Camilla van den Boom
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A start-up differs from an established company in a number of aspects. There is usually a lack of money, their dependence on third parties is relatively high, and there is a constant search for a scalable business model. But that still doesn’t justify the tinge of mystique that often surrounds start-ups, says Camilla van den Boom, owner of Sturrm, lecturer in strategic management at TIAS, and mentor for companies with growth ambitions. “When it comes to the path to success, the same business laws apply to every company. It’s all about a razor-sharp focus, the necessary capabilities, and continuous action to achieve your ambitions.”

Van den Boom, who grew up in a Swedish entrepreneurial family, is one of three keynote speakers at the Level Up event in Eindhoven on September 25. Her story aims to show what it takes for a company to take the necessary steps that lead to business growth. We spoke to her in advance to get a first impression of her core message.

For that message, she draws not only on her rich personal experience as a strategy director and entrepreneur but also on the research she is currently conducting for her PhD at TU Eindhoven. Like her Master’s thesis, her PhD revolves around barriers to business growth and “the cost of doing nothing” to understand why companies often fail to achieve their goals. “It’s about how people in organizations work daily to achieve their ambition. Where does the organization stand? Where is it going? What are we doing every day to get there? At many of the companies I had the opportunity to look inside, I have seen that the necessary conversation about the future was not taking place. People think they have a strategy, but no one understands what it is all about. When you don’t have that razor-sharp focus, you will fall. Then subjective realities arise, and it becomes impossible to discuss a common ambition or common goals.”

Colored markers

Van den Boom has made it her mission to help companies break through this barrier. Always armed with a couple of thick colored markers and some large sheets of paper, she guides her clients through the strategic process. “The question of how you get to where you want to be, regardless of where and what exactly that goal is, is insanely interesting – especially in a business context. Whether you have a start-up with a few people or a company with ten thousand employees, it’s always about creating the conditions to operate successfully at the day-to-day level.”

A coaching program from Sturrm usually has three phases. “We first look inward to explore who these people are and what they want to achieve. What kind of ideas do they have? What kind of product or service are they creating? What is the team like? And then we look outward. How is the market handling this? What does it mean for society? Who is waiting for this solution? What are other companies doing in this area? Finally, we look forward. Knowing what is happening inside and outside, what should be your ambition? And with that, I don’t mean their vision and mission because that’s very much the old world. More important is to know what your role is and also for whom. So knowing when you are relevant and what you must do to get there.”

A complicating factor is that everything is happening in real-time. “When I started working at Accenture after graduation, it was normal to make business plans for 15 or 20 years ahead. That world no longer exists. Now there is a much shorter takeoff and landing time, a much shorter distance to the horizon. And that also affects the success factors of a business.”

That change in speed was a logical consequence of the digitization of society. “The old, linear way of doing business no longer worked as before. Start-ups jumped on that faster and easier. Perhaps that also caused us to see founders as the supermen of entrepreneurship with their new concepts or business models. In my view, we have started to treat start-ups too much as something separate. Whereas they are just a start-up. No matter how innovative your product is, how relevant your cause and how strong your drive is, you must build a business. In that sense, a start-up is no more than any other starting company. Let’s eliminate the mysticism; business laws exist for everyone, old or young, established or start-up.”

Fighting for a greater goal, unbridled commitment, and a mentality to go to the limit are necessary basic characteristics of every entrepreneur, according to Van den Boom. “Crucial aspects, but not exceptional for start-ups. And for the record, much more is needed to be successful in the end.” 

Razor-sharp focus

A “razor-sharp focus” is at the top of that list for Van den Boom. During Level Up, she aims to demonstrate how decisive such a focus can be in whether or not someone achieves success as an entrepreneur. “It may sound like an open door, but many start-ups lack this. In addition to focus, you need to have the right team, with the right capabilities, for example, to properly assess the market, build a healthy organization or be able to provide leadership. And all those aspects are essential. It’s like in a computer game: you can’t skip a level with impunity.”

Of course, the lack of capital sets a start-up apart from other companies. “That makes a start-up more dependent than other companies, and often it also causes founders to listen to different advisors, with negative consequences for focus. Something that is extra dangerous because the distance to the horizon has become shorter. You have less time to get your affairs in order – constantly challenged in real-time.”

In Van den Boom’s keynote address on Sept. 25, she will show examples of start-ups that have effectively applied the crucial principles for growth. “These examples will also show how responsive you must be as an entrepreneur because circumstances constantly change.” 

Overall, Level Up visitors – many active in start-ups – can prepare for a demystification of start-up culture. “It’s not rock’n’roll. The secret to a successful company lies in persevering in that one clear focus day after day and delivering on it – also day after day – with your team and then doing what you promise. Period.”

Keynotes Level Up 2023
Keynotes Level Up 2023