Frank Verhage

Frank Verhage is a “company doctor” and currently the CEO of SALD.

14 July

Brainport is so infatuated with its own technologies that it has lost sight of what matters most: whether people want to buy them.

Companies often suffer because different departments hold different opinions and everyone involved is firmly convinced that his and only his view is correct. That’s the wrong attitude. The solution to a problem depends not only on the problem but just as much on the context.

A financial result, for example, is only meaningful in relation to a previous one. A turnover of 100,000 euros in one week, for example, can be either a lot or a little. It says nothing about a company’s success, not even about the direction in which it’s heading. How do the 100,000 euros compare to the turnover of the week before or the corresponding week of the previous year? Those are crucial questions. Both answers are relevant, as are, for example, costs, the profit, the performance of comparable competitors, market developments and much more. Targeting just a few numbers is usually wrong because they rarely do justice to the situation’s complexity.

A one-sided view leading to tunnel vision is nothing new. Give a man a hammer and he’ll see every problem as a nail. It’s all the more frightening to find that even in emergencies, from the corporate crisis to the pandemic, the same hammer-and-nail mistake is being made over and over again. We, humans, tend to adopt a solid and one-sided opinion when dealing with something for a long time. This ‘operational blindness’ is not the exception but the rule.

In 2018, I entered the high-tech world of the Brainport area for the first time. As a born Rotterdammer, but at the same time a true “Ajacied,” I was delighted to act in the city of PSV.

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As an outsider, I noticed the extensive sociability combined with a strong commitment to technology. I met many nice people from Brabant, passionate “technologists” who fell in love with their technology. Brabanders are acting on a strong sense of mission, full of conviction that they’ve solved an important problem for humanity.

It’s undoubtedly good to be convinced of what you’re doing, but what matters most for a company is to convince others. Even the best technology is of little value if it doesn’t succeed in finding customers. Belief in one’s technology, one’s product, unfortunately, leads to the belief that things will sell themselves. This belief is fundamentally wrong, catastrophic even.

Many technologists move up into management, but only formally. At heart, they remain believers: people who firmly believe that their product is so good that others simply have to buy it. These people aren’t salespeople, nor will they hire them. They tend to neglect the demand and market situation and thus stand in the way of the economic success of their company.

This is also exactly why, despite all the fantastic initiatives in startup capital, innovation funds and cooperation initiatives such as Brainport, economic success is often not achieved and real collaboration is still limited.

Our own Silicon Valley in the south of the Netherlands doesn’t only need ingenious inventors and genius engineers but also real entrepreneurs, salespeople who know that a product is only valuable if it finds buyers. Being in love with your technology in connection with boards of technologist directors doesn’t advance companies and therefore Brainport as a whole.

This situation is probably the only reason why so much capital is invested in new technologies, but economic success is often a long time coming. I consider myself lucky to work with these clever, visionary and hard-working people every day. But I’m amazed almost every day by the one-sided visions of the technology managers, which have blocked out the view of the outside world, the market.