Interview

Rob van den Heuvel

Founder and CEO of Sendcloud


In his early 20’s, Rob van den Heuvel started Sendcloud with two of his friends. Each modest in their own respect, they never wanted people to think that they were bigger than themselves. He says “who needs a C-title? We called ourselves account manager, because we thought it would make us look bigger as a company.” Rob has come a long way since starting out Sendcloud a little over seven years ago. And during that time, he has learned the true ins and outs of the makeup behind a good leader.


Be yourself. If you are not being authentic, people will notice.

What is the best advice you have for leaders? Be yourself. If you are not being authentic, people will notice. This goes for your team as well. I’ve made some bad hires in the past, people who were not authentic and the company culture rejected them. Personally, I prefer to apply the ‘no bullshit approach’. We have had this vision since we first started the company, that’s why we all used the same job title. What is your leadership style and how can you learn to let go as a leader? I like to give as much autonomy as possible. I start by guiding them in the right direction but then give them the freedom to do it their own way. Although, sometimes I still find that a bit tough. If I see a mistake sometimes I tend to interfere. But I also know that it disrupts the process, the trust will be gone and the team will come to me for all their questions, big or small. So I like to advise, but let people make their own mistakes. However, if one of your people makes the same mistake over and over, then maybe you hired the wrong person. If you don’t trust them any more, then it may be time to let them go.

How do you ensure that you hire good talent? Some roles are easy to hire for, especially ones with clear KPI’s, like sales. It gets a bit tricky when hiring managers. The people have to buy into them. If they don’t, then they will complain or go around the manager. You then often see high performers leaving and team performance decreasing. These are clear signs that your manager does not fit in the organization.

Rob van den Heuvel

CEO en Co-Founder of Sendcloud (2013).

150+ employees.

5463% growth between 2013 and 2017.

Soundbite

Rob has succesfully grown Sendcloud to 150+ employees in seven years. Crucial for this growth was a strong leadership.

What does he look for when constructing a leadership team?

We always try to minimize bad hires at the front door with a strict hiring process. We invite candidates in for test days so we can see how they work on tasks and how well they gel with the team. We need to like working with them. If the team is not onboard with the candidate, then we don’t hire. What subjects should a leader always be involved in? You always need to be involved in recruiting. If you are doubling your team, you need to ensure people match your culture. As these new people begin hiring, you need to make sure they understand this. It’s your largest expense and important for your company. Amongst other things, you also always need to be in control of culture, long term strategy, investor relations, and occasionally large customer deals. Do you think leadership needs hierarchy in an organization? Not necessarily, but someone needs to make decisions. The Dutch model of consensus is not always the right one. Dutch people want to find the middle ground, but sometimes you don’t go anywhere and nothing gets done. Rather make the wrong decisions, bump heads with one another, and change direction; it’s better than compromising on something mediocre. We try to keep our organization structure flat for as long as possible, but something needs to change when too many people start reporting to a single leader.

The Dutch model of consensus is not always the right one

In a nutshell:

Be honest, open, and learn by making mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes and always managed to learn something from them. And don’t go international if you’re not ready for it.

You just need to be flexible, resilient and never give up.

What does a good leadership team look like in your opinion? A diverse group of people with different ideas and backgrounds. Preferably you want an experienced leadership team that is flexible and lives up to your cultural values. They need to be “the first team”. If you’re a VP Sales, you must see the leadership team as your first team, after that comes the sales team. If the management team works well together, it will trickle down.

What skills do you need as the leader of a scaleup? You just need to be flexible, resilient and never give up. For me, It's not that hard to be a scale-up leader, it feels natural. Be fearless and dare to make decisions, but don’t hesitate. Be yourself and make sure you have a big drive to win. Choose a strategy, act fast on it, and then execute. Too often, people tend to try and make the perfect business plan and spend two years on it, but really they should have implemented it two years ago. You will learn more about your strategy while doing than you will by planning it perfectly. Who has helped you develop as a leader and how do you ensure you are getting enough feedback? Everyone has helped me develop as a leader, from the management team and investors all the way down to the office managers. We have a very open culture, so even the cleaning person tells me when I have to clean my shit up. Especially the first 100 or so people in the company don’t view me as a strict leader. This way, people won’t be afraid to give me feedback.

Choose a strategy, act fast on it, and then execute.
It’s not about hours I put in but the quality of the decisions I make.

How do you maintain your culture? You need to be strict at the front door. Be very critical during the hiring process, provide a good onboarding, and make sure you show your face during this time to show that you are approachable. You have to explain to them the strategy and the long term vision. When they see your managers also embody your culture, you avoid the forming of subcultures. How to keep a relaxed mind as a leader? I work out, read, and try not to work during my weekends. Sometimes it is needed, but it’s not about hours I put in but the quality of the decisions I make. So be there if you need to be there, but otherwise it doesn’t make sense. What is the biggest lesson you have learned? Don’t go international if you’re not ready for it, your product needs to be ready first. And don’t assume that the business model that works in the Netherlands will work in other countries. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve learned this the hard way. And if you go international a little early, make sure it’s a larger market. I’ve tried Belgium as a first international market, but I should have gone for Germany or the UK. You can only spend time once, so choose wisely. It’s better to focus your efforts on a bigger market, that way you have a larger reach.

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