Alumnus in the Spotlight: Alon Ben Joseph

At age 12, Alon Ben Joseph sold Swatch watches in his parents’ jewellery business; at 19, he became Vice President of that same business. He reinvented the jewellery industry by being the first to set up an e-boutique for online sales. ‘Selling luxury products is the hardest thing of all - ultimately, it’s about people’s psychological motives’.

Alumni Economics and Business

Alon Ben Joseph (1979)

  • 1998-2002 – University of Amsterdam, Bachelor of Science in Business Economics
  • 1998-2002 – Vice President of Ace Juweliers B.V
  • 2000-2002 – Co-Founder, Co-Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Tamos Internet Services
  • 2000-present – Co-Owner and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Ace Enterprises Group B.V.
  • 2002 – Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York, USA), Zarb School of Business
  • Bilateral Exchange programme of the University of Amsterdam for one semester (four courses)
  • 2002-2004 – University of Amsterdam, Master of Science in Business Economics
  • 2003-present – Chief Executive Officer of Dik Juwelier B.V.
  • 2007-present – Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ace Online B.V.
  • 2007-present – Co-Founder & Co-Owner of Lucrum Real Estate B.V.
  • 2003-present – Owner of Oak Consultancy (consultancy & coaching of entrepreneurs)
  • 2014-present – Co-Founder & Co-Owner of WatchBase.com

Were your parents keen to have you take over the family business?

‘No, just the opposite! My mother said that I first had to gain experience elsewhere, and my father didn’t want me to do it at all, because the work was too hard and was also dangerous, due to possible robberies. But the family business was in my blood. I was impatient and wanted to get started. In our industry, family businesses happen to be very common, because the know-how is difficult to acquire. I gained a lot of knowledge about products and materials through my intensive involvement in the company since childhood, starting when I was 12. At that age I was already devoted to selling Swatch watches in the shop. When I turned 19, I became Vice-president. I engaged in contract negotiations with suppliers and was responsible for the company’s marketing.’

Why did you study Business Economics if you were able to start working in the business right away?

‘I also worked in the business part-time during my Bachelor’s study and full-time during my Master’s study. I attended lectures in between and wrote my thesis on the weekends. The question of how economies work interests me. I bought my first shares when I turned 15. I’ve always been fascinated by the market mechanism. How does “it” work? What exactly is that “it”? Ultimately, it’s about people’s psychological motives. That’s why subjects like Consumer Behaviour & Marketing are very interesting to me.’

What did you think of the degree programme?

‘To be honest, I had very different expectations. I experienced the university as an ivory tower, where you mostly learn to think analytically but don’t pick up any real “skills". When I was studying at Hofstra University in New York, it was the exact opposite. They only provided hands-on courses such as e-marketing, so I got to learn actual skills. I thought that was great. But the last year of my Master’s at the UvA was also more hands-on. We worked on all sorts of case studies, and that practical approach suits me much better. I’m an entrepreneurial kid, you know? I’m used to rolling up my sleeves and getting right to it. I do have the impression that the UvA has improved in recent years. There is more of a practical connection and the degree programme has also become more international.’

You brought Ace Juweliers online very early on. Why?

‘I had always been especially interested in the online world. During my studies, two friends and I had an internet company that built websites and sold domains. I was a firm believer in online commerce, also for the jewellery industry. For example, we were the first jewellery store where customers could pay with Bitcoins. However, among the upscale brands, there was an aversion to online shopping; people thought it was out of the question. Our suppliers were against it for a very long time.’

And you kept at it?

‘My gut feeling told me that it was the right thing to do. I took a good look at other industries and how they had set up their e-commerce. My father said, “Do it first, then talk about it.” So we started by building an online environment; that way, we could show something concrete to the suppliers. That was an enormous risk, an investment of one and a half years of work with no guarantee that we would end up attracting any customers. But it worked. Thanks to the online store, our revenue has doubled. We now sell products worth one hundred thousand euros online.’

What attracts you so much about the jewellery industry?

‘Selling luxury products is the hardest thing of all. Personally, I just enjoy the challenge. We are in fact selling air, emotions. I see doing business as adding value to products so that you turn someone’s “no” into a “yes". You do that by showing craftsmanship – and I know this craft very well – and being genuinely interested in your client. At Ace we distinguish ourselves through our personal and friendly approach to clients, our product knowledge and our very good service.’

Got any tips for starting entrepreneurs?

‘Follow your passion, do what you really love and go for it 100 per cent. And keep in mind that entrepreneurship is extremely hard work. I recently gave a lecture to students and was shocked by their lazy, passive attitude. They didn’t want to work more than 30 to 40 hours a week and really wanted everything to be handed to them. Well, that’s not how it works. An entrepreneur has to go all-out, take risks and simply do what's necessary.’

Are you involved in business outside of the jewellery industry as well?

‘I have a small real estate company, which is another passion of mine. Besides that, I’m currently working with a programmer on a new dating app, June dating. It’s meant to be the opposite of Tinder, focused specifically on quality in dating. I love technology and connecting people, and this app allows me to combine the two.

Then there’s Oak Consultancy, my company in which I coach other entrepreneurs and advise businesses. I help them on their way if they’re stuck or don’t know how to get started. Doing this also helps me keep my own mind sharp.’

Published by  Economics and Business

31 October 2017