Founder of Tradler
Barcelona Based SaaS Start-Up
Founded in September 2017, Tradler is a SaaS improving employee engagement, experience and provides leaders and managers with valuable insights. Employees receive instant points for the work and/or actions they contribute, which they can later exchange for a gift of their choosing.
Hi Jasper! What inspired you to start the business?
In the summer of 2016, my dad went into retirement. He had been working for 40 years as a mailman. Every day he was delivering mail and for the past 25 years, he was delivering mail for the same region. In Belgium, there is usually a small celebration for someone retiring. This was no different for my dad.
I had just finished university and recently moved to Barcelona. What my dad was celebrating was something I was just about to start. My career. My background is in social sciences which is quite different from my Dad’s career. Yet, objectively speaking I was going to spend more or less the same amount of time as my dad in “my job”. I was curious to understand what I had to look forward to and what I should expect from these 40 years?
I asked my Dad: “Dad, what do I look forward to in my career?”…(Long and quite awkward silence) “Nothing”. Knowing my dad I should have expected this kind of “motivational” answer. Yet I was not satisfied with “nothing”.
“What do you mean, “NOTHING”, there is no way that there has been no highlight in the past 40 years. Maybe your company celebrated something? Maybe your colleagues or the people that you delivered mail to? Come on, there must be something.” “Wait, let me show you.” He disappeared for about 15 minutes. I remember thinking “Ah here we go, I touched a sensitive string”. I did not know what he was going to bring.
He handed me a small box, the size of a Nokia 3210, which was wrapped in plastic. “Open it”. I was confused, inside was a small medal, the kind of medal you would see in the military. “What is it?”, I asked. “This is the medal I received for being in service for 25 years. You asked me a highlight from the company right? Well this is what we all received.”
This shocked me and made me angry at the same time. How is it possible that the only way he got thanked for his 40 years working was by a tiny box with a “golden medal”?!
That was the day I decided to make it my personal mission to make sure that people such as my dad whose work is often taken for granted, get thanked and appreciated for the work that they do, every day. And so Tradler was born.
How did you get started?
We had a mission but I remember thinking, how do you do this “startup thing?” I remember searching “How to start a startup?” Although there is a lot of great content online it was quite generic.
We decided as a soon-to-become startup that we needed to surround ourselves with amazing mentors. Which in our case was a series of coincidences. I had finished my MBA in ESEI Barcelona and reached out to Tobias to ask if he wanted to be our mentor. Back then, Tobias was my professor in conflict resolution, crisis management and storytelling. I had read that conflict between founders was one of the main reasons startups failed so I wanted to be sure to prevent this. Shortly after he invited me to join “Game-changers” a self-development course he organized together with 2 other legendary people Tony Anagor and Florian Mueck. When I arrived at the place, I still had no idea what I agreed to.
On that day, I met Eric. Back then, he was the VP of the digital foundation for Zalando. Yes that was cool but even cooler was that he was one of the people who built the first Sims?! Eric has been advising Tradler for that past 3 years and has helped us a lot. Besides Eric, I also met other fantastic people, entrepreneurs, coaches, even a politician. And Zsu! Zsu was a Marketing Director at HPE. Later she became one of our first customers and now she is our CMO. A series of coincidences.
“When you are going through hell keep going”- Winston Churchill.
What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Financing the startup was our first challenge. In order to figure this out, we applied to Startupbootcamp, a global accelerator. After being selected we moved to Amsterdam for 4 months (something my girlfriend wasn’t very excited about in the beginning). Here we met Maarten, Martijn and Martijn (M&M&M) from Sandd– the 3 gentlemen who helped us to get to where we are today. To really understand the context of this, it is important to know that I had almost no money in my personal bank account as I put everything in the “survival” of Tradler.
Additionally, like every startup, time was our biggest enemy. We had no product at the time, no real financial model. We were living a 1-hour drive from Amsterdam. Lack of reward for employees was actually a bigger problem for companies than we had thought. People being disengaged, leaving and not being as productive as they could be.
“Life’s too short to build something nobody wants”
Together with M&M&M we created roughly 80 different mockups of potential platforms that would solve the problem. After hours, days of evaluating, re-evaluating and evaluating the re-evaluation we selected one and presented this to their CEO, CFO, CHRO, ….“We will get back to you.”This was the sentence that started one of the longest 4 weeks of my life. The end of our runway was getting closer by the day and the decision of Sandd would either allow us to move forward or put us in an existential crisis.
