Four times a year, imec.istart hosts a Founders Circle - Connect & Learn which brings together our active and alumni startups. The event is set in an informal setting and invites them to have an open discussion and learn from each other. Each Founders Circle, we also invite an inspiring entrepreneur to share his or her story.
As the highlight of our final Founders Circle of 2021, we had the honor to welcome Bram Fabeck. Bram Fabeck is the CEO of Davinsi Labs, a leading Security and Service Intelligence provider in Belgium. Davinsi Labs helps large organisations achieve Digital Service Excellence with specialized Security Intelligence and Service Intelligence solutions. In 2017 Davinsi Labs was acquired by Proximus.
Bram, an ex-sportsman, and basketball player had a successful career doing project management and sales for Coolblue, Ferranti and Uitgeverij Van In (Bingel) when he was asked to join the new venture together with his best friend, two of his partners, and the original founder.
Here are five entrepreneurship lessons from Bram Fabeck:
Only after having a few deals in line, the four co-founders started their company. The first years were all about creating long-term relationships with the customers and prospects to book mutual success and have a positive P&L from day one.
Being an expert in an exceedingly small niche (Davinsi Labs started as a security intelligence company and evolved into a data intelligence company by adding service intelligence solutions to its portfolio) helped to get known quickly and get access to big clients despite only starting out.
Bram finds it important to be fully committed when starting a company. He quit his job at Van In, his sports, he put his social life to a bare minimum to focus on the start-up for the first years. “This was only possible with a very understanding wife, friends and family” he stated.
He also made an important initial but substantial investment in the company. “My mother thought I was crazy, giving up a well-paid job and making a huge investment like that”, he said. He also thinks founders should not start a company with an exit in mind. “Be in it for the long run, only start with something you are willing to do for the rest of your life.”
Thanks to customers who have supported the business from the start, and initial investment from the co-founders, Davinsi Labs could be bootstrapped. “Don’t just exchange equity for money only, try to look for active partners.” Bram advises founders.
Working day in and day out with your cofounders can be challenging. For example, at Davinsi Labs they occasionally had vivid conversations but the overall collaboration, atmosphere, a common goal and an extraordinarily strong team spirit helped keep all noses in the right direction. The values stayed the same: focus, excellence, and passion for what we do. “The customers and our team are always priority number one, and we always made sure the quality is excellent.”
Davinsi Labs also faces the challenge of the war for talent.
The first employee was a relative to one of the founders. “You should be able to trust your first employees completely,” Bram recommends. Even though hiring a relative was risky, it paid off. The trust was there and both the co-founder and the relative are still active in the company.
Bram has learned that company culture is crucial. When they hire for Davinsi Labs they are looking for people with a “good heart.” They enjoy helping people, collaborating and have a passion for what they do. How does Davinsi Labs detect if a person has a “good heart”? “We try to see how the person acts outside of a meeting room, get to know the person. Go for a long walk (in the rain) or a dinner to see how the person reacts to different circumstances."
Another tip for finding the right people to hire; acquire a company. Davinsi Labs is now looking to acquire other companies to fasten their growth trajectory.
“You must engage your people, and to do this you should have a clear mission, vision and goals, and constantly communicate about these,” Bram says. They have quarterly breakfasts with their staff where they discuss strategy, get team updates, and share numbers. Sometimes they also invite partners and even customers to these team meetings. “Every quarter we have a team meeting with the entire company to share updates and experiences. We always end the day with a fun team building activity and since we are all foodies; tasty food!”
Last year they hired ten people, and had no churn, so what Davinsi Labs does seems to be working.
For Davinsi Labs it was important to get acquired by a company that would let them keep their freedom and way of working and found that in Proximus. They sold all their shares, and all the co-founders are still active in the company. “Our mother company requires excessive reporting and demands a lot of attention, but on the other hand, they pass more than 80% of our leads and make it possible for us to work with companies that would otherwise not be accessible” Bram says.
Every year we organise four Founders Circle events exclusively for our imec.istart companies where we learn from a seasoned entrepreneur. If you are interested in speaking at one of our events and share your experience, send a message via our website