The first week of January is great for reflection. It’s the moment the first New Year’s resolutions go out the window, especially those about more sports and a healthier diet. What remains after the fireworks euphoria settles down, are the plans that will (probably) stick. Today we’re hearing from Peter Kuperus and René Janssen, the founders of Lepaya, how they look back at 2018 and what they expect from 2019 now the champagne rush has subsided.
We’re now a couple of weeks underway in the 2019. How were the Christmas holidays?
René: I spent a couple of relaxing days in Portugal. It was good to recharge the batteries after an intense year.
Peter: Well, I didn’t have a Christmas break at all, because someone had to hold the fort. But in all fairness, I did go on a nice trip to South Africa early December. Having your own business is great, but, as René says, it can be quite intense. So it’s good to take a step back every now and then to reflect. And even while in Africa I was in touch with René and the rest of the office occasionally.
2018 was a successful year for Lepaya. The most visible change you’ve made was going from an industrial, artsy loft outside the city to an old, majestic canal house on the Herengracht.
René: Yeah, we really outgrew our old location. It was a decent solution for day one. Yet at some point we were working with about ten people cramped behind eight desks. And it was just one open space so phone calls or one-on-one conversations were challenging and meetings with clients, facilitators or potential investors had to take place at a hotel nearby.
Peter: We made the right decision to go to our new office when we did. We currently have over twenty employees. That wouldn’t have been workable. Another big plus is the location. We’re in the middle of the ‘9 straatjes’ and looking out over the canals. A much more inspiring and energizing scenery than the parking lot we were looking at before.
What were other moments that define your 2018?
Peter: I remember a key moment early in the year. Up until then we considered our proposition to be a SaaS product. After speaking to various potential clients and digging deep to understand their needs, we learned that we could have much more impact if we could support companies on their employee development topics more holistically. That’s when we decided to pivot away from our initial business model and launched our full-service training proposition, including facilitators and education experts. That was a crucial decision that allowed us to take full responsibility for people development, something that fitted our purpose much better.
René: I recognize very much what you say. In hindsight we could say it was the starting point for a series of successful client acquisitions. Our full service training proposition resonated well in the market. It allowed us to build deep relationships with our clients and become their trusted partner in employee development. Now we work intensively with some of the fastest growing scale-ups, with top tier consulting firms and with the largest online retailers in the Netherlands.
Peter: Lastly, we raised our second venture round last year — also something worth celebrating. Raising capital takes a lot of time, but that’s something we knew when we started. In an industry that is as big as the market for corporate trainings [over 200 billion dollars worldwide] you have to act fast. That means you can’t finance your own growth. And besides, investors add more than just money. They bring expertise and experience that we don’t have.
What did you learn from 2018 that will help you further up your game in 2019?
Peter: 2018 taught us to focus. We are operating in an enormous market with more opportunities that we can pursue. Last year we pitched to clients on topics that were just too far from our sweet spot. In the end that didn’t pay off. So now we are restricting ourselves to topics and clients where we have an edge. That means focusing on soft skills, and on companies that really want to make a difference for their employees.
René: We also learned a lot about the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’, who are our key users. We learned that they are looking for substance. When they enroll in a training they want to know what they’ll get out of it and how that helps them taking the next step in their career. They want to be guided in their development. No long list of trainings from which they can choose freely, but tailored advice on where their learning needs are.
Peter: Something we both had to learn on a personal level was to slow down. We sometimes want to go faster than we actually can and end up making 6000 RPM in first gear. As you can imagine, that makes a lot of noise but doesn’t generate that much speed. To make our business sustainable, we need to take time to build and develop our team. Give them responsibility and ownership. We want our team to uphold a sustainable work-life balance. That means they get a lot of freedom in planning their own work. That might lower the speed now, but in the end will get us further. And let’s not forget that we onboarded thousands of users last year. So even though we feel like we could go much faster, we’re already making solid progress.
What are Lepaya’s main goals for 2019?
René: Now that we have witnessed the enthusiasm our clients have for our product, we want to scale up big time. So we’re hiring more sales people to increase our footprint in the Netherlands and we plan to expand internationally by opening one or two international sales offices. From our premature attempt to enter the Singaporean market we learned that local presence is key. It’s important to be able to meet with HR representatives face to face to get to know them, their company and the challenges they’re facing.
Peter: A second goal is to extend our offerings to consumers. We currently sell to corporations, but there is no reason why consumers wouldn’t be interested as well. We’re thinking about a way to allow individuals to enroll in our programs. They could get a very similar experience from the corporate participants, only not with the live training sessions in their own office building and with their own colleagues.
René: A third goal for this year is to take the technical side of our product to the next level. We are developing AI to further personalize our app. We want to understand what the best ways are to connect with learners. For example, when do people want to learn? Where? And how much time do