his foundation “To Walk Again”. This organisation conducts research on spinal cord injuries and organizes adventurous sport activities for children in a wheelchair. The story of Marc is one about chances in life and that even after a serious setback there is always a path full of opportunities in life.

Toon Coppens told us the story about Netlog

For many the company recalls old memories. Netlog was the social network founded by two Belgians, Toon Coppens and Lorenz Bogaert. In the years 2008 – 2009 it was one of the future unicorns in the Belgian startup scene. But slowly Facebook and the economic crisis came into the game. This resulted in a loss of popularity and no new investments to fight the giant from Menlo Park. Finally the founders pivoted Netlog into the online datingwebsite Twoo. This last one became very popular and is today part of IAC , the owner of Meetic, Tinder, Vimeo…In the meantime Toon is again involved in another startup called Realo, the real estate website of the 21st country.

The key lessons Toon gave to the audience:

– Solve one problem with your startup or product. Too many features or a loss of focus will kill your initiative. This is what happend to Netlog that became a monster with many nice to have feature that weren’t essential to the core value proposition. Developing games is for example not something you would expect from a social network company, at the end it wasn’t clear what Netlog stood for.

– Never be arrogant, let the others be arrogant. During the successful years at Netlog, investors were lining up in front of their porch, literally. The founders didn’t need any financing and gave no attention to this. They refused to talk with many of them and concentrated on their work. Toon advised startup to always keep an eye on the investors market and potential buyers, success doesn’t last for ever.

– Build partnerships, you can’t do everything yourself. This is what the founders realized when Twoo was bought by IAC. They understood that the network and capabilities of this giant company were a huge asset for the growth of Twoo.

Pol Hauspie – from wonderboy to “Pol”

A lot has been written by the financial disaster created by Lernaut & Hauspie. This company will be reminded as one of the biggest technology company crashes in the Belgian history. Some numbers to understand the scale of the failure.

– L&H was worth 7.5 billion dollars on the stock market

– They had more than 8000 employees

– They did 40 acquisitions (the biggest one being Dictaphone for 950 million dollar)

– Had high profile investors like Bill Gates

All of this imploded from one day to another. The two founders, Jo Lernaut and Paul Hauspie cooked the books. In 2001 the founders and two other high profile executives were arrested and the company was declared bankrupt. Pol had two life lessons he wanted to share with the audience. Never let your ego drive you and no matter what, you always have a choice to do things differently. Today Pol does consultancy for young startups in South-Africa.

Clinic sessions: round tables to share your experiences

Failing Forward is a lot more than a conference. Many of the attendees had experiences with failed projects. To allow interaction between them one-to-one sessions and round tables were organized. We attended a session around “Business Modeling Hacking” animated by startup coach Roald Sieberath. He explained that the major reason why startups fail is because they build product no one is waiting for. To avoid this some tips & tricks were shared.

– Use tools like the “Business Model Canvas” (BMC). This will allow you to challenge your project or idea and test the feasibility.

– In the meantime a follow-up of the BMC has been published, it is called “Value Proposition Design”, to build products and services that the customers actually like or need.

– Fall in love with the problem and not with the solution. A mistake many engineers make and the end up building product no one is waiting for.

– Timing is important and you do have some influence on this. Try to sense the market and be at the right place at the right time.

There were other very interesting speakers like Cedric Van Branthegem, Paul Caroll (author of the “Billion Dollar Lesson”) and many others.

published on December 3, 2015