‘Digital transformation can overturn business models in the blink of an eye’

15 Dec 2020

Joris Kroese. Image: Hatch

Hatch CEO Joris Kroese discusses the e-commerce boom, the pros and cons of rapid digital transformation, and how he has learned to trust his gut.

Joris Kroese is the founder and CEO of Hatch, an Amsterdam-based business creating tools for the world of e-commerce. Its tech aims to connect brands and retailers, making it easier for consumers to complete a purchase online and offline. Hatch has worked with brands such as Acer, Bose and Philips.

Kroese was born and raised in the Netherlands and has more than 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in e-commerce companies.

‘Remaining agile and anticipating transformation is a challenge, and this becomes harder as the company grows’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the CEO and founder of Hatch. Starting as a one-man show in 2011, my role evolved as the company grew into a team of about 70 full-time employees. Nowadays I have a strong management team, allowing me to focus more on strategic direction, innovation and product development.

At the moment Hatch is in the scale-up phase so, together with my team, I spend a lot of time developing processes and making sure everything we do can be applied to multiple markets where we operate.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My day consists of meetings mostly, and aside from that I block time to work on strategy and corporate development. I try to spend at least one hour a day reading on the topics that are relevant to my work.

A healthy work-life balance is important and there is a risk that line is fading, especially with the work from home situation. But I gain back a lot of time associated with the commute and the daily routine of getting the family ready, so I can now be more productive in less time.

Unless urgent priorities require otherwise, I try to close my laptop at 6pm and keep it closed. I need that time in the evening to spend with the family and unwind from the day. I have a five-year-old son, Bo, and he will make sure I take breaks and time to relax.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

We are on the good side of the digital transformation and e-commerce boom as we provide tools to capitalise on this trend. However, this transformation is happening at a very fast pace. New business models can emerge overnight and the adoption rate can be incredibly fast, overturning existing business models in the blink of an eye. Navigating ourselves strategically, remaining agile and anticipating transformation is a challenge, and this becomes harder as the company grows.

Another challenge is engaging with prospective clients. While we used to conduct face-to-face meetings through road trips or trade shows, this ended overnight due to Covid. We had to rethink our ways of engagement.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The biggest opportunity for us is digital transformation. With our tools, we help brands sell more online while driving leads to online retailers and also driving foot traffic from online to local stores. Our core business is to help companies to perfect their customer experience and make sure customers can buy a brand’s products where and when it is best for them.

Another opportunity we see is to help our clients by providing them with information about their end customer. We want to be there for them, providing insights when we see them happening, so they can quickly adjust to the market and their end-user needs. A nice outcome of that is, for example, one of our clients is now launching a whole new product line.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I was always interested in e-commerce and computer science. So in 2000, I started my first e-commerce company when I was still a student. We were selling consumer electronics online, but many people mistakenly visited our office expecting to pick up the product they were interested in because the brands we worked with mentioned our office address in their dealer locator.

This sparked the idea to integrate our site with the brand website, adding purchase links to the product page taking people into our shopping cart, so consumers could complete their order online. This is how Hatch was born, and to this day I get the most of my inspirations from the brands I talk to. As an entrepreneur, I listen to what our clients are saying and think about how we can solve their problems. 

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

With my entrepreneurial background, bad decisions and mistakes gave me my experience. I would say the biggest mistake is to make the same mistake twice – this means you did not learn from it. It is why we encourage people to make mistakes. This brings innovation and improvement.

Now, were there some really bad decisions? Sure, I think this mainly relates to hiring people and it often takes a long time to discover when you make a mis-hire. People show their best side during interviews and no matter how rigorous the hiring process is, it is impossible to fully determine upfront whether someone will become successful. I have learned to trust my gut feelings more and that has often proved a good compass.

How do you get the best out of your team?

As a CEO, it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone knows where we are going as a company and how each employee contributes to that. I set up clear, actionable goals for my management team and expect that the managers will do the same for each employee at Hatch.

Secondly, I make sure I challenge my managers with ideas and give them the freedom to execute them and be creative. I think as a company we have quite an open culture where people are not afraid to make mistakes or fail.

The last one is leading by example. My direct responsibility is to make sure people understand their priorities, for example having a good work-life balance. I noticed that working from home impacts that, so I try to encourage my management team as well as each employee at Hatch to take breaks, go for a walk during lunch and take holidays.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I think diversity is a great driver of innovation as it leads to different views and opinions, and I think Amsterdam is a diversity capital, whether it comes to race, gender or sexual orientation.

Hatch is no different, with over 20 nationalities. One area of improvement could be the number of women, although we do better there compared to other tech companies.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone pivotal in your career?

I am in the fortunate position of working with very skilled people in Hatch who all contribute to my personal development and who challenge my thinking.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

For me, planning around my son and wife’s schedule helps me to keep the balance. And of course, making sure everything is in my Outlook.

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