🎧 Tune in to The Big Exit Show, this time with ‘idea machine’ Henk Jan Bijmolt, who sold wood webshop Gadero to Egeria, and knows all about the space as the owner of tuindeco.
Henk Jan shares great insights as a true entrepreneur and countless anecdotes, like how he became the star of his own Youtube series, getting millions of views. And how he continues to be active as an investor with Veams in companies like Yarinde, Wovar, Fairsy Travelmap, Spiru, and OpenUp.
💡 Henk Jan shares other insights like:
- Why he kept 1% of the shares in Gadero 📈
- How to balance new ideas you might have while also running a company 🤔
- Why it is wise to hire an executive recruiter for senior positions 👤
- What to do if you get into an argument with your co-founder (in the case: your brother) 💢
You can find the episode on your favorite podcast platform, linked below. And, if you are really interested in listening to the big exit of specific founders – reach out to us so we can invite them for the next episode!
You can find the transcribed version of the episode below:
Henk Jan: I remember some years, I was to the max with my savings, almost with my kids’ savings, but I knew after a couple of years, okay, when season starts, it’s really going fast. I never worked with banks.
VO: Starting a company is easy. Selling your company, that’s a different story. In The Big Exit Show by Peak, we lift the curtain of secrecy around selling businesses by speaking to ambitious and successful founders who have been on this roller coaster before. Our hosts, venture capital investor, Johan van Mil and business journalist, Remy Gieling.
Remy: Johan, it’s wonderful to be here in your house, actually. It’s a wonderful day today. We’re looking out over your garden. And that’s funny because our guest today founded the company, a webshop for wood for gardens like fences and stuff.
Johan: Indeed, I’m a client here.
Remy: Yeah. [laughter] I can see that. It looks very nice. Our guest today Henk Jan Bijmolt. He founded Gadero. [00:01:00] It’s going to be an amazing episode.
Johan: Indeed, yeah.
Remy: I think this guy is really fascinating because a lot of entrepreneurs, they have lots of ideas where they work on. And I think he explained it, how he deals with it, right? He has a lot of ideas and what he does actually with it, but also, at a certain point, he completely focuses on one company. And he brought it to a really good acquisition of a PE company. And I think it’s fascinating to hear his story behind it.
Johan: Yeah, definitely, how you can build a traditional industry into an e-commerce giant with smart content marketing and marketing on social platforms like YouTube, and then running the company only on the front end without even knowing the numbers. I think that’s really cool. Let’s go to the episode. Enjoy the show.
Remy: So Henk Jan, what’s the heroic story behind Gadero?
Henk Jan: The heroic story, well, 2010, there was no option to buy wood for your garden online. So I was thinking, “That’s a good plan, [00:02:00] and let’s start that service for the Netherlands and Belgium, and make that very big.”
Remy: And what’s the real story then behind it, especially, 12 years later? Henk Jan: Well, the real story was that we were just trying to sell wood online and we had another really big plan. In the beginning years, I was thinking maybe we can make this 5-million big, maximum. Maximum, maximum. But it was 10 times more indeed after 12 years. So yeah, but it was, in the beginning, just the idea, “Sell wood online.” That was a simple idea—”Is that possible?”
Johan: Where did the idea come from? Because you’re really an idea machine, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Before Gadero, I started with Sebastian Monteban Cleafs, [00:03:00] the affiliate network. And we had, I think, over 600 webshops. And we saw the home and garden market was growing, was interesting. And we also saw a lot of markets, which were not growing and not interesting. So I was wondering, “Okay, what can I do in in home and garden?” I was not so happy with Cleafs. It was not my business to help other webshops out with more traffic. It was a little bit cowboy business as well. And we were late in the market, so we–
Remy: A lot of competition?
Henk Jan: A lot of competition. We saw we will never be number one, two, or three, so we were happy that we can sell it to Sedo Group.
Henk Jan: But I saw home and garden, during that time, interesting market.
Remy: Also because your father owned a business in that space, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah, a nursery, a small nursery. So it’s more garden plants.
Henk Jan: And my brother was more [00:04:00] in building gardens for people. So there were some connections to start there–
Henk Jan: –especially during crisis time. So there were some wholesales. Normally, they will never help us out but they were saying, “Okay, yeah, we have not much business these days, so okay, we prepare for you orders and you pick them up every two weeks. Okay, let’s do it.” So–
Remy: Yeah, because it was in year 2010, right?
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Remy: So after the financial crisis, economy collapsed, it was a lot of–
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Remy: And that’s the moment that you started this business, right?
Henk Jan: That’s correct.
Remy: Yeah, so you sold your affiliate network, Cleafs. What was the point that you said to your brother back then, “Maybe we should start a business in selling wood for gardens?”
