In the fifth episode of the Start it @KBC podcast, we’ll be listening to a remarkable startup story. The entrepreneur we invited today is Peter Wellens, ceo of the contextual messaging app Chestnote. Peter joined Start it @KBC two years ago, right after he launched Chestnote with his business partner and uncle Tom Le Clef.
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Actually, we had been hanging out at the Start it office in the Boerentoren for a couple of months, before we officially decided to join in the summer of 2016. We’d met Lode six months earlier and he had invited us to get settled in the office. Even before we became official members of the community!
The idea of Chestnote came from my business partner Tom, who also happens to be my uncle. He had lost some friends around 2007 and was touched by the thought of everything that they had left behind - but were unable to share with their relatives. However, Tom did have some home video recordings of those people. But after their passing, he didn’t feel it was right to use them. So he thought: why not create a future messaging app, where people can leave a legacy for future generations?
He came to me with the idea years later, in 2014. I was intrigued right away. Tom and I were the only entrepreneurs in our family at that time. I was looking for a new business challenge back then, so the timing was perfect. After a brainstorm session, we decided to add other valuable factors to the messaging app, like location, emotion and weather conditions.
“We were obsessed with the idea of offering our own app, but we had to let that go. So we transformed into a software company.”
Years later, Chestnote underwent a major pivot - we drastically changed our strategy. And we’re about to do it for a second time. We were obsessed with the idea of offering our own app, but we had to let it go. So we transformed into a software company, offering our software to clients to use it the way they want to. Chestnote is now a building set to integrate contextual features into your own application.
I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to hold a core team together since the start of Chestnote. I think that participation and ownership play a big part in that. You have to be fortunate with the people you hire, but still. Our CTO Wouter has led the technical team in a fabulous way, even when that pivot changed things immensely for them.
I can imagine it’s not easy to keep that startup spirit, once the funds come in and the company starts to involve.
We’ve had a few big investments, but we managed to keep our identity. We knew when we were going to need extra funds, so we were well-prepared. We got our message out there, with the help of Start it @KBC, and we had the luck to meet the right people. We added our investors to the board of directors, so they would keep us alert and tell us when we were missing opportunities.
We’re headed in the right direction now, but there will always be some uncertainty. We now ask ourselves: what should our specialty be? Once we figure that out, we can get a CEO on board from a company in that industry.
“A startup’s philosophy towards potential clients should always be: you’re lucky to work with us. Because if you don’t, someone else will.”
Going to market at the right time is a crucial step for any startup. What’s your experience?
We’ve tested a lot, so we were pretty late. We also talked to several innovation managers, but most of them were a waste of time. They should be the important people in the big corporates, but the truth is that they don’t have a lot of power to change anything. That’s why we now give ourselves two months to find out if a client is worth it. That way, we can stay in control. A startup’s philosophy towards potential clients always should be: you’re lucky to work with us. Because if you don’t, someone else will.
What’s your main advice for corporates that want to work with startups?
Give them financial breathing space. You’re doing startups and scale-ups a big favour by simply paying them on time. The less stress they have, the better result they will deliver. And be clear about what you want to buy from them. Clarity and financial security make things comfortable for a startup, they will reward you for it afterwards. Corporates need to do their homework first.
Do you think you could ever return to working for an employer?
Why not? A year ago, I would have said no, but when I see our team at Chestnote I think: it’s what you’re working for that matters, not in which circumstances you’re doing it. Being a manager is great. But if I should find a company I truly believe in, there’s no reason why I couldn’t work for an employer. As long as I believe in it.
“Entrepreneurship is the adventurous alternative to working.”
Can you tell us about who or what inspired you the most?
I’ve read books that have inspired me a great deal. Running Lean by Ash Maurya, to name one. There are a lot of books on entrepreneurship that make my bullshit meter go up, but this one really impressed me. After every chapter, I got the feeling that I could get to work with the input. Right after I finished the book, I felt like this was the only way to go further. One of the lessons I learned from Running Lean, is that you should initially use your resources to create a basic version of your product. Ask people for feedback. If they have good suggestions, use them to improve your product. If they think you’re on the wrong track, it’s not too late to turn things around completely.
Another important book for me is The Chimp Paradox, about how you have to learn to manage yourself before you can manage a company. Manage your own actions and thoughts and 90% of your work as a manager is done.
What are some of the coolest things you got to do thanks to Start It?
Having an office on the 18th floor of the Boerentoren is definitely one of them. But also getting access to the network that Start it provides. Many people we met through Start it have become friends. It’s a community with people who only want the best for one another. All the events and coaching sessions are voluntary, there’s no pressure. It’s all there, you’re free to use it without any obligations. I feel that Start it has really become a quality label, with unlimited access to talent.
What’s your advice for people who are not sure if starting a business is the right thing for them to do?
If you decide not to do it, imagine looking back 10 years from now. What will be your biggest regret: that you never gave it a try or that you tried but it didn’t work out? Don’t be afraid to do it. I always say: entrepreneurship is the adventurous alternative to working.
This podcast was made possible with the help of strategic partners – KBC, Telenet, Cronos group, Accenture, Mobile Vikings, Flanders DC, Joyn, Imec and Universiteit Antwerpen.
Don’t miss any episodes of our podcast, subscribe now! Have you heard our previous episodes? Our first podcast starred Steven Pyck of Sympl. In the second episode we focussed on DIVERSITY, with entrepreneurs Ingrid Renders (Maison Slash) Aline Muylaert (CitizenLab) and Hassan Al Hilou (AGE Diversity). The third episode on TECH featured tech-entrepreneurs: Johan Vos, co-founder and CTO of Gluon, and Hilde Van Brempt, co-founder and Business Development Manager of iDalko. Episode four, about GDPR and data privacy, starred Dimitri Verhelst (Juru) and Tom Van de Putte (Bingli).