SL 50: Tedde Van Gelderen, Akendi

Never 100% failure.

Welcome to the Supreme Leadership podcast where we interview business leaders every entrepreneur should follow. I’m Alinka Rutkowska, CEO of Leaders Press and today I’m excited because we’re taking to Tedde Van Gelderen, CEO of Akendi.

Tedde explains that you will never 100% fail, that you will always have some successes and he shows you how you should push through to achieve the success you desire and deserve. In doing so make sure that you leverage the skills of your team, the power of your website and focus on mentorship.


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Alinka:                     Tedde, welcome to the Supreme Leadership podcast. I'm very excited to have you here.

Tedde:                     Thank you.

Alinka:                     Super. Let's get started. My first question is what is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be Tedde van Gelderen when they grow up?

Tedde:                     I think one of the main things that defines this kind of work is having the belief that what you do is going to work out and learning that, of course, stuff doesn't happen in the way that you want it to, that things will take time, that things will not go great, that you have to fail a lot, and they should know that, deep down know that you will figure it out eventually.

Alinka:                     Right, but in the meantime you're failing. Would you say that those failures set you up for success? Is it something to learn from and how much can you actually stand? How many failures can you take and still believe that you will succeed?

Tedde:                     Well, because it will never be only failures. There will always be some successes. You might have five failure or five things that fail and then six element will succeed. It will never be 100% failure. There will be some successes. I found that knowing that you're going to build up on those successes and knowing that the failure rate, if you will, will go down. You will get more often one in five to actually one in three, and you will have periods where it's even higher than that and it's going to be better than that. I think that, ultimately, if you make more good decisions than bad, you will end up in a better place, but it's the perseverance part. It's the failure part, and secondly is the perseverance part. I find again and again and again whenever you do this kind of thing, it's where people drop off too soon and they don't continue. They don't keep going at it where you find the big distinguishing factors between people "who get there" and who don't.

Alinka:                     Tedde, would you say that you learned mostly from your mistakes or did you have any mentors on your way?

Tedde:                     No. It's mostly myself, and that's not because I don't think there's good mentors out there. I think there's a ton of good mentors out there, but I think that the reality is that for my business, absolutely, it is so specific. It is so unique. I think honestly, a lot of businesses are like that, that they're so specific that it's really hard to be coached in a way that's going to get you there I would say quicker or more effective. I think ultimately, it is you. You're the one that's making the decisions. You're the one that's going to get there, and the coach will cheer and they will give you some general pointers that are no doubt useful, but I've never relied, not even heavily, but not even lightly on them. I heavily relied on myself ultimately to make the decisions I need to do to get where I am now.

Alinka:                     Do you have any inspiring stories for our listeners on how you maybe had some multiple failures and then everything turned around and you finally got that success that you were looking for at the time?

Tedde:                     One thing that that happened to work very well with my business is the use of my website. I was always surprised about how little still businesses don't rely on their website as a source of leads, as a source of sales, as a source of presenting themselves. It's ironic because I think whenever you ask anybody really about any needs that they have, whether you buy a new car, whether you buy a new anything, a service, a thing that you're looking for, 99.99% of the time, what do you do? You go online and you look for it. That's what we all do.

Tedde:                     When it comes to businesses, I'm surprised how many even entrepreneurs I meet and I ask them, so how do you do your sales? What I found is that so many people rely on, they say ... Well, they say various things, their network, the people that they know, the way they do to work and feel with quality work, we'll get there. I hardly ever hear that they say, well, because we have a really good website. I explain to them three things. Do you do the service I'm looking for? Do you have the product I'm looking for? Have you done this before? Can I trust you in that? Are you there? Are you a company that is able to deliver to that?

Tedde:                     All those elements together, the website is an ideal vehicle to answer those questions. What I find for my business, it has been one of the critical pieces that I got right early on and led to where I am now, is that the website is so well-equipped to answer the question. You get your first client, and I got my first client through my website, not because I knew somebody or I had some networking. Definitely, what I ask that, they say, yeah, but my business is different. I go, well go back to my first comments around, well, how do you find out about your competitors? How do you find out about other people that do what you do? It's always the same question around, well, we go to the website. You go do a search. Okay, ergo, if you find other people that way, why wouldn't you be found yourself?