Henk Jan: I remember I visited him and drink some tea or coffee, and there was just that idea because I was thinking, “Home business… hmm, no, not [00:05:00] my thing,” and “Garden, maybe better,” and “Plants, yeah, plants, really difficult.” And so eDay just popped up food with wood. I don’t know why it was there.
Remy: And with him, it clicked. He thought, “Well–”
Henk Jan: Well, my brother, he had the connections with some wholesales, so he was really enthusiastic about the plan, and he calls our first supplier. Actually, he did the magic because I remember that first appointment–
Remy: With the wholesale company?
Henk Jan: –with the wholesale company, and I was thinking when we drive back, “Okay, nice try, next idea,” because these guys, they’re never going to do this. And my brother says, “Never do this? Yes, of course, they will do. It takes more meetings, and then they will do.”
“Okay. You met another meeting than me because I hear really something different,” [00:06:00] but okay he was–
Remy: Because– take us back to that time, you told friends and family, “Oh, we’re thinking about starting a company of selling wood for gardens online,” and people thought you were pretty crazy, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah, that time, people say, “Hey, people don’t want to buy that online. They want to see it in the shops. They want to see if it’s straight…”
Johan: “It’s crooked.”
Remy: Or to feel it.
Henk Jan: Yeah, “…and select it by themselves. No, this is not going to work.”
Remy: And also the wholesaler didn’t believe it, right? Because I would assume that a wholesaler sees a new market and sees it as an opportunity to sell, but you really had to somehow convince them to sell it to you, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Yeah.
Johan: That’s bizarre to me. That sounds bizarre.
Henk Jan: Absolutely. It was the beginning that my brother has the connections there with wholesale and relation.
Remy: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Henk Jan: Otherwise, they will never have to help us out.
Johan: So you got them on board, the wholesaler called you at a certain moment and said, “Okay, we want to work together with you, [00:07:00] we want to deliver you some wood, et cetera.” And what happened then? How did it take off?
Henk Jan: Now, they delivered no wood. We only had a telephone and a computer.
Remy: Yeah. It was a drop shipment, right? Or would you–?
Henk Jan: Yeah, we started with drop shipping and–
Johan: So an order came through, and then you put the order through to the wholesaler?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Yeah. And the beginning years, we had one wholesaler, so it was very simple. And I think we started with the content writing, adding products in December. And I think in January or February, we had our first orders. So it was, oh, we are quite surprised. And the wholesale company was also quite surprised that it was going so fast.
Henk Jan: But I think it was a couple of months that we were there with the truck every week. And of course, not a full truck but we had orders and we showed that it was workable.
Remy: Yeah. In those early days, [00:08:00] you really did everything yourself, basically, together with your brother. I read somewhere that you added over 7,000 products after a few years, of course, yourself to the website, and you were very, very avid about making it the best product page it could be?
Henk Jan: Yes, correct.
Remy: Writing hundreds thousands of words about every article?
Johan: Yeah, and adding content also until you fell asleep, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: So you were just– that was your–
Henk Jan: True. My opinion was I want to understand it by myself because I was not from that business. So if we had information from wholesale companies or my brother, he has some information, most of the times, for me, it was not clear how does it work, how do you screw it, what do you have to connect with it, et cetera. So I had a lot of questions, and I sent the wholesale companies a lot of questions. But they liked it because they say, “Hey, other companies only call us to complain about prices, [00:09:00] about this, about that–”
Johan: And you really want to understand it, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah. And they say all the time, “You, guys, have really different questions than other companies. We like that.” So they really help us with extra information. And it helped us that people, they didn’t order one pole or one beam. Now, they ordered like two pages of products. And that’s, of course, what was our added value that we have everything to solve your problem, and not just a screen, et cetera. And I really like it. I was, yeah, I really like their writing, so I would like to do that.
Remy: At one point, your brother and yourself split the company; you decided to go through with it; you got some differences about the strategic proposition of the company?
Henk Jan: Yes, correct. My brother was really not an e-commerce guy. And [00:10:00] of course, I am really e-commerce, so yeah. I was focusing on building a nice company and not focused on short time profits, and my brother was different in thinking that way. So we both agreed this is not good to go further with the two of us, and–
Johan: “This isn’t going to be a nice Christmas dinner if we continue–
Henk Jan: No.
Remy: –doing business together”?
Henk Jan: True, yeah. So we decided both it has to be one who was to continue and maybe he or maybe me. There was, I think, a period of two months that we were both looking if it fits or not.
Johan: Yeah. And then at a certain moment, I think he made you an offer, right? I read somewhere.
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Johan: And you said, “For this amount, I’m going to double you the amount and pay it off you,” right?
Henk Jan: Yeah, that’s true.
Johan: Because I also have been in that situation. And what you normally do is every partner writes down the number and gives it to a third person.
