As Europeans embarked on summer vacation, entrepreneurs in the region found themselves in a strange dilemma.
On one hand, they needed the break like everyone else, but on the other, they also had to contend with the economic challenges and need to stay at the helm.
Dutch entrepreneurs and startup founders are no different. Carbon Equity co-founder Jacqueline van den Ende explicitly confirmed that she had to work through the summer.
The story is similar across the board for Dutch startup founders but some have found neat tricks to squeeze in some downtime.
One of the common themes among Dutch startup founders and entrepreneurs was the need to find the right balance between work and summer break.
However, summer break is not only for the leadership team and these Dutch startups are making efforts to let their team members enjoy summer as well.
Chain of command
Even while switching from work to play, the key focus for Dutch entrepreneurs is to ensure business continuity.
In addition to ensuring streamlined communication and business continuity through actions like a clear hand-over plan, Dutch entrepreneurs also argue in favour of planning a chain of command.
Van den Ende says the chain of command at Carbon Equity allows her chief of staff to take over all commercial responsibilities while COO handles the full backend of the business.
Sander de Klerk, Founder & Chief Rolling Officer at The Good Roll calls chain of command a “must” for business continuity.
“If you have good managers who have the right responsibility then it’s all going to be a smooth operation,” he says.
“Yes, clarity in the chain of command is fundamental,” adds Lemar Bachtiar, Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer of Authic Labs.
He says Authic Labs has a clear structure with responsibilities defined and decision-making capabilities allocated while Lemar is away.
Labfresh co-founder Kasper Brandi Petersen has structured the organisation in such a way that except fundraising, everything else is owned by his co-founder and management team.
“It’s better for everyone that I stay out of the day-to-day decision-making as much as possible,” he further adds.
However, Madglove’s Tobi Makinde does not see a need to plan the chain of command since CEO Madalina Riurean handles that.
“Besides all the founders are aware of the tasks each of us is taking on,” he says, adding, “and we are all quite skilled in filling in for short periods for each other.”
Learning and leadership
With business continuity figured out, Dutch startup founders also have their sight set on unlocking leadership quality in other team members.
For entrepreneurs, the key to stay on top is to constantly learn and Dutch entrepreneurs acknowledge that they want to get inspired even on holidays or as Van den Ende puts it, “when experiencing a change of scenery.”
She neither has explicit learning goals nor wants it, but sees reading business books as a way to get inspired during holidays.
Brandi Petersen says he would love to learn during holidays but rarely gets it done. “I mainly need adventure and relaxation right now,” he elaborates.
For Makinde, learning during holiday is seeing how other countries and communities sustain themselves and implement new ideas to improve it.
De Klerk only wants to relax while Lemar says travelling provides a broader lens to view the world.
He says, “Venturing outside my industry through travel allows me to explore diverse fields, cultures, and ways of thinking.”
Agurotech’s Lilia Planjyan says she is always intrigued by ingenuity of local farmers in managing their land, utilising technology, and adapting to their environment and sees opportunity to learn from these practices.
“Last year we were on a Greek island and visited a farmer who had covered his soil with wool to keep his fields cooler and moist,” Planjyan cites as an example.
As a technology and blockchain entrepreneur, Lemar makes an important observation. He says every industry, from agriculture to art, has its own sets of challenges and innovations. For him, understanding them can result in transferable insights.
As a startup led by five human movement scientists, Makinde says being an entrepreneur is all about taking an initiative and when one of them is unavailable, he sees “everyone else taking up the mantle.”
Agurotech, which sees summer as a peak period for use of its technology, also sees the time as an opportunity to get firsthand insights by engaging with end users, witnessing their methods, and understanding their challenges.
“We encourage everyone from our team, from software developers to data analysts and engineers to get from behind their laptop or lab and visit the fields,” says Planjyan.
She adds,”This interaction cultivates leadership qualities, fuels motivation, and fosters innovation.”
At Labfresh, Brandi Petersen says they have a specific roadmap for cultivating leadership skills within the team.
“Our coach made it clear to us that we had an immature management team because we were too involved operationally,” he says.
Instead of solving problems ourselves, Brandi Petersen sees the need to take time to empower the management team to solve problems and make decisions independently.
“That process is the hardest I have done as an entrepreneur,” he further adds. “If I succeed with it, I have no doubt it unlocks a much bigger potential within myself when it comes to building organisations and cultures.”
