Movers and Shapers: EBF Is to Follow the Fortunes of Four New Businesses Recently Created by Alumni of European Management Schools

European Business Forum, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Movers and Shapers: EBF Is to Follow the Fortunes of Four New Businesses Recently Created by Alumni of European Management Schools


European start-up companies continue to flourish as the "new" economy and industry restructuring presents a range of new opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs. But what happens to these ventures once the initial excitement of their launch wears off and media attention wanes? How do initial expectations match up to the reality of the market place? And how do they cope with the inevitable surprises strewn across their path?

Start ups among business school alumni represent a significant new trend which is why EBF has decided to follow the fortunes of four which have been formed by former students of institutions belonging to the Community of European Management Schools (CEMS). On this and the following pages the entrepreneurs introduce themselves and spell out what they hope and believe the future holds for them. EBF salutes their courage and will follow their progress through regular reports in future issues of this publication and at www.ebfonline.com.

Tales from a Dutch start-up

What do you do when you have an urgent question? You probably check your address book for family, friends or colleagues and call or e-mail them--but the likelihood is they are either not available or their answers don't suffice. For general questions you might want to check the internet, but the chances are you'll drown in a sea of not-so-relevant information. Hence, the birth of interactive Question & Answer (Q & A) platforms--supplying instantly available experts on-line--which have been a huge success in the United States since the spring of 2000 and one of the few e-business ideas that actually earn money. Our concept builds on US experience and incorporates several innovative services. ExpertPlaza, as it is branded, will be Europe's first Q & A platform where you can directly reach an expert by phone or communicate by other means. Experts set their own rate per minute and earn 70 per cent of collected fees. Users can post less urgent questions to individual experts or to a bulletin board where experts will bid to answer.

On a sunny Friday morning in May 2000 a group of individual professionals with diverse backgrounds gathered in Hotel New York, Rotterdam. They were brought together by Heiko van Eldijk (a CEMS graduate in 1997) to ponder several internet concepts. The idea was to get to know each other, exchange views on viable e-business models and look for co-operation opportunities. The fact that one of the co-founders runs a small IT company with dedicated specialists gave us hope that implementation could be cost-effective. As things truly clicked between members of the group we decided to give the project a go. The power of committed people working together cannot be underestimated, but great flexibility is required from each member to withstand the strain of working from 8am to sometimes 11pm. We have lost one of the team in the process but we have learnt that active management of expectations and commitments is essential for success.

After a set of brainstorm sessions we hit upon several US concepts that were making headlines, especially Q & A sites providing direct answers. We registered at several of these sites and were immediately hooked. The magic lies in the 'Call Now' button: once clicked your phone will ring within three seconds and a direct connection is made to the expert. You pay either in advance or afterwards and are invited to rate the expert. By personalising this process, the internet becomes a means to an end: putting people back in charge of how they find and appreciate information.

By then, we thought it was time to become serious. A legal entity was set up, people quit jobs, strategy and project plans were made. We raised some seed money among ourselves and started working in a small side office of one of the founders, which in reality looked more like a closet. Additionally, we attempted from the beginning to leverage each of the participants' networks, to find support in higher ranks. …

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