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Johan: And then a third person sees who [00:11:00] pace the march will get– so that’s a pretty crazy solution, right? How did it happen? How did it happen that you both wanted the company and that it ended that way? Sorry, that you separated that way?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Well, it was not so easy because he was also thinking, “Oh, it’s a nice company. I like the product,” but he was thinking, “I don’t understand e-commerce so much, so is this really something for me?” So I think that’s why he, out of the blue, make a low bid. So that was not really structured.
Remy: So it was not really structured? Okay.
Henk Jan: No, no, no, no. So yeah, I could say, “Of course, I pay you one euro extra,” but I was thinking, “Come on this company is more worth it.
Johan: Indeed. And he’s also your brother, right?
Remy: He’s also your brother.
Henk Jan: Right. So I think that was a good solution.
Remy: Yeah. Nice. And I read also that, of course, in the beginning, you’ve been struggling with that but after– since your friends also– again, right?
Henk Jan: Yes.
Remy: Because it’s hard to separate as a [00:12:00] founder also, as we all know, that’s–
Henk Jan: Yeah.
VO: The growth phase.
Remy: Yeah. At one point, you stopped, of course, with the drop shipping, and you got inventory yourself. Tell us about that period.
Henk Jan: Yeah, that was new for us to start with inventory but we hear the wholesale company complaining, “This is really too much for us. So much orders, we cannot handle. You better order full packs.” And we saw the problem that some items were sold out, and we saw we can get better prices. So we started with a small box. I think it was 400 square meters with– I think we had six, seven full packs of wood. For us, that was amazing at that time.
Henk Jan: And yeah, we started really small with full packs but it brings us a lot of new information about, “Hey, [00:13:00] what’s the price for… when you buy it like this? What can you do with your own stock?” And we found out, “Hey, we need more supplies. We want additional items on our webshop.”
Remy: With growth and with having your own inventory, there comes additional costs, of course, for the company. How did you finance it at the time?
Henk Jan: Yeah, I was lucky, I sold Cleafs for 200,000 euros, something like that.
Henk Jan: So that was, for me–
Remy: Your savings?
Henk Jan: –there’s money to–
Henk Jan: –yeah, to start the company. And what I said, we started really, really small with our own stock. And we built it up during the years.
Remy: But there were times, I read, that you also had to, like, every winter when there isn’t that much demand for garden furniture and gardening accessories, of course, that you had to put in some of your own savings to get your company going?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: Especially when the sun was shining, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: Then everybody came on ordering, [00:14:00] right? And then, of course, you had to have the inventory to resell that, right? That’s–
Henk Jan: Yeah, true. That was quite tough sometimes because in the winter, of course, there is no turnover, not so much. And you want to do your buying. And when the winter is still there in April, people don’t buy. So that, sometimes, was really scary and– yeah.
Johan: How did you deal with that? Because, I think, in e-commerce, if you go from drop shipment, and you go to investment, and also, the marketing machine that you have been working, there’s a lot of money, and you just mentioned that you had some money to invest. But was it also, at that time, limiting your growth?
Henk Jan: Not in the first years, but when we moved to that enormous object, we rented– at that time, okay, we had so much space for new stock. So yes, that time, it was hard to finance. And I remember some years, I was to the max [00:15:00] with my savings, almost with my kids’ savings, et cetera.
Remy: But I knew after a couple of years, okay, when season starts, it’s really going fast, because people will buy then. And then after two months, everything is clear. And the first years, yeah, I never worked with banks.
Johan: Did you, at one point, think that, “Okay, so every winter, we have all our staff we have to pay. And we have almost no customers at this point for inventory. Do we need maybe to open another webshop for something that people want in wintertime”?
Henk Jan: Yes, of course. And we started with some simple Christmas trees from wood. We started with simple ones from wood. And later on, we said, “Okay, why not we add real Christmas trees and artificial Christmas trees?” So that was our [00:16:00] winter product and we were very proud of it, and most of the people were laughing about it but for us, it was always a nice time in the year. “Oh, let’s switch to the Christmas items.”
Johan: Yeah, the Christmas collection.
Henk Jan: And for us, it was not amazing turnovers but it was enough that people, our main staff, was [crosstalk 00:16:22].
Johan: It kept you busy.
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: Yeah, it kept you busy.
Henk Jan: Yeah, correct. And yes, of course, we were wondering for more items to do in the winter but we knew it’s not so easy to do something extra.
Remy: Because it’s short time. Sorry to interrupt. This very short time period where you can deliver it and you have to buy it. How many Christmas trees were you selling in those periods?
Henk Jan: Yeah, that is a period of two weeks, I think, but yeah, of course, you need some preparation time before.
Henk Jan: But I think, yeah, we sold a couple of thousands of–
Henk Jan: –those things.
