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For entrepreneurship the rule is: learning by doing. By making mistakes or tackling something differently the next time, a company can flourish. In the IO series Lessons Learned, entrepreneurs share how they have become wise through trial and error. This week Richard Straver, the founder of Online Payment Platform and entrepreneur for over sixteen years, explains why he consciously chose not to become a director of his company.

  • Entrepreneur: Richard Straver
  • Companies founded: Online Payment Platform,
  • Lesson learned: Think carefully which function within the company suits you.

Straver’s online payment platform, used by Marktplaats and others, grew into a successful scale-up. In the initial phase, Straver was forced to do everything himself, but it soon became clear that he had to outsource tasks. Although many company founders remain directors, Straver didn’t think that role suited him. “And I doubt whether that role suits many other founders, either,” he adds.

What do you think about the fact that most founders also become company directors?

“I don’t always take that for granted. The position of director entails a number of elements that I just don’t like. I like to work with the product itself, with the technology behind it. And I doubt that the position of director best fits all the founders who have assumed that position, either. As a director, you’re busy setting up the organization, keeping an eye on contracts, having conversations with supervisors and so on. These are tasks that someone really needs to carry out.”

“I understand that founders soon sit on top of the mountain and think: I know everything, so let everyone come to me. But I think a lot of start-ups could grow faster if they left the role of director to someone else.”

Doesn’t it feel strange that someone else is the director of your company?

“It’s not that bad, actually. It has grown so naturally within the company. Of course, we sometimes have discussions in which the director also has his veto. He sometimes uses his weight and that’s a good thing. I’m a little more of a risk-taker myself and the director is a bit more conservative. Where I may already be looking at how we are going to conquer the world, he focuses on the here and now and the European market. That’s how we keep each other in balance. But our motivation is the same: We want to make the company bigger. That is the most important thing. If constructive discussions then arise, it’s good for the company.”

How do you deal with it if you notice that someone within the company is not in the right place?

“If a new person enters the organization, we believe we’ll know within two months whether they fit into the company. If it doesn’t feel right then we make the choice to stop working together sooner rather than later. Of course you can somehow try to find a solution, but in the past we have noticed that this often does not work. I’d rather make that choice too soon than too late.”

So you have now acquired a lot of experience. Don’t you have enough after sixteen years of doing business?

“Entrepreneurship is rather addictive for me. Even if I win the lottery today, I’ll just go back to work tomorrow. We make a big impact with our company and that’s really cool. For example, we now have the ‘right crossing’ function on Marktplaats. That means that you can pay on iDEAL, but the payment is not made until the product is delivered. This way you can be sure that the product is actually delivered and we stop fraud. Sometimes we get cakes from people whose money has been justly refunded. I think that’s extremely valuable.