Five lessons from a successful scale-up SaaS company (as featured on the ABN Amro website)



It’s the dream of every start-up: making the leap to scale-up as quickly as possible. ZIVVER did just that. Since its inception in 2015, the Dutch SaaS company has been changing the world of information security at an unparalleled pace. Hospitals, municipalities, insurers, accountants, law firms and other government and commercial organizations are embracing the user-friendly solution that prevents data leaks in digital communication. What lessons can we learn from ZIVVER’s success? CEO Wouter Klinkhamer shares his thoughts on the company’s transition from start-up to scale-up, in this translated interview initially posted on the ABN Amro website.

Simply put, “crazy, crazy” is how CEO Wouter Klinkhamer describes ZIVVER’s rapid growth. In five years, the company has evolved into a successful scale-up with more than 3,000 customers, 100 employees, over 10 million in turnover and a presence in four countries. According to Klinkhamer, 2018 was the realization that something had to change to keep up with the phenomenal growth: “If we wanted to make the move to scale-up, it was time to present ZIVVER as a truly professional company. We’ve been very conscious about that. For example, we hired Wisse Bakker who, as Scaling Officer (now COO), is responsible for overseeing the scalability of the company. But you can’t plan for everything, you learn primarily by doing.”

1- Be disciplined in your recruitment

“One of the most valuable lessons is the importance of having a strict recruitment policy. In our first growth spurt, we were already happy if we found someone with the right qualifications, irrespective of whether that person really fit our culture. After a while, that hindered progress within the organization. When people don’t share your vision, it can pose additional challenges. You should certainly look beyond qualifications, but plan to only hire people who really fit your way of thinking.”

2- Organize by independence

“If you want to scale up, you shouldn’t be dependent on individuals. That makes you very vulnerable and can create a strange dynamic. One is none. Therefore, check which competencies you depend on for an employee and then ensure that you’re no longer solely dependent as soon as possible. In short: organize on the basis of establishing independence, that gives a lot of freedom to grow.”

3- Be crystal clear

“Accept as few ambiguities as possible. An ambiguity that initially exists between 20 people still needs to be addressed, but imagine if such unclarity exists with 100 people? That’s so much more complex to manage. Is something a little vague? Then make it clear! That’s a very important theme in my management team. If a question is asked twice, you can be certain that it’ll be raised another 100 times. Then you have to proactively take action.”

4-Find investors that suit you

In 2018, ZIVVER raised $12 million in growth financing from investors Dawn Capital, DN Capital and henQ. According to Klinkhamer, ZIVVER intentionally looked for a combination of investment and help: “A bag of money is one thing - and if I am very honest, it’s also quite important - but we have consciously opted for the composition of our cap table. For example, henQ is a very supportive seed investor who provides valuable advice, Dawn is the place for big visions and DN strongly focuses on metrics. With their experience, they each help us to scale up in their own way.”

ZIVVER is currently working towards a second major financing round thanks to ABN AMRO's Growth & Innovation Loan. Under this new financing solution, the bank helps to support the rapid growth of young, innovative software companies. Klinkhamer: “ABN AMRO is the only Dutch bank that really understands what a SaaS company needs. Growth is essential to us, because the growth of your recurring revenue - your subscription income - is the development of your company's value. The basis of our agreement with the bank is that we are growing fast in a healthy way. As long as we demonstrate a certain growth path, we have a lot of entrepreneurial freedom. That gives us the ability to further prove what we can do before we enter the capital market again.”

5-Make it difficult for yourself

The transition from start-up to scale-up goes hand in hand with internationalization. According to Klinkhamer, it’s obvious as a SaaS company to go to New York or Scandinavia: “You always sell something there. But we have deliberately made things more challenging for ourselves by opting to focus our efforts on the UK and Germany. Both countries are known as difficult markets. We thought: let's bring that lesson forward and immediately prove that we can do it. Then we can conquer the rest of the world from there.”

ZIVVER's ambitions don't lie: in 10 years' time, the company wants to be the trusted communication provider for more than a billion users, when the content matters. Klinkhamer: “I will never forget the first time I received a private email sent using ZIVVER. It was from a clinic sending a reminder prior to my daughter's appointment. Colleagues also regularly see that fellow passengers on the train send messages with ZIVVER. I want to be able to experience that in 10 years when I travel through India.”

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Written by

Kate O'Neill

Originally published on August 26, 2020

Last update on February 9, 2021