Johan: And they’re pretty big. [laughs]
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: Of course. So how did you deliver all of them on time?
Henk Jan: Yeah, they were really big. So the normal companies, they were not happy to help us.
Johan: [laughs] Of course, they now wouldn’t help you deliver the Christmas trees.
Henk Jan: No, no, no, no, not for two-and-a half-meter, etcetera. So now, we started to do it by ourselves and we learned a lot about logistics, do it by yourself, and we knew it’s okay for the Christmas trees but we don’t go to ship our wood orders to the client because this is really a different cookie. But we had some service trucks, service buses.
Henk Jan: And in that period, we used them for the Christmas trees.
Johan: Even nighttime delivery, right?
Henk Jan: Yes, we tried that.
Remy: You had to, I think, right? To deliver everything on time, on point.
Henk Jan: Yeah, it’s really hard to deliver in such a short period but my–
Johan: Were you also driving yourself [00:18:00] in that period?
Henk Jan: I think I’ve done also some Christmas trees, and also surface routers, I did also by myself. I did everything– actually, I did order picking every year.
Henk Jan: Very interesting to do every year and see, “Hey, what can we do better?” And your colleagues really appreciate, “Hey, you are just walking there in your old clothes very well.” They really like it.
Johan: At one point you decide to go international, to Germany, and later France, I believe, and of course Belgium–
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: When did you decide to go international? And what was the strategy behind it?
Henk Jan: Well, the idea was, okay, we had a lot of products in our assortment, and how can we do more with the same products, and we were specialists in garden wood, and we want to stay there and don’t add other things like furniture or something like that. So we think, “Okay, how can we make our market bigger? Let’s try really [00:19:00] low profile in Germany.” And I think we started in Belgium really early, I think the first or the second year already. And we knew from Belgium that people like their different products, different sizes. And we knew it also from Germany, so we said, “Okay, don’t grow too fast in Germany because you will have some problems in the beginning.” So we did low profile but we saw it growing slowly every year. And it was, for us, really helpful to speed up our stock.
Johan: Your turnover, your turnover–
Henk Jan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Johan: –of the stock, right? What was the big difference between Germany and the Netherlands?
Henk Jan: Yeah. The Germans, we call them the Americans of Europe because they like artificial decking, which– they like screens with round– bows on top and–
Remy: Really different products [00:20:00] that Dutch people will never buy?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Remy: And plastic fences with like wood embezzlement in it?
Henk Jan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Remy: You acquired a company in Germany, I think, to accelerate your growth but you also sold it at one point?
Henk Jan: Yeah, we bought it I think two months after Egeria was on board.
Remy: Mm-hmm. So we’ll get to that in–
Henk Jan: It was a really fast buy. The idea was it helps us when we have a really German company with the showroom, with a German address, and not tell German people, “Hey, we are here in Holland.” So that was the idea behind it. And we sold it, I think, at the beginning of this year.
Johan: You never integrated it into the company?
Henk Jan: Yeah, we integrated and it was not going really bad, actually. The thing was the manager of that company was leaving and that was the guy that will make the difference.
Henk Jan: And the new director [00:21:00] of Gadero has made the decision, “Okay, when he leaves then, yeah, maybe it’s better to–”
Remy: Just to spin out the company?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Henk Jan: So I was not there for the decision, so I don’t know all the details.
Johan: Yeah. But I read also that they had a different structure, different cultures in the company, right? I think they gave a lot of discounts. I read somewhere–
Henk Jan: Yeah, it was a really different company.
Henk Jan: It was local oriented, not focused on e-commerce or website. For our terms, quite small.
Henk Jan: So then suddenly, there was Gadero. And Gadero was online. I don’t say we were structured but–
Henk Jan: — we had a little bit structure. It was really hard to switch the culture to more Gadero style.
Johan: Yeah. And France, tell us about that.
Henk Jan: France, yeah. That was a really small company we bought. [00:22:00] And that guy had a quite good webshop, actually. Not so bad with some content. And he didn’t have a showroom, so he was mainly focused on his webshop but the main thing of his webshop was that people were calling him or sending him an email. So it was not like we do in Holland, every order is online.
Henk Jan: But for us, it was quite easy for him to bring our culture of it, “Okay, we want to know more and more doing with the webshop and we would like to add some new products to it.” Actually, there was a really successful turnover with that guy. He’s still on board and he’s building now his fifth showroom in New York, close to [Nanuet 00:22:53].
Remy: Ah, nice. Okay.
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: So how did it happen that you came to the conclusion to let an investor named [00:23:00] Egeria to come on board?
Henk Jan: Yeah, there were more reasons for an investor. One thing we have talked about is the financial. It was quite hard to finance all the products in the winter. And the company was also growing really, really fast. And I like doing new things. I like the entrepreneur facet of the company. Manage the company, yeah, that is something different.
