Jurgen Ingels: “I like entrepreneurs with passion, grinta and a sense of purpose.”

Jurgen Ingels, writer of ’50 lessons for entrepreneurs’, famous investor and entrepreneur himself sat down for a Zoom chat with
Data Arena’s Maarten Verschuere. The interview began with the book, of course, but when Jurgen starts talking, you end up in the middle ages, China and… 50 shades of grey.

“I had seen all the movies”

“I saw how much that book inspired to action”, Jurgen joked, “so I wanted to write my own 50 shades to inspire people to start a company.” That was actually not that far from the truth. He did want to inspire and share his 20 years of experience and insights in entrepreneurship and investing, making it a practical and very usable book. “A lot of management books are very interesting but when you put them down, you still have no clue what to do next”, he explained. “I would be great if people could avoid making the mistakes I made.”

The book is a real pageturner, he actually wrote himself, without the aid of any ghost-writer, much to the amazement of his publisher. He started writing it during his long flights around the globe. “You can’t work constantly, and already had seen all the movies… so I started to write. One chapter, then a second… and it became a book.” A book that turned out to be more than a management book. “Even my mother enjoyed it”, he added, “and she is not really the entrepreneur’s type.” After all he did not want empty fluffiness but real stories, experiences and tips.

The talent of being an entrepreneur

Maarten tackled some of these tips at that point. About the importance of customer feedback for investors or looking for investors as a business model, for instance. This made Jurgen focus on what he looks for in the companies he’ll want to invest in. He will of course check the structural base and call some of the customers, checking overal satisfaction of service and user experience, but most of all he will want to check the sense of purpose of the entrepreneur. Why does he or she do it? Where is the drive? Where is the passion? Do they live for their company, and do they have the ‘grinta’ to keep it going when the going gets tough?

Jurgen thinks entrepreneurs are not just ‘made’. It should be a part of you. Like a talent. It is not an add-on, it is who you are. With training, schooling, experience you could get better at it, but without that innate talent you will not play Premier Division. This is why he doesn’t believe in that adagium that everyone should try to start a company. “That is so wrong. Only the 5% who have a talent for it should. The others should go and develop their own talents.”

This being said, he did add that on top of that you’ll need 60% of luck…

Lessons from the Plague

So, given that insight we wanted to know if it pays to read more management books and gain more knowledge? “Knowledge is relative”, Jurgen replied immediately. All you want to know is in your phone. “Knowledge as in ‘I know a lot’, has become less important.” Jurgen sees more value in studying psychology, sociology and history. “The combination of those three shows you where the world is heading. When Covid broke out you could predict that confinement would follow and that online meeting and collaboration tools would become more important. So you had to buy Zoom shares back then, in March. Not now.”

He then brought out his crystal ball and gave us a glimpse of interesting future investments. “If you look at history, at how the world reacted after the big Plague or the 2nd World War, you can see how people feel so much alive again. People will be more aware of their mortality, of only being on this planet for 50 years and they will want to drink it till the last drop.” People will value being alive again and will want to live that free time in good health, enjoying their time, a nice glass of wine, they will want to see their money in action. “So I think that companies that focus on health, healthy living, leisure time… will boom over the next years.”

Don’t be little China

The audience had some questions for Jurgen as well.

Frederik asked about the importance of having a board of directors for a small company. Jurgen replied it makes sense even when that board would be bigger than the number of employees in your company. “It pays to sit down quarterly to evaluate the state of affairs…”

And on the economical force coming from the east, he wanted to stress that he does not believe in upholding every possible sector in Belgium. “That may feel right short term, but it’s not a good strategy in the long run.” Belgium should not want to compete on every level with China, but rather look for something to specialise in.

Maybe we should specialise in becoming Jurgen Ingels. That sounds like a plan…

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