At Board of Innovation, our team values are very important. One of them all of us share, is an entrepreneurial spirit. One of our consultants Vincent is the absolute proof of that, he recently translated his entrepreneurial mindset in his own startup, Sir.
Vincent has been working at Board of Innovation for almost a year now and he already did innovation projects in Brazil, Kuwait, Swiss, Sweden, … As an innovation consultant he got used to cross-industrial work. He recently guided a corporate innovation accelerator in the glass industry, an innovation bootcamp for a telco and a hackathon for a big player in global HR.
Within our team there is a strong focus on self-development. For Vincent this results in being very entrepreneurial. His goal is to keep ahead of startup scene. Since his startup has already been selected for the incubator of a big Belgian bank, it’s about time that we ask him some questions about his lean startup adventure so far.
Can you explain what ‘Sir’ is or does?
Sir is an application that simplifies gift buying. By answering a few questions about the receiver, users receive a tailored gift proposal. If you like the gift you can have it delivered at work or at home, at any given time of the day. Sir takes away the hassle of gift buying so you have more time for the fun part: giving a useful and tailored gift!
When did you came up with the idea of this product?
We started from a very basic problem. Due to long working hours, I didn’t find the time to buy flowers for my girlfriend when coming home. This is where the spark started, to build a ‘Just in time’ flower delivery service ( The idea was called ‘flower-hour’ at the start). While sitting in the plane with my colleague Manu we discussed the idea and soon we changed the concept to a broader scope, meaningful gifts for all types of events.
Are you the only founder? What’s the ‘perfect’ startup team for you?
I am co-founder with Manu Vollens. We both have a product design background, but he is the more creative executer, while I’m more of a managerial & commercial type, I guess. At the start it was great to start as a team of 2 like minded guys, but soon it was clear that we needed more diversity. That’s why we connected with Stein Vermeulen and Dries Vandermeulen. Both IT guys but Stein is more a managerial type and Dries is more an executor
How do you combine a startup with your full time job as an innovation consultant?
It’s tough I must say :-) though I was used to combine my own business with my studies before. Today I use my Saturdays to connect with partners and to arrange all the work for Sir. Once every 2 weeks we meet with the team to give each other an update. We recently introduced a buddy system, where one of the team is a lead and the other is a support. Hereby everyone has his own responsibilities, but you still have a peer to collaborate with. This being said, it is pretty difficult lately, to meet with my buddy, since my last months I’ve been aboard more than I am in Belgium.
What are the similarities between your job at Board of Innovation and your role as a founder?
Working on new concepts, using the lean approach, challenging and pivoting concepts, but in this case my own concept. Practically we often use the same tools as the ones we use for customers.
Does your Board of Innovation role involve ‘startup work’ as well?
Yes, today I am working (part-time) as Lean startup coach within a startup venture within Sappi (Sappi is a global paper producer). In this role I support the team on the exploration of new markets and experimenting with new working methods, prototyping, stakeholder mapping etc..
How would you describe the ‘Lean startup’ approach to people without a startup background?
In a nutshell: The lean startup approach is a new type of process that helps entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to incorporate experimentation and failure in their way of working. The key blocks we use are Build-Measure-Learn. They remind every person in a team (startup or corporate) to build and validating an idea as soon as possible, in order to fail and learn fast.
Do you think this approach works in a B2B environment as well?
I ‘ve used this approach in many different B2B organisations, from leading concrete producers to energy companies. It is difficult to incorporate it in the start, since it is often the opposite of their current processes, but by incorporating it in a more structured manner, e.g. accelerator programs, we can really see the effect.
Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin once said that if you’re not embarrassed about your first MVP, you launched too late. How do you think about this quote?
I really believe that this is true. Your first MVP or prototype should be quick and dirty, having in mind that you only have to validate your core assumptions and not your entire business concept. To give you an example: at the very beginning we used Whatsapp and bought and delivered every gift ourselves, to check some of our assumptions. I must say it wasn’t what our first users expected, but it did the job. It took us a few days to get our first customers and to validate some assumptions instead of months if we would have built it as a real application.
Is there a point where lean is ‘finished’, where you have defined your product?
In general you can use the lean approach at any stage of a project. Because of the high level of assumptions at the early stage of a project, the lean approach is more useful in the beginning in comparison to further developed concepts. At a certain point in time there can be a shift from building something new (lean startup) to the scaling a concept (growth). In this case other techniques might be more relevant.
How important is customer feedback and how do you manage to get it from the right people?
We used our launching page to attract potential customers from the start. Feedback is essential at any stage of the development. We used customer feedback at the start to validate the basics, but over time we used them to do A/B testings on new features we launched.
Which tool did you use to validate your business idea?
- Invision app for the visual mock up: to show it to B2B customers.
- Whatsapp to validate the actual usage by consumers.
What you hear a lot in the startup scene, is that you need to tell as many people as possible about your idea. How do you think about sharing your idea in an early stage?
It is clear that corporates are more used to protecting ideas, than generating and sharing them with others. I can only highlight that it is crucial to share your idea with as much people as possible, otherwise you will never receive the feedback that you need.
At Board of Innovation, our mantra is ‘helping corporates to innovate like startups’, what’s the biggest difference between a corporate and a startup? You can’t use ‘money’ as an answer.
‘Shareholder focus’ VS ‘customer focus’. This doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive, the key to success when validating an early idea is to keep it out of the shareholders radar until it is viable.
If you enjoyed this interview and you want to know more about Vincent’s adventure, just leave your questions in the comments or ping us @boardofinno!