Remy: It’s a different ballgame, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah, really different. And actually, there were a lot of companies who were knocking on our door to buy or to partner, mostly buy. And I learned from Cleafs, the company we sold, because the company who bought Cleafs, they were in Amsterdam. And what they did was bring over all the customers to their platform, to Amsterdam. Well, all clients run away because they were committed with our account managers [00:24:00] and our software. Actually, there was a big disaster that turned over. So there were some companies knocking on the door and they say, “Okay, we go to move the company to the south of Holland and we put this name on the company. And then I was thinking, “Oh, my god, no. That is not going to work. Keep this company here in Groningen, and that is the best because it’s not easy to find staff and to find space. And I’m not going–
Remy: To South Holland.
Henk Jan: –to Utrecht or whatever.” And then Egeria came, and they say, “Okay. Actually, we never did something with webshops. We don’t understand anything about wood but we like your business, we your company, we like to join and just go on with what you are doing.” And that story, for me, is more interesting.
Johan: And how did you get to know Egeria? [00:25:00] Because that’s indeed a very typical company to have as an investor in your company. how did that process go?
Remy: Because for the listeners, Egeria is a very big private equity firm in the Netherlands.
Remy: So you went for private equity instead of venture capital?
Henk Jan: Yeah. I had a little bit stocks sold to a wholesale company, Tuindeco. And for us, it was a good partner for growing. And actually, he brings us in contact with Egeria. And Egeria bought us on the same day, the wholesale company, Gadero. And there were some more parts they sold.
Johan: Okay. So they also bought Tuindeco at the same moment, more or less?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Yeah.
Remy: They bought a share, also in your company at the time?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: Ah, okay. That’s how, yeah.
Henk Jan: Yeah. And the sawmill. I don’t know what’s all in the group but–
Remy: Before going to the exit phase, I wanted to ask– you mentioned it already, Henk Jan, you’ve been called [00:26:00] an idea machine.
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Remy: I think you started about seven, eight different companies, invested in many more, acquired some, sold some.
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Remy: Yeah. Where do all your ideas come from, but also, how do you manage your time?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Remy: Because you’re also running different companies besides running Gadero in the growth phase, right?
Henk Jan: Actually, I did not run them but invest in them. And I was there for them when they had questions or whatever, but I was not running them actually.
Remy: But they’re in all different spaces, right? I saw a sort of a platform for the rental of office spaces, a platform to buy and sell art. [laughs]
Henk Jan: I did some trials by myself, it’s true. I get a lot of energy doing new things, especially see this now that I quit Gadero. It, for me, is really refreshing. And then the ideas pop [00:27:00] up easily. I like to surprise myself and some people around me that is going to work. That energy, yeah, that’s what I like.
Johan: And how do you do that? How do you do that as a–? Because I also have the same experience as entrepreneur, that you see everywhere opportunities, if you see things, if you hear things, et cetera. But there’s more opportunities than time, and also, than energy to spend on, how do you deal with that? Do you put it on paper? Do you talk about ideas with people? Or do you actually directly start something? How do you deal with that?
Henk Jan: Yeah, I write them on paper.
Henk Jan: And that’s the first thing. And when they pop up all the time in my mind, and at least three months–
Johan: Okay. When they come back in your mind–
Henk Jan: –then it’s allowed to do something with it.
Henk Jan: And I think I select better now than when I was younger because, of course, your energy is also different–
Henk Jan: —than when you are [00:28:00] 20.
Henk Jan: And I try to find the right person with it.
Henk Jan: So for example, I invest now in garden plants, and I find a guy who was really motivated for being an entrepreneur, he has a biology of nature background, and I can help him with e-commerce and starting a company. So I really like that connection and working together. So that’s how I do it right now. And yeah, how I deal with my time and energy, it’s quite tough sometimes. And I have to protect myself not to burn out because I have that barrier as well. Yeah, that is quite hard. So it’s not so bad to have a coach when you’re a young entrepreneur, I think. And sometimes, a guy like a god say to you, “Hey, it’s better to…”
Remy: Slow down or–
Henk Jan: “…relax a little bit.”
Johan: And how do you protect yourself?
Because you mentioned you use a coach for that, but how do you do that? How do [00:29:00] you help yourself with that?
Henk Jan: Yeah. I don’t really have a coach but for me, this year, I built my new house and I do some investments but I don’t go to start– may have started by myself.
Johan: Not– okay.
Remy: Not this year. And then we will see later if I’m going to be investor full-time or I do a project by myself. For this year, I don’t make big decisions because Gadero was a heavy trip.
Henk Jan: It costs a lot of energy.
