Entrepreneurship3 February 20224 min

#StartitStories: how Conversation Starter innovated their way out of a crisis

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Within just a few years, networking platform Conversation Starter has built a booming business. When times got tough in 2020, they innovated their way out of it to spectacular growth. Founder Rutger Bevers explains how they leveraged the Start it @KBC network and the corona crisis to scale faster than ever:

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Discovering & passing on the leverage effect

Start it @KBC has a large network of corporates, which connects Conversation Starter with partners and customers. “We did a lot of user testing at Start it @KBC, walking around the office with prototypes, demonstrating new features, asking people for feedback,” recounts Rutger. Networking events proved hugely valuable for the startup, which found that Start it @KBC’s network included someone for every aspect of entrepreneurship.

“Our solution is based on our belief in the networking effect,” says Rutger. “Because we bring entrepreneurs together, we generate huge leveraging power. People who turn over a quarter million by making the right connections via Conversation Starter. Then there’s someone who found a cofounder through our platform. I think every entrepreneur should strive to take the world to the next level.”

Rutger himself also aims to add value to other entrepreneurs in the same way, both within and outside of Start it @KBC. “My main advice is not to make things too complex. There’s no need to program anything elaborate from the start. You can use low code or no code tools for example. It comes down to demonstrating the value proposition or investing hypothesis more easily. After seven years as an entrepreneur I can tell a story about anything.”

Corona, the second accelerator?

Rutger may have lots of experience, but he gained quite a bit of it the hard way. While the Start it @KBC program accelerated Conversation Starter’s growth, the job was far from finished. “Having to make physical preparations for events and organize technical support regularly put the brakes on our growth,” he explains. “And then the corona crisis broke out.”

In March and April 2020 the company’s income plummeted. Then Rutger came up with the idea to build a digital equivalent of physical meetings around a table. He set up an email campaign to publicize the pivot, but there wasn’t much of a response.

“In Belgium there’s a certain aversion to innovation,” says Rutger. “Webinars and virtual meetings may have become an everyday occurrence, but a digital version of real business events wasn’t catching on. We decided to take things into our own hands and organize our own online networking event.” This launch event attracted more than 800 users who held more than 2,600 online on-to-one meetings. It seemed a new model of online and physical networking events for the future was born. So perhaps in hindsight corona was a kind of second accelerator?

Scalability through self-service tools

Maybe Rutger would describe it this way looking back. Because by making online networking possible, much of the support work fell away. “That suddenly gave us the scalability we needed,” he says. But fast growth can also come with growing pains. “Since corona a lot more people are calling us, we have lots more inbound sales and we weren’t prepared for that at first,” Rutger adds.

The solution: building solid admin tools for customers. “For our internal operations we use Notion, where all our knowledge and follow-up are located,” explains Rutger. “We’re supported by the right tools to create more scalability for ourselves and our customers. And so the circle is complete.”

Looking for more advice from those who have been there, done that? Check out the 179+ mentors helping startups grow faster at Start it @KBC.

To see Conversation Starter in action and meet 1:1 with industry leaders, check out their free online AfterHours HR & Communications event on February 17th!