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From start-up to successful screening organisation

How does a start-up grow to a scale-up? In this article, CFO and co-founder, Job van der Weijden, tells how Validata accomplished its growth.

To continuously grow your business – even in uncertain times – you have to take risks and be an entrepreneur. Starting any business is a risk, this is no different for Validata. More than ten years later, Job van der Weijden, CFO, can say that taking risks has led to great success, but we are not there yet.

But how does Validata achieve sustainable growth? In this article, Job discusses the various topics that underlie this success and shares insights that may help your startup move forward.

Van startup naar succesvolle screeningsorganisatie

Facilitate stable growth

To start an organisation, there evidently has to be sufficient demand for the product or service you offer. There are two important questions you should constantly ask yourself as an entrepreneur: is there a need for your product and will there be continuous market demand? And are there any developments or trends you can capitalise on? For instance, a trend that might spread from abroad or technological developments that might result in an increased interest or importance.

An increase in demand naturally means growth of the organisation. Initially to keep up with the quantity sold, but also to provide stability. In Validata’s case, stability means providing a scalable solution that anticipates our customers’ interests. For example, customer personal requests are translated into future-proof functionalities by deploying them for all of our customers. Meaning, we constantly ensure privacy and security of both client and candidate data.

Make sure you hire and retain the right people

As you grow as an organisation, it is all the more important that you hire honest candidates and retain employees with integrity. As time goes on, new positions emerge that were less essential when you started your business. Think of a Project Manager who can efficiently set up and oversee large projects. You will realise you do not only need the essential people to regulate your core business, but also the people who ensure that the organisation can continue to grow sustainably.

In addition to employing the right people, regularly ask yourself the question: how can our employees perform their work as efficiently as possible? To gain insights, Validata monitors our employees’ satisfaction in various areas. By doing so, can learn from their staff and better understand which subject matters need extra attention.

Find balance with stakeholders

To set up an organization and keep it healthy, you need sufficient financial resources. Finding investors is therefore vital from a financial point of view. Besides, it can help enhance your network and gather additional knowledge and expertise. Validata (formerly known as CV-ok) started with its own money and bank financing, which unfortunately was not enough to start up the organization. Through crowdfunding, the founders were still able to take the next step. A kick start and a very pleasant way to build the company in the first few years.

However, involving investors can also cause too many divergent opinions and expectations to come together. You may reach a point in which decision-making can become complex and different parties have to convince each other of their views. It is important to find a balance and understand when it is time to take back control. This happened in Validata’s case. In 2021 the founders were ready to expand across borders and go international. This lead to them asking themselves whether the shareholders would still fit into this long-term strategy. They realised that they had the vision and utilities to take back full control. Therefore, the founders bought out the external shareholders in October 2021.

This enables the organisation to steer its own course. That being said, Validata’s founders still want to challenge their thinking. Therefore, they consciously chose to form an Advisory Board, constituted by other entrepreneurs that challenge them and oversee that they stay engaged in the right things. In addition, Validata continues to work on an optimal financial structure with external stakeholders, such as banks.

Turn your current customers, into loyal ones

The proof of Validata’s success is in its customers and their loyalty. An important part of the turnover growth comes from our existing customers. They have already become customers, but you want to keep it that way at all costs. Therefore, cherish these customer relationships and make sure you don’t forget about them.

Reinventing your positioning and staying relevant in your market

When Validata started, they had positioned themselves as an HR tool. However, reinforced legislation and regulations caused employment screening to become increasingly common and even a requirement for some sectors. Due to this fact, Validata is now shifting towards a compliance tool that automates and digitises HR processes. It is important to keep an eye out for (technological) trends and the market’s needs and desires. As a result, you stay relevant to your target audience.

In addition, it is wise to take a critical look at the procurement of operational processes. It pays off to ask yourself where you can make the biggest difference. Validata’s goal is to set up their processes as efficiently as possible so that they can keep a steady gross margin and also increase the speed and user-friendliness of our services.

Establish a stable foundation to build upon

Around 20% of our screenings are for international candidates who are screened for one of our clients with their headquarters based in the Netherlands or Sweden. Meanwhile, we have developed into the market leader in employment screening in the Netherlands and this gives a sense of stability. Therefore, we now dare to take steps across the border and opened a branch in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2021. We are starting the same here as we once started in the Netherlands, only now our product responds better to the wishes and needs of the market and we have sufficient experience and Dutch customers who also have a branch in Scandinavia.

Not only Scandinavia is interesting. Over the next five years, we want to offer our services in at least five European countries. We can only do this if the focus and quality we have always had on the Dutch market remains as strong as ever.

The stable base in the country of origin, provides comfort and space to take new steps. Entering a new market may feel unfamiliar and scary, but you have successfully accomplished this before.

Recap of tips

There’s no trick to become a successful entrepreneur. However, there are some basic lessons, like smart investing, networking, and developing self-discipline. Besides that, we have put together a summary of Validata’s learnings along their journey of growth:

  • Facilitate stable growth: scalability is key to keeping up with increasing demand and providing a future-proof solution to customers.
  • Hire and retain the right people: to continue sustainable growth, you need the right employees who are willing to work together for the success of your organisation. At the same time, an employer can learn from its staff by gaining insights on the subject matters that are essential for employees to work efficiently.
  • Find a balance with stakeholders: Being an entrepreneur is a learning curve. Therefore, it may be wise to put together an Advisory Board with whom you can exchange ideas and strategise.
  • Turn current customers into loyal ones: it is easy to focus on acquiring new customers, but don’t forget about customer loyalty. Making your current customers fans of your product or service is equally, if not more, valuable.
  • Reinvent your positioning and stay relevant in your market: markets are constantly changing, so it is important to monitor your customers’ needs and desires and check whether your positioning is still relevant to them.
  • Establish a stable base to build on: make sure you have established a solid foundation before expanding internationally. This keeps revenue coming in, allowing you to invest in expansion.

Besides all of the above, the most important thing is to just know who you are and why you are doing it: define together the core values you stand for as a company, believe in them and act accordingly.

Please note, that the suggestions in this article do not guarantee your organisation’s success, but show how Validata has grown over the years.

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