Johan: And how did you do that during Gadero. I mean, what I’m doing as an entrepreneur, and also as an investor, I work my but off always, but if there’s time to relax, for me, that’s in the weekend, and we’re sitting here at my home, and then working in my garden and cutting some trees. That really gives me a lot of energy and rest, et cetera. So that’s how I balance myself, and also with running and with cooking. That works for me. How do you do that as an entrepreneur?
Henk Jan: Yeah, I have to learn that as well to [00:30:00] go away for a weekend or jump on my bike. It actually doesn’t matter what you do but it took me a lot of years because I had a lot of success. And then you get addicted to the success because when I do this, I think this will happen. And that’s really cool, and everything is cool but it also costs a lot of energy. And I have had periods that it was hard to stop me. That’s the danger.
Remy: One last– really, one last thing before we go to the exit phase.
Remy: The third time. One last thing. In the growth phase, because I think this was very fascinating. You were selling with Gadero the wood for the gardens, the fences, and you had a really good content marketing strategy before everyone was going into content marketing. It’s like writing these really long–
Henk Jan: With guiding articles?
Remy: Yeah, you invented it almost but you also had a very interesting strategy for social media. You found out that your audience was mostly on YouTube [00:31:00] and you started out with YouTube videos, and you presented them yourself. I think you were in 200 videos, and you became sort of a local celebrity almost.
Henk Jan: [laughs] Yeah.
Remy: Tell us about that.
Henk Jan: Yeah, that YouTube story is really amazing, and actually, really funny. We started simple with idea, okay, people buy wood, buy a company, and they have questions about installation. And we don’t like that people complain after a couple of years because there is a problem but most of the time, the problem was wrong installation. So we were thinking, “Okay, we want to make movies, yes, but that costs a lot of money, especially when you do it traditional way. And we don’t want to pay 2,000 euros for a video.” So then a student who was doing a trainee at our company says, “I know a guy who’s just started a video company, and maybe he will help you out.” Okay. And my best friend Vim was in the company, said, [00:32:00] “Okay, and who’s going to do the job?” I think, “Yeah, I write about all the products. So I have the knowledge. Maybe I’m not good in DHY but I can learn, and we can cut when I make a fault.” So I think, “Okay, I just start by myself because I had no idea what I can ask somebody else.” So I started. I remember the first edition with a lot of us– and a lot of problems with screws go in, “Oh, too far,” “Oh, they’re broken.”
Henk Jan: Also, people at our company were laughing a little bit about the first videos, “Is it really a good idea?”
Henk Jan: But I was thinking, “Okay, we started. And we give it at least two years because I knew YouTube is not so easy–
Henk Jan: –to get an audience. So I give myself some time. And the videos were getting better. And my screws were getting better. [00:33:00] And it was also after– not– it was not about– I think about 12, 18 months. Then we saw, “Okay, this video is– some have really amazing views.”
Remy: Yes, somewhat millions of views?
Henk Jan: Yeah, especially during corona time. We had a year with over six million views in one year. And yeah, I have sometimes people who recognize me on the street.
Remy: And they look at you like, “I know you from somewhere.”
Henk Jan: Yeah. Most of the time, that, or when they saw the video yesterday, then they remember, “Hey, are you doing videos for Gadero?”
Johan: “You’re the video guy from Gadero.”
Henk Jan: That’s really cool.
Johan: “Say hi to the boss.” [laughs]
VO: The exit.
Remy: So Henk Jan, Egeria, the investment firm we talked about bought 80% of the company at one point.
Henk Jan: Yeah, 2019.
Remy: That’s quite a lot. [00:34:00] Why did you decide to sell 80% at that point?
Henk Jan: Yeah. Well, actually, my idea was I sell 100% because I was thinking, “Okay, this company has a big size. I really like the startup fase. It’s my fase where I can add value. This is not my fase, so no problem, bring some new director and–
Remy: “I’ll wave off.”
Henk Jan: Yeah, “I will start something new.” But they were thinking, “Oh, no, Henk Jan, you are so important for the company, and you have a lot of knowledge, et cetera, so we really want to have you on board. And together, we do the search for a new director,” because I was really open about it. Yeah. “That’s not me. I’m not the guy who would triple this company. Sorry, but that’s not me.” And that was not a problem for them. They saw it, “Okay, we see it’s not your [00:35:00] profile.” So we took that road while I was still there. And searching for a new director was quite tough. So we had a good plan that we said, “You have to agree, and you don’t have to agree, and here, you have to agree.” And then we say yes. And if one of us is thinking, “Oh, no, this is not going to work,” then we say no. Johan: So that was–
Henk Jan: A big search.
Johan: –a tough cookie?
Henk Jan: A tough cookie, yeah. Also, I learned a lot of that process. It was nice to join that process.
Johan: What was the main learning you had during that process?
