Over a 10-year period after earning her Vlerick Masters in Marketing (2002), Iris Decreus worked for several major companies, which included name brands like Nike, Red Bull and Dove.
During those years, she learned constantly and was particularly amenable to Nike’s urging: ‘Be a sponge. Soak it all up, learn from everything you see and do.’ She felt she was a born marketer – but even though she had great experiences in the corporate world, she wasn’t satisfied, she didn’t feel fulfilled.
Iris kept her Vlerick education in mind: “I found Professor Hans Crijns (Professor of Entrepreneurship) especially inspirational – when he talked about how your passion and drive can create certain results, I felt he was speaking directly to my own inner ambitions.”
“My first 10 years of work experience at those big companies were great. Still, I was always feeling that I could have a bigger impact and be more in control of my results if I would work on my own. I started to think about entrepreneurship, but it was still a pretty abstract concept for me at the time.
“I knew I had had a great education – university studies and then the Vlerick Masters – and working for the global A-brand companies taught me so much. The combination of my education and experience gave me the motivation, and the courage, to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
“In addition: at the end of my Vlerick year, I was voted ‘Most Promising Student of the Graduation’! I still don’t know exactly why (laughs), but that gave me the feeling that I had to live up to my peers’ expectations if I wanted to show them my gratitude. So I decided to go out on my own.”
“I started my entrepreneurial journey as an independent wedding planner. I still felt very much a marketeer from my previous experiences. So now I was marketing the couple getting married instead of the product or brand. I did that for 5 years, and then I started to feel that I didn’t have enough time to serve all of the couples I wanted to – my independent business wasn’t scalable.”
Iris changed to a corporate model and put her business online. For the next 4 years, through 2019, she built a thriving curated, multisided platform – a quality label in the wedding market called House of Weddings.
It was at this point – the beginning of 2020 – that the worldwide Covid pandemic struck like a lightning bolt … and her market disappeared overnight.
“Entrepreneurship is like driving in a fog,” Iris says. “You know that you’re heading towards a certain destination, but you’re steering by feeling, and your only guide are the stripes on the road. You need imagination, daring, passion, and perseverance – and you must listen to your gut feeling. And you need to pivot – switch gear – fast, when necessary.”
She started to blog about the possible effects of Covid on the weddings sector. Soon, Google noticed her blogs and launched House of Weddings as an expert. “We had a very tough year in 2020, but I updated my blogs every week – every day, as necessary – interpreting the government’s pandemic measures. Thanks to Google, we more than doubled our reach last year. While couples couldn’t actually plan their weddings, at least we didn’t lose our audience.
“Our partners (caterers, florists, venues, etc.) were having a particularly difficult time, so I positioned myself as an advisor, a guiding resource or coach. I sent them e-mails on the best actions to take in the crisis. For example, for a venue that had rooms for people to sleep in, I suggested they market themselves as a ‘staycation’ opportunity.
“We were agile, focusing on crisis communications towards our partners, and many of them are really grateful to us. So, for us, Covid was about not earning much while working twice as hard, but our clients are now our best ambassadors. I look forward to overcoming the crisis and growing our business.”
What overall impact has Vlerick had on her career? “Vlerick was such an interesting year – I had studied languages, so Vlerick opened up a whole new world of business to me. Over the years, it has been psychologically important to me to know that I succeeded in my Vlerick studies and that I have that background and network and support.”