Tedde:                     This is a sign that something went right for me from early stages. I've done this kind of business now three times in total. Every single time, it always started with a really good website.

Alinka:                     Well, you've just been coaching us a little bit about how to create a really powerful website. Tedde, are you also formally a mentor or do you mostly help people that you work with or also officially somehow?

Tedde:                     I'm not officially a mentor of somebody if that's what you're asking about. I am part of groups of people that are like me where they have small businesses or run businesses and we talk to each other on a regular basis. I'm definitely in that case a mentor for other people, but they're also a mentor for me, which I find actually a very powerful thing because they're going to be good at parts of the business that they're very good at. I can tell them about my website experience, for example, and they will tell me about their HR experience. I find those peer group meetings very powerful in coaching because they're not overall coaching things. They're not, oh, let me coach you on all aspects of your business. Because the reality is we all have our expertise, and we all have our good and bad sides. I love to talk to people about certain aspects of their business that they're very good at and take nuggets of that. I definitely have that kind of coaching that I do.

Alinka:                     Fantastic. In these peer groups, Tedde, what are the most popular topics that you discuss? What are some of the questions that pop up more often than others?

Tedde:                     Yeah, that's easy. By far, the most often discussed topic is HR, is people, is what I find a challenge in any business. Apart from what I just talked about the website and services, which is the core offering that you have, by far, the biggest challenge is to keep a healthy team. How do you keep a healthy team together? How do you grow a healthy team? How do you create a culture that is good in general? By far, that topic comes up the most, and we share the most stories around that, around what do you do in situations that are not good? We have to deal with some situations where there's conflict or where there's something that doesn't work well. Also, how do you maintain that? Especially when you grow from three people to eight to 20 to 30, dynamics change. We talk a lot about the differences that happen at each point and what it really means for our businesses.

Alinka:                     That's fascinating. I know those are probably topics that we can discuss for hours, but do you have any golden nuggets that you could share that maybe stood out at one of your recent meetings?

Tedde:                     Well, one of the things is what happens in a lot of small businesses ... My business is smaller. It's 15 people right now. At some point, a couple of years ago, it was 25. What I find a lot of people use, and I say this quote, they use ... their excuse of a small business to say, well, we can't compete, for example, with the bigger companies in terms of the HR, the benefits or the culture that they have around mentoring and helping people. I always found that very concerning to hear because I always firmly believe that any business size can have a mature coaching or supports in the company, and it really is us. It's the people, the more experienced people in the company to have to play that role. I always firmly believed that, no, there is no excuse there that you'd say, oh, well, we're too small for that. We can't do that because.

Tedde:                     I say, well, I don't know if that's really true. I think you have to treat yourself very seriously and very maturely and say, well, we can have the same practices in place as these big companies. We can have the same kind of things in place. They don't always necessarily mean more money. We have to go on fancy retreats somewhere or have to have all these big speakers come in or do something fancy. You can do a lot of things much more personal, much more led by senior people in the company to create that culture where you get the same kind of support that you would get in a bigger company.

Tedde:                     That's what we talked about recently, is this fallacy that we can't compete with bigger companies. I'm saying, well, I think you can. You really should think about it as if you're a big company and find good ways around the money aspect of big investments or big things like that because I think, ultimately, the senior people know. They worked in these places. They've seen all the good practices and all the good things and the good tactics that are happening. Don't say that. Don't say that you're small therefor you can't. Say we're small and therefore we're going to do it differently but reach the same goals.

Alinka:                     I love it. This is very wise. Tedde, if you were to write a book, another book because you already have a book out. Let's talk about your book. The title is Experience Thinking. You wrote it last year in 2018. Can you share a little bit what you discussed in Experience Thinking?