Henk Jan: Well, first, they spent money with head hunters. In the beginning, I was thinking, “What the hell are you doing? So much money for head hunting.” But I found out, “Okay, yeah, then you find people whom, otherwise, we would never have found.” So that was the first thing. And of course, they looked different to my business than me. I was more looking, “What is our culture? [00:36:00] Is it a culture match?” Of course, I saw there has to be some changes, that’s good, but not 180 degrees changes. So yeah, it was interesting what kind of questions they asked when we had a meeting with people.
Henk Jan: The whole process for me was new.
Remy: There’s also letting go of your baby, right? At that time.
Henk Jan: Yeah. I don’t like it when people say, “That is your baby–
Henk Jan: –because I really like Gadero, I like the product. I’m really proud that I started it and make it so big.
Henk Jan: But before Gadero, I did other things. It was the same, I also really liked but for now, I also like to do something new again. And so when it’s your baby, for me, it’s not my baby.
Johan: But that’s really typical, right? Because on the one hand, you always say, “I like to work my butt off and work day and night,” and also, “it’s hard for me to relax,” and always busy with the company, [00:37:00] and import content until you fell asleep. And on the other hand, you don’t say it’s your baby. Is there, perhaps, a certain time point also, perhaps, that it’s not your baby anymore, or is it in general that a company that you start never feels like a baby?
Henk Jan: Well, I think that I’d like to disrupt the market, to surprise myself and the people in the market, and maybe some friends of mine who don’t believe in it, that’s nice. And when it’s success, then I look for something new.
Remy: It’s time to move on?
Henk Jan: And same period for me now with Gadero. Yeah. For me, it’s no problem there is a new director. And of course, he’d do things different.
Henk Jan: Of course, sometimes, I think, “What are you doing?” But I’m not the guy that has a lot of problems with that.
Johan: Back to the–
Henk Jan: It’s new fase, new people.
Henk Jan: And for me, it’s also a new fase. [00:38:00] And I really like it that I have still one percent of the company–
Henk Jan: –that’s more symbolic like an advisor or I am there when they have questions.
Henk Jan: And I like that construction. I don’t know, maybe, the baby, yeah, that’s your family, yeah.
Johan: What was the reason behind the one percent? Because many founders who exit just sell all their shares, right?
Henk Jan: I like the idea of having one percent, actually. I like the idea.
Johan: But we haven’t heard it. No.
Johan: So far.
Johan: And also, whose idea is it?
Henk Jan: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the investor came up with it.
Henk Jan: And if I want to sell everything or is it a nice idea that you keep one percent, and because they liked it, because when they talk to me, I have hundred ideas.
Henk Jan: A lot of bad ideas.
Henk Jan: Some good ideas but I have a lot of them. And–
Remy: The idea machine.
Henk Jan: Yes. And I have a vision. It’s not just an idea I have a reason [00:39:00] why, et cetera. So I think they like it that they have somebody on board. And of course, with a lot of knowledge about the market.
Johan: And you’re also the driving force behind the company, and also the energy in the company, so that if you– only I think from Egeria’s point of view, only if you have one percent and always bring the energy that you also have here on the table to the company when they meet you, I think it’s way more value than the one percent, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: So for them, it’s a very good deal also. So at the moment, when you sold the 25 percent of the company, how did that go and who did you go to for advice, et cetera?
Henk Jan: Yeah, at the time I saw, “Okay, this market– to buy all the goods, the goods have a lot of volume as well,” it’s really difficult. And there was also complex market for buying your goods everywhere. And I found a partner who was really growing fast, a wholesale company, who was [00:40:00] really serious with business. And I had a good relation with them. I was already a buyer there. I came up with the idea, “Hey, when you partner with us, we can do more together, we can work more together, and we can– we cannot do it by ourselves to grow more space, more stock. It’s really a market.” Normally, I would say, in a lot of markets, the wholesale company has not a lot of added value but in this business, they have a lot of added value because of the space and also the shipment is really different than a PostNL or DHL product.
Johan: Yeah. And when was it in time? When was this–?
Henk Jan: I think it was 2017, ’16.
Henk Jan: Something like that.
Johan: Yeah. So then they took a stake in your company, this wholesale company. And you also were, of course, happy because you had access to supply also [00:41:00] at that time, right? Because that was also what they provided?
Henk Jan: Yeah, especially, inventory.
Henk Jan: It was a strong partner for–
Henk Jan: –for more reasons.
Johan: Okay. Okay. So at a certain moment, Henk Jan, you decided to sell also the majority of your shares, right?
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Johan: What was your main reason to do that at that moment?
Henk Jan: Yeah, the main reason was quite simple for me because I saw I’m not the right guy here anymore.
Henk Jan: It needs more structure. It needs more management. I don’t like meetings. I do maximum of four meetings per year.