Naturally, I am not the most patient person, so it started to affect my sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night to check my inbox knowing very well that it would be impossible I had received an email from them at 3 in the morning on a Sunday. This became compulsive behaviour.
I received the formal yes on October 21st, a day before Startupbootcamp’s Demo day. Sandd had agreed to prepay the license fee for 2 years. We had a starting budget, we had a customer, but we forgot one crucial part- the actual product.
How did you start developing the actual product?
We started to build a product which would be used 4 months later by roughly 20,000 mailmen. No pressure. How do you create a product that generally adds value to the user? Having read “The mom test” and being drilled within Startupbootcamp to validate our assumptions as early as possible, we decided that the best way to understand what we needed to build was by actually doing the job. So we asked Sandd if we would be able to work as mailmen for a week? This was one of the coolest and most effective experiences so far.
Spending one week with the mailmen of Sandd understanding what would make them feel appreciated. We did the early mornings, worked in the rain, sorted the mail which helped us shape the platform. We decided that the one important metric for the launch and first month would be the percentage of people signing up and the percentage of active users.
Our reasoning behind these metrics was that if we truly understood the mailmen we would be able to create a platform and messaging that speaks to them. This was the first validation that we were on to something. 97% of the mailmen voluntarily created a Tradler account and 82% of them were active users. We expected our first run to be 40% to create an account and 60% to actively use the platform. Most importantly, we were receiving emails on a daily basis from the mailmen thanking us for creating the software.
Fast forward 6 months and we achieved our first problem-solution fit. Richard Borsboom, the CFO of Sandd made an analysis and saw that 39% fewer people left their job compared to the previous year. And that productivity had increased by 15%. This was unheard of as the problem of churn had been classified as “this is the cost of the business we are in.” Something we have heard companies say a couple of times over the past years. Now effectively this meant that Tradler had delivered an ROI of Approx €10M to Sandd.
Having the success story of Sandd was key for our sales process. In the end with these numbers who wouldn’t believe us? Richard Borsboom, who initially was our “customer” also became our mentor. Thanks to this we were able to fully understand what was going on in the head of our “buyer personas”. With this knowledge, we went into the market but made a classic startup mistake in the beginning. We thought that every company would be a potential customer. Wrong…
So who are Tradler’s target market?
We are now focussed on businesses, with more than 10.000 team members. During our learning process, we identified our main customer profile, including mail organizations (replicating the success of Sandd) and companies with repetitive jobs but whose employees are not appreciated. By doing this we saw sales cycles becoming way shorter, and quite rapidly we had created an impressive pipeline.
Tradler was growing, we were getting interest from companies all over Europe we even had companies from across the world contacting us.
Any other bumps along the road?
YES! The Fuckening: When your day is going too well and you don’t trust it and some shit finally goes down.
Sandd was sold to PostNL, our MRR dropped to almost 0 overnight. Although our pipeline was solid we were still in the process of converting them at that stage these deals were not progressed enough to generate the same MRR as we had before. Ah, there it was, the fuckening. We were back to square one, where time was again our biggest enemy.
I calculated the cash deficit between that point and when the pilots would convert into MRR. It was not the biggest number, we had been through worse yet it would be challenging. I refused letting people go. We either succeed together or we fail together. This is a value that is very important for me. Which in retrospect was the best decision. Together we were able to overcome this second existential threat.
Ben Horrowitz, wrote about a peacetime CEO and wartime CEO. Well we were certainly at war again. Was this going to be an existential threat? Would this result in a pivot for Tradler? Suddenly everything shut down, pilots started getting delayed. And yes, I was nervous.
“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, good companies survive them, great companies are improved by them.” – Andy Grove.
Remote work, essential workers, people. These 3 words have been absolutely important topics in the past six months. During quarantine, I got stranded in Belgium at my parents’ house. We were watching the news when I first heard the term “essential workers”. My dad started to laugh. “Essential workers? Suddenly we are essential workers, yet they don’t care about us at all (us meaning the mailmen and his ex-colleagues).”
Our main OKR at Tradler is “Times we facilitated recognizing somebody’s work.” This metric has tripled and our summer was quite busy.
“It is hard to beat someone who never gives up” – Babe Ruth.
What has been the biggest lesson and what’s your vision for the future of Tradler?
I would say when you want to build something truly meaningful, obstacles are inevitable but we can control how we react to them. Always proceed as if success is inevitable.
In terms of my vision for the future, I can sum up in one sentence! We see ourselves celebrating the work of 2M people a day. I have every confidence we will get there.