Tedde:                     Yeah. This is about my domain, the field I work in. It's customer experience, user experience and basically helping companies, which is what my company does, help companies build products and services that are easier to use, that people better understand, that are more effective. That's in general what we do. The book was, for me, an outlet to capture a lot of the ideas I've had over the years that I've talked to our clients about but never formally captured. That's what really what this book is, is a capture of that thinking.

Tedde:                     The structure of the book is around ... and the goal audience really for this book is not really practitioners because they should already know most of what's in the book. It's really people that buy services like ours because I felt always a big gap between the understanding of, well, you can easily say I want to make stuff easier, and people say that out loud often and say, well, we really care about our customers. We want to make things easier. That's great, but how do you do this really? What are the key questions you ask yourself? How do I buy this if I do buy this from another company? What are the things I should be thinking about and watch for and what's the process that they would go through? That's what I find often is lacking, and the understanding is very low in a lot of our clients.

Tedde:                     I wrote the book in a way as a guide to tell people, saying, well, this is what the space is about. This is what you should care about. This is the process of how to go through this because for customer experience, design and user experience design, there are some models out there, but they're not as widely accepted and shared as I hoped they would be. I see the book as a way to say please look at this now and look at the experience first basically, and that's what Experience Thinking, is that when you think about the experience, what would you need to do in order to deliver that? That's what the book really is helping with, to create that guide to structure the process of getting there.

Alinka:                     Fantastic. It's also an outlet for you to mentor readers, right?

Tedde:                     Absolutely. I think it's a very clear step up. When you read the book, you will have questions. You will have things about, okay, I get it. I get the awareness now. I get how this works, but then after, so what do I do now? What we found is that we typically coach people in three distinct ways. One way is to help them do it themselves. Part of our business is also doing training. We found that's not always answering the question for them because they get trained, but the field is so new and so unexplored for them that they find it really hard to do it themselves.

Tedde:                     A second version of coaching that we often do is a derivative of that, is that, yes, we train you, but we're also going to be there when you try it out. We're going to work with you as you try out these new techniques and these new processes that we just learned and taught you. That's the second form of coaching. Sometimes, our clients are so scared that they say, well, I don't want to start doing that yet. Can you just show me? We do to work for them. In the process of showing it and basically let them peek over our shoulders, they learn a lot of the field as well. That combination of these three things of pure training them, coaching them, have to do it yourself or do it for them while they watch us. Those three work really well in most cases where where we feel we can make a difference, but it's not a straight up answer to their situation.

Alinka:                     That's great. Tedde, if you were to write another book, what would be your key message?

Tedde:                     It's a bit based on what we just talked about. Another book that I find that I don't see enough written about but is the next step up. This space that I'm in, the user experience, customer experience base is growing. It's actually very rapidly growing. There's a lot of people that either stepped into it or they learn about it, they think it's cool, and they start to work in it. There's an emergence now of a lot of teams that are growing now within companies too that do this kind of work.

Tedde:                     What I find is that there's such a diversity of people that walk into this space that there's not enough time spent on good structures of managing teams, managing teams in this space. I would love to write another book about how do you manage a team with this expertise, with the user experience expertise or the CX expertise? Drawing from my own experience of course, but also talking to other people about the different circumstances that you get into, whether it's a big organization with a big structure in it or it's a small techy startup that needs to get by on a shoe string. There are very different dynamics and cultures. I'd love to write a book about management of those kind of teams.

Alinka:                     Fantastic, Tedde. My last question is where can our listeners go to find out more about you?

Tedde:                     Well, that's easy. Just Google my name and you'll find me because I run the company, Akendi, and the book is on Amazon. That's easy as well. That's what I would do. I have a distinct enough name to be fairly unique, I think. I don't think there's another person with my name, so I would just search me and a whole list will come up.

Alinka:                     That's fantastic. Everybody, search for Tedde van Gelderen, and you'll be able to connect with Tedde. Thank you so much for this fantastic interview.

Tedde:                     Thank you very much.


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