Henk Jan: But that’s not possible to run such a big company. People like more communication, et cetera. Yeah, I also like communication but I did my meetings at the– by the printer–
–and then go on.
Henk Jan: And I saw, “Okay, yeah, this– [00:42:00] I bring it to a really nice size. And for me, I did everything you can do in this branch. I meet all the people– I know all the people in the branch, so it’s time for something new.
Remy: So you realize, right? It was not your style and not the face of the company anymore. And then you decide to sell indeed the majority? What did you do and how did you address that? How did you–? What were the steps that you’ve taken then?
Henk Jan: Actually, for me, that started automatically because the wholesale company said, “Hey, I have a partner who would to buy both of us.” And that also triggers me to call some other companies, which I knew they were interested before.
Henk Jan: I actually found out quite fast that the partner of that wholesale company, that is a good partner for me.
Remy: How many partners at that time did you contact? Was it–?
Henk Jan: I think I had two serious companies [00:43:00] who were interested.
Remy: Okay. Yeah. Okay.
Johan: And so you go into these negotiations and at one point, you decide, “Well, maybe Egeria is the right partner.”
Henk Jan: Mm-hmm.
Johan: What kind of negotiator are you? And did you do the negotiations yourself?
Henk Jan: Well, I don’t think it’s good to do it by yourself but I did so.
Henk Jan: And I have some advice from local lawyers mainly.
Johan: The saying is that once in a negotiation, you should walk out. Did you do it?
Henk Jan: Yes, I did.
Johan: And you mentioned you had a lawyer helping you, right? That’s for the legal stuff, and normally, with the exit process, you also have an investment banker kind of guy or girl joining you, really doing the tough negotiation. Did you also do that or did you do that yourself?
Henk Jan: I work a lot together with the wholesale company who also negotiate for everything, everything I do, so–
Remy: Ah, yeah, okay, because they were working also on your behalf, right? So you shared indeed the parties [00:44:00] also that they worked with.
Henk Jan: And I knew them really good, so–
Henk Jan: I knew I can trust them.
Remy: Yeah. And who did you ask for advice on the valuation?
Henk Jan: I think I’ve called Ron Belt from Bluemind.
Remy: Oh, yeah, that’s a really known guy for that thing.
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Remy: Yeah. So at one point, he decides, well there was only one real party that could buy the rest of the shares, the rest of the 19 shares–
Henk Jan: Yeah.
Remy: -if you get one.
Henk Jan: Ninety percent. Yeah.
Remy: You finished the sale. What did you do? How did you celebrate? And what did you buy for yourself?
Johan: Or how did you get drunk?
Henk Jan: Yeah, it’s a good question. I didn’t buy– was not really something special, I think. The moment was that we find the new director. So that was a good moment to say, “Okay, then it’s a good idea to sell some shares.” And how I celebrate it, yeah, not so special, going out with my wife for dinner.
VO: The valuation.
Colleague from Peak: Gadero is an attractive target. It brings a digital business model and streamlined logistics to a large offline market, and is complementary to Egeria’s investment in Tuindeco. Together, they can secure an interesting market share in the gardening and lumber space. Egeria already acquired a sizeable stake in 2019 but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just consider the 2022 exit. It is reported that Gadero did €15 million turnover in 2019 and €36 million in 2020. That’s 140% yearly growth. Given COVID continued to fuel market demand, we may assume growth remains strong in the next year. Let’s assume, say, 100%, making Gadero’s 2021 turnover €72 million. Now, let’s turn to PE evaluation benchmarks in that same period. On average e-commerce models fetch between 0.3 and 0.5x revenue multiples. That would translate to around a €36 million euro valuation. Given Gadero’s fast growth, international expansion portfolio synergy, [00:46:00] and warehousing operations beyond the e-commerce front end, I would assume a significantly higher multiple. Let’s take in the 1 to 1.5 range. Assuming a 1.5 revenue multiple, Gadero would be valued at around €108 million euros.
Remy: So Henk Jan, is this estimation too high, too low, or exactly right?
Henk Jan: Extremely too high.
Remy: Very well, very well. Well, I certainly enjoyed this interview with you.
Johan: So did I, so did I. It was great speaking to you. Do you have one last advice for entrepreneurs who are willing to sell their company in the next couple of years?
Henk Jan: Sell it when you think, “I don’t like it anymore,” to do this in a time of three years. So when you say to yourself, after three years, “I don’t like it anymore,” then it is a good moment to sell.
VO: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Big Exit Show by Peak. We hope you enjoyed today’s program. If so, please subscribe to our show on Spotify [00:47:00] or on your podcast platform of choice. If you have feedback, let us know. Send us a message to [email protected]. Thanks again for listening. And we hope you join us for the next episode. See you soon.