International expansion? Students point the way

Teamleader is the Ghent SaaS technology company behind the eponymous cloud solution for CRM, project management, sales, time recording and invoicing. Teamleader has experienced rapid growth since its launch in 2012. Today, it is one of our most successful scale-ups. For example, it recently won Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 and was nominated for the European Technology Fast 500 awards in Paris. “We started out in Belgium and are now active in six countries,” says CEO and co-founder Jeroen De Wit. “Our aim is to become the European market leader, so we want to expand our sales territory to include other countries. The question is which ones?” The in-company project by Masters in Financial Management students Louis Gabriels and Frederic Keereman led to a shortlist.

Louis Gabriels - Frederic Keereman at Teamleader
Louis Gabriels and Frederic Keereman during their in-company project at Teamleader

Part of the team

During the in-company project, Fréderic and Louis were coached by Jeroen, Stijn Van Walle, CFO and Katrien De Clerck, COO.

“But we received a great deal of help from everyone in the company,” says Louis. “There was a real start-up mentality. The people were genuinely friendly and helpful. Not because they had to help us, but because they wanted to. We were really made to feel welcome, with our own desk alongside the others, a new laptop of our own and a great deal of freedom. At Teamleader, people don't look at the number of hours you put in. What matters is the result. The message was: we've given you an assignment and if you have any questions, you know where to find us.”

“The contact with the management was simple as a result,” adds Fréderic. “If we wanted to discuss something, we could schedule a meeting ourselves. Just like everyone else in the organisation, we were given access to everyone's schedule. As we had signed an NDA, we could also consult all the data we needed. I think that must be unique. I can imagine it would be more difficult in large companies.”

He continues: “We worked with milestones, because when you only have two months you need to ensure concrete targets, even if it's just to stop you getting bogged down in details. We would discuss things with Jeroen, Stijn or Katrien at set times. In most cases, we would prepare a document and they would provide feedback. This meant that feedback came our way very quickly.”

Sense of initiative and creativity

Louis and Fréderic made an impression – and honestly not just because they once worked late into the night, set off the alarm and had to call Jeroen in the early hours to wake him up. “In the past, student projects did not always lead to the desired results,” remembers Jeroen. “And we thought it was probably our fault, because maybe we hadn't provided the right input. But Fréderic and Louis displayed a huge amount of initiative and also went looking for information themselves, particularly if they couldn't get it quickly enough. They worked extremely independently but provided feedback at the right times, so the project progressed really efficiently… That was very unusual, in our experience.”

Jeroen De Wit - Teamleader
Jeroen De Wit, CEO and co-founder of Teamleader

“Frederic and Louis were intrapreneurs through and through. Creative, too. And they also suggested new angles. So far we had been using a fixed set of criteria when assessing market potential and market fit, but they also added others. For example, they succeeded in demonstrating the correlation between the price of a search term in paid advertising and the cost of living. For a company like ours, paid advertising forms the biggest component of the marketing budget. These kinds of insights are therefore very useful, as they quickly give us an initial indication of whether a country is worth examining in more depth.”

Shortlist

Fréderic and Louis are mainly pleased that the management clearly appreciated the result of their efforts and that their report is not simply gathering dust somewhere. Jeroen confirms this: “For each of the 28 EU member states, the research gave us insights into the market potential for Teamleader. In concrete terms, it produced a shortlist which we have started to work with internally.”

C-suite

Although Teamleader isn't a particularly hierarchical company, the C-level management is no less impressive as a result. For recent graduates Fréderic and Louis, the fact that they were able to collaborate so directly with the CEO, CFO and COO made it a compelling experience. In their own words, it taught them how the top management think, what their challenges are and how they make strategic decisions, revealing the real drivers in this process.

Not just like real life, but actually real!

And that isn't the only thing they will take from the experience. “Precisely because an in-company project is a real-life project, you can learn so much from it,” says Fréderic. “During your master's year you work on case studies too and that's a good thing, but the reality is completely different. The information you get in a real company isn't quite as well structured as the tables you are given in the exercises. I also gained a great deal from my collaboration with Louis. It might be a cliché but teamwork also teaches you a lot about yourself, and that makes you stronger.”

Focus, focus, focus

Louis has learned how to focus: “Jeroen and Stijn couldn't stand, how can I put it… well, bullsh*t or beating around the bush. You always had to get to the point. And that comes as no surprise: everything there moves so fast and they are extremely busy. So they always kept us on track, but in a nice way… And Teamleader itself has a clear focus, on specific markets and clients. If you lose your focus, everything starts to go wrong. That applies to everything. Focus is the most important thing.”

Silicon Valley in Ghent

The in-company project certainly wasn’t an all-work-and-no-play experience. “Everyone knew that we would only be there for two months, but we were immediately included in the group. We were allowed to go to the Work Smarter conference, an annual event which is organised for clients and other guests, and were also welcome at the team-building activities. For example, we toured the Waasland region on Vespas and went to a restaurant with the Finance team. The day-to-day atmosphere in the company is fantastic too. Fresh meals are always prepared at lunchtime and you can eat together. It's like one big family. On Fridays it's always Cava Friday, when you end the working week with a drink and a nice chat.” Louis smiles broadly when he thinks back on it.

Fréderic nods enthusiastically: “They invest a great deal in the job experience. That's something which you associate with Silicon Valley. I didn't know this kind of working environment even existed in Belgium.”

Recommended to combat tunnel vision

Highly recommended, that's how Jeroen would describe the in-company project. “We are a fast-growing organisation, constantly on the lookout for talent, and projects such as this give us the opportunity to identify this talent at a very early stage. Companies also start to suffer from tunnel vision after a while, so it helps to have students coming along with new ideas and a fresh view. They also need to be able to conduct high-level discussions, and Fréderic and Louis could certainly do that. They demonstrated a high degree of maturity.”

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