We talked to Geert van Vlijmen, an international business performance coach who has been a part of the Dutch startup ecosystem for many years. Read more about his experience and find practical advice for creating a perfect pitch and growing your business.
An Interview with Geert van Vlijmen
1. Hi Geert, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?
In 2000, after 3 years of working in law as a junior notary, I resigned because I had more passion for innovation than for law. I started working in the innovation team of a big B2B publishing firm. Then, 7.5 years ago, I decided it was time to create my own reality and traded my corporate life to start my own business. I worked on a startup, and I started supporting other entrepreneurs and businesses as a mentor and coach. Since the demand for my coaching increased significantly and proved to get the most traction, I decided to focus on this full time. This is how I became a full-time professional business performance coach focusing on business and startups alike.
2. What type of coaching do you do? And how did you develop your coaching skills?
As we all know, there are many aspects of making a business work: you have to be able to market and sell, bring amazing value to your customers, make sure your team and process is functioning and earn more than you spend. You have to be able to communicate and influence everybody you come in contact with. And although tools and strategies are important, your mindset is perhaps even more important, especially when things get tough. I help leaders grow in all areas of their business by coaching on business, peak performance and communication. Often, these areas can’t just be looked at separately, because you bring yourself into all of them.
I am lucky to be able to combine my background in business, my experience in training presenters and a deep understanding of human psychology because I spent over a decade on personal development. I have been trained in coaching, have completed a master practitioner certification in neuro strategies, and I worked with corporate teams, managers and leaders from different organisations.
3. What are 3 tips to enable presenters to create a winning pitch or presentation?
1. Develop your story with your audience in mind. Ask yourself: what do they need to hear? What emotion do you want your audience to leave with? And what action do you want them to take as a result of your presentation?
2. People have to be able to follow your story-line. So be aware of the bridges between content elements, they help to make your story flow. Even though this sounds so logical, I still see startups struggle in meetups with investors. It often remains unclear what a startup actually does, what problem they solve, and what results they bring.
3. Work on your delivery by practising out loud and don’t forget emotion is key. Be yourself when you present, people notice when you are not being real.
4. What are 3 lessons for founders you learned over the years of working with startups?
1. Although it seems obvious, try to talk to as many (prospective) customers as possible. By really having a deep and continued understanding of your customer, you can make sure that your value proposition is indeed what they are (actively) looking for. You will know when you have traction and product market fit. If you are in doubt, it is probably still not there. A lot of founders do not hit the threshold of talking to the minimum number of customers required to gain the insights they need to have a full and comprehensive understanding of their market segment.
2. I still see startups that “hide” in product development. As soon as possible focus on marketing and sales. As one of my mentors said “you’re in the business of selling your product or service”, you are not in the business of “your product or service”.
3. TEAM TEAM TEAM! Choose the right people to collaborate with. As most investors will tell you, your team is the most important thing.
5. You have a background of over 10 years in corporate innovation, you’re a mentor in the startup community, you have created a startup yourself and perhaps even more important; you have a deep understanding of human psychology because you spent over a decade on personal development. What is the thing you’re most proud of in shaping the Dutch startup ecosystem?
I am most proud when I see those, who I have had the honour to support, give an amazing (award-winning) presentation, achieving their business goals, or overcoming a personal challenge. I love creation and when entrepreneurs are able to reach their next peak, and I supported them with tools, strategies or changing their mindset. That gives me energy!
6. You’re the owner & founder of Imagejo. Tell us about the idea that got it all started and the way you’re working with companies now.
I more or less stumbled upon this opportunity, and it evolved over time. I work with leaders, executives and startup founders who want to get to the next level. We grow their business and leadership skills.
On the business side, we are discovering what is holding the business back. For example: is it a lack of sales? Is it wasting time on (innovation) projects that don’t deliver on their promise? Are the employees/teams performing badly? Is it the execution or is it the strategy? On the personal side, we check whether it’s a lack of your communication skills? Your mindset? Effective leadership? Your work-life balance?
There isn’t just one way how I support my clients. We determine where the leader and the business are and then where they both need to be. Then it’s about taking massive action. If you are not prepared to take massive action, it does not make sense to start working together.
7. What do you predict for the Dutch startup ecosystem in the near future? What are your plans, what will you focus on?
The Dutch startup community is getting more and more mature, it attracts more and more support for startups. Tools that were once new for startups are now being considered common knowledge. It’s relevant for startups to be very diligent in choosing the right partners for their success.
My focus remains on supporting businesses and their leaders to grow by being resourceful enough to use and choose the right strategies at the right time. All of that with the aim to create profitable businesses with raving fans. First alone and perhaps in the near future with a larger team of world-class coaches.
Thank you for sharing your experience and advice with us, Geert! We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.