Alumnus in the Spotlight: Thijs Meijer
'There's more to entrepreneurship than just a good idea. The main thing is to know your customer and that's why I like to work with the lean start-up canvas and the business-model canvas.'
- 1995 – 2002: Tax Law, UvA
- 2002 – 2005: Tax Lawyer, Deloitte
- 2010 – 2012: MBA, UvA Amsterdam Business School
- 2011 – Present: Owner, ttmconcepts (management and business-operations advice)
- 2015 – Present: Founder/Managing Partner, ttmtax (tax advice for expats)
- 2016 – Present: Coach, Entrepreneurship Minor: Start your Start-Up, UvA
‘There's more to entrepreneurship than just a good idea’
From selling organic fast-food pasta to providing tax advice to expats, Thijs Meijer is constantly coming up with new ideas. ‘Thanks in part to my MBA, I see the importance of setting strategic priorities. That’s why I always complete every project I’ve started before moving on to another.’
How did you start out as an independent entrepreneur?
‘When working as a tax lawyer, I just couldn't come to terms with the hierarchy within large organisations. They're mainly based on seniority, while I believe in focusing on knowledge and skills. I wanted to do things differently, so being my own boss was a natural step. An acquaintance of mine owned a pasta factory, and together we decided to set up a healthy and organic fast-food business. Unfortunately, the business folded after a year and a half due to insufficient funding.
With another person, I then started up another business selling customised wine and water bottles, named Brandbottles. That also didn't make it, partly because the market had just collapsed and partly because we were too dependent on a single supplier. Tough times, but they provided valuable lessons for my later businesses.’
Why did you then decide to study for an MBA at the Amsterdam Business School?
‘I was reasonably inexperienced and full of enthusiasm when I started my career as an entrepreneur, but after a while I realised there's more to entrepreneurship than just a good idea. I wanted to reinforce my entrepreneurial passion with knowledge and saw the MBA as a good investment in myself. I completed the programme part-time in two years while also working part-time for Deloitte. It was an intensive period, but I learned a great deal.’
‘You get a holistic overview of how a company works and examine factors such as marketing, finance, strategy and HR. From the case studies, you learn a great deal of knowledge and models, enabling you to set up a business plan in a very short time. For example, I like to work with the lean start-up canvas and the business-model canvas. These enable you to quickly and efficiently share your plans and approach with others. Another important factor is the self-awareness that you gain during the course. You have to carefully consider your own leadership qualities and how open you truly are to other people's opinions. Another benefit is the international nature of the degree programme. You have intensive contact with fellow students from different backgrounds and cultures.’
How did you come up with the idea for ttmtax, your current business?
‘I knew the expat market very well, as I worked a lot with international tax legislation during my time as a tax lawyer. I knew that there was a huge demand for our services. ttmtax takes care of all tax-related issues for international corporations and expats: tax advice, applications for the 30% rule (for foreign employees), bookkeeping, tax returns etc. I work together with a partner, an accountant and two students. We do practically everything online, so we don't need an office at a premium location. Things are going really well, and we already have over 250 clients.’
You have another business, don't you?
‘Yes, ttmconcepts. It is a consultancy in which I develop concepts for third parties and for myself. For example, I work together with an associate on SUPP!: a vitamin-enriched energy candy. It's like Red Bull in pill form, but without the harmful ingredients. We are still looking for funding for this project. Another project where we’ll conduct a pilot in January 2017 with a large retailer, is Evalumate. This is a platform where customers can use their telephone or an in-store tablet computer to give immediate in-store feedback on their shopping experience in return for a reward.’
How do you run everything simultaneously?
‘My main focus is ttmtax, as it has the greatest growth potential. However, the diverse range of other projects really inspires me. I'm always searching for innovation and new concepts, but I make strategic decisions and I always make sure I set priorities before starting something new. You must be prepared to pull the plug or take a risk if a particular project is not running smoothly.’
Any tips for young entrepreneurs?
‘The lean start-up canvas or business-model canvas are very useful to work with, even though they are only models. I am currently teaching UvA students within the “Entrepreneurship” minor, and they also work with both models. They have set up a business making underwear from recycled organic cotton. I ask them critical questions and make them think about the decisions they make. It's really rewarding. The main thing is to know your market. What do customers want? What drives them? Every year, I conduct a survey of ttmtax's clients. I ask what they appreciate about us, why they hire us and what we can do better.’
Has the entrepreneurial climate changed?
‘Definitely. When I started in 2005, people kept saying “Are you crazy?! How can you give up the security of a permanent job?” Nowadays, start-ups are more the rule than the exception: nearly every university and municipality has set up an incubator to give guidance to start-ups. It's also become easier to seek funding via alternative sources such as crowdfunding. However, because of this, there are far more fish in the sea, so you have to do your utmost to stand out and attract sufficient crowdfunding.’