Edouard Thijssen is a 5th generation member of the Belgian group Aliaxis, a company in the plastics and transportation industries. He is also an entrepreneur in his own right and the co-founder of TrustedFamily.
Edouard met his business partner Edouard Janssen, a 6th Generation member of the Solvay family—an international Chemical and Pharmaceutical group of the same name—at a FBN meeting. After talking for a while, they realized that they both had the same unanswered questions about their families and businesses: How do you keep the small, close family feeling between family members in a family that has over 100 members? How can everyone keep in touch with one another and feel like they are an important part of the family group? How do you keep those family members that are not involved in the management of a family business informed and feeling that they are a part of that business?
Together they solved these problems by creating TrustedFamily, an online secure networking platform that offers similar features to Facebook, but is specifically designed for family members to share information about their families and their businesses. It started small, but today TrustedFamily has more than 50 clients scattered over 15 countries. The platform serves families of all sizes, from just 10 members through to those with more than a hundred and offers a super-customized service that is tailored to their client’s needs. This is how it all started:
- How has growing up in a family that owns a business affected you personally?
It’s hard to say. I had a relatively normal life; I went to a normal school… normal everything. I think my parents did a great job with my education. That has helped me to become an entrepreneur. My Dad always told me: “You can do whatever you want in your life, but make sure that what you do has an impact on the world.” By this, he meant that, if you think about something, just don’t do it on a small scale; start small, but make sure that it is something that you can grow and that it can have a big impact. It’s a great value perspective and I think it’s a very powerful way to see the world.
- Tell me a bit about your journey on the road to becoming an entrepreneur. Who has inspired you?
My father was involved with some entrepreneurial activities, but actually [my entrepreneurial career] started at high school. I was part of a program call “Mini Enterprise”, where over the course of a year, I worked with a team of classmates to create a small company. I really enjoyed it. It was my first experience of what life as an entrepreneur was really like.
Later, I went to University at Solvay Business School, and they were involved in a program called “Start Academy”, which was a business plan competition in which you competed by producing a business plan with 3 other friends. The competition was judged by some of the top entrepreneurs in Belgium and they voted on the projects that were presented to them. That was the second event that really influenced me. Later, during my 3rd year at university, I completed a project on social networking and Web 2.0 and there I had the opportunity to meet some very successful Belgian entrepreneurs who had created very large and scalable web and IT companies. Meeting these guys really inspired me as well.
As far as people that inspire me, as a technology fan, I’m extremely interested in all the technology entrepreneurs that have made a name for themselves. I read a lot about them and all their stories make me excited about entrepreneurship.
- What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship, in the end, is about changing things. Basically, you have a new idea and you do something differently from how it has been done before. It’s very rewarding to be able to create something that changes people’s lives and how things work. That is the main aspect. You also learn a lot in the process. I like it.
- What is the worse thing about being an entrepreneur?
Good question! Maybe that the businesses and ideas that you create are in your head all the time. They become a very important part of your life and sometimes it’s difficult to disconnect. You have all these ideas floating around your mind… it’s very exciting, but they are always there.
- What do you feel the most proud of in your career so far?
Well, I’m still very young… but if there is one thing to say, it’s that it’s great to feel like I have identified a personal need, solved it, and then realized that a whole bunch of people have the same need and that I have been able to help them too.
- Trustedfamily was initially founded by you and Edouard Janssen. Later on both your families invested in the company. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using family funding?
If you are an entrepreneur, what you need to be successful is financial resources, business expertise and the ability to add value. We needed some management expertise and some technology expertise, and we found that our families could offer us that, so it was an ideal solution. However, we also took other people on board to bring us other knowledge in areas where we felt we didn’t have it. Raising funds is not only about assets, but also about the expertise that you can get from the investors that join you.
- How do see you Trustedfamily evolving?
Well, we started from a personal need, now we have proven that it works. We are at the stage where we know that we have something unique, but there are still a lot people that haven’t heard about us. We want to bring the company to the next level to make sure that all the families out there that have the need and believe in our vision, learn about us and use our services.
- In your opinion, what are the distinguishing traits of next generation family business members that become successful entrepreneurs in their own right?
It’s hard to say… entrepreneurship is like a rollercoaster ride, you go up, down, up, down… I think that entrepreneurship, in the end, is about making sure that you go up on average more times than you go down. It is about persistence and passion… and if you have those, you will be very successful.
- What is your advice to NG FB members that want to become entrepreneurs?
Start early. The younger you are, the more opportunities you have, and the lower the opportunity cost is. When you are young, you can take a lot of risk. The older you get, the more complicated your life may become, you may have a family, a big job, debt… these types of things make it much harder to take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur. I started right after university. I know many people say that is better to have some experience in a big company before branching out on your own, but I think that is better to start young; if you need experience you can find people that have it and they can help you out. That is what we have done with Trustedfamily.
If you are a next generation family business member and you want to set up a business, you should consider following Edouard’s advice: it has certainly worked well for him!
It would also be great to get your advise on becoming a successful entrepreneur. Please share it here in the comment box. Thanks in advance!