Lemar observes that challenges and opportunities bring out the best in people. He says leaders stepping back can be a “chance for emerging leaders within our company to step up and showcase their skills.”
Dutch entrepreneurs see creating this opportunity to cultivate leadership within the team and added responsibility as a morale booster.
Brandi Petersen says if the responsibility is added in the right way then it is a morale booster but it “needs to be served with a side dish of coaching and resources.”
In addition to supporting leadership, De Klerk says they have a gym next to their office, a masseur every month, and a mental coach to boost morale at work.
Makinde believes added responsibility can lead to increased confidence while Lemar argues entrusting team members with added responsibilities signifies trust and belief in their capabilities.
Planjyan says interaction with end users acts as a great motivation and source of inspiration for Agurotech team.
“Everyone comes back with new ideas and suggestions to further develop our offering,” she elaborates.
Enabling summer break for team
As she sets off for Australia to enjoy summer break, Van der Ende is also curious to help her team enjoy their own summer break.
She says Carbon Equity does that by ensuring every team member creates a handover plan elaborating the nature of their work and responsibilities.
While that shouldn’t come as a surprise, she stresses on the fact that they ensure that people are not disturbed during their summer break.
“Super important to not send emails or any communication,” she says.
Amsterdam-based The Good Roll’s De Klerk is a staunch supporter of “no work at all” during vacation and encourages his team to put everything off during summer break.
While Agurotech aims for flexibility with leave during summer, Planjyan sees the opportunity for her team to visit tulip fields, which are in full blossom in summer, as a breakout moment within work.
Lemar explains that Authic Labs has a flexible schedule that allows team members to take staggered breaks, ensuring capable hands are always on deck.
He elaborates, “We’ve upskilled our team in cross-functional roles, so they can support each other during lean periods.”
As a team that takes a number of vacations, Labfresh’s Brandi Petersen reminds the importance of turning on out of office replies.
With heat waves causing travel disruption this summer, these Dutch entrepreneurs are also trying to offer guidance to their teams.
Brandi Petersen recommends the Labfresh team to come to their offices equipped with air conditioning and ice cold drinks to cool off during the heat wave.
Lemar says their advice is for everyone to stay hydrated, avoid direct sun during peak hours, and work from cooler environments if possible.
“Luckily, the heat wave in the Netherlands has not been as bad as in other European countries, so it has not been much of an issue,” he notes.
As a climate tech pioneer, Van den Ende recommends staying away from southern countries in July or early August since she sees this heat wave becoming a “recurring issue in our warming world.”
Space to recharge
In a nutshell, Dutch entrepreneurs and startup founders collectively see the summer break as an opportunity to recharge.
Madglove’s Makinde sees summer break as a break from the hustle and an opportunity to focus more on the internal ongoing and less on external influences for a short while.
For Planjyan, summer is the season for nurturing innovation and charting courses for the year ahead.
“It’s a time of preparation and renewal, aligning our organisation with the rhythm of nature, and the aspirations of those we serve,” says Planjyan.
Brandi Petersen sees summer as the time when some team members will like to work a few hours a day and make their vacation longer while others will have a few working days in the middle of a longer vacation.
“Some like to take sunny days off or work half day on Friday,” he says, before adding that as long as everyone hits their deliverables, he is fine with flexible working hours.
For Lemar, summer is the opportunity to step back, gain fresh perspective, and come back with renewed energy and vision.
Despite record-breaking heat waves and economic challenges, Carbon Equity‘s Van den Ende says she wants her team to take a break without any strings or objectives attached this summer.
Before COVID-19 pandemic, the Labfresh team of 14 people went to Bali for a month and enjoyed plenty of yoga and surfing. Brandi Petersen says the next trip will be to Portugal, where most of their clothing is made.
Authic Labs has a learning allowance that encourages team members to pick up new skills or courses during their break.
“Whether it’s a book, an online course, or a workshop, we support continuous learning even during relaxation,” says Lemar.
Amidst all fun, learning, growth, leadership, and summer activities, Van den Ende concludes with an important thought.
She says break should not be a once a year act but instead an opportunity to recharge throughout every busy workweek.
“Happiness lies not in our achievements but our daily experience,” she says, and adds, “so we should be very careful to keep our heads down and under too much stress until we finally get to that holiday.”