From IT procurement to start-up consulting
As an independent consultant, Kim van der Hoek helps young companies make corporate deals. By guiding start-up leaders in how to negotiate and build authentic business relationships, she facilitates sustainable collaboration and growth.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I worked in IT procurement for 10 years, mostly within KPN and other large companies. Towards the end, I worked primarily with innovation and tech companies. I began to realise that the start-ups I worked with lacked the skills and experience to negotiate with more established companies. They would ask me for guidance: How does this work? What is the negotiations process like? What should I expect? What are the do’s and don’ts? In the end, I found myself negotiating side-by-side with these start-ups, and I really enjoyed it. That’s when I decided to quit my job and start training tech companies in the art of making deals.
How do you use your insights and experience to help start-up leaders get ahead?
There’s quite a lot of hype around start-ups. They receive a lot of attention from investors through incubator and accelerator programmes. However, when I ask start-up leaders if they’ve had any training in how to create sustainable deals, the answer is always no. In fact, when I mention that I provide this training, everybody wants to work with me because nobody else offers it to them.
Most of these start-up leaders are young people. They have maybe two or three years of work experience, and they generally have no idea how large companies work. I know there is a niche for what I do in this area.
I always say that if you don’t understand relationships, then you don’t understand business. I don’t believe in the old school way of doing business, in which negotiations focus on winners, losers and price tags. I believe that authentic business relationships and mutual trust are the foundation of sustainable partnerships. With these as a starting point, both parties can achieve much more.
How is your life as an entrepreneur different from your life as an employee?
I don’t have a 9-to-5 job, and I don’t want one anymore. I like the flexibility of having my own company. I’m able to spend my free time doing things for myself, such as sports or networking, and I have time to spend with the people who are important to me, like my family and friends. I don’t like to be in offices all day, where my output and value are measured in the number of hours I sit behind a desk. I like to be more efficient with my time. Now, I have four client companies. Although I try to set a schedule, it’s often impossible because everyone has such different schedules. I need to be very flexible. Some people might get stressed by this, but I thrive on it.
What needs to be done to address the gender imbalance within STEM fields?
I have two stepchildren, a 10-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. We are already teaching them to program. The girl started at age six, and she enjoys it more than her brother does. However, I think this is an exception: most young girls are not encouraged to explore programming in a fun way. Programming, gaming and hacking are all presented in ways that appeal to boys rather than girls.
More needs to be done, especially at the middle school level, to teach children that programming is for everyone. It’s a public relations issue, really. We need to change perceptions and show young girls that programming is a woman’s world too. We do this by showing them the many opportunities within technology and by providing strong role models.
What should young women think about as they begin their careers?
It’s important to have an awareness of the different kinds of companies and jobs there are out there. Each type of organisation has a unique company culture and offers a unique set of opportunities. For example, working for corporate institutions like banks or big telecoms will offer insight into how large companies make decisions. Consulting roles will give you the chance to look inside a lot of companies. Governmental organisations will have a completely different company culture, as will tech start-ups. It’s important to keep this in mind as you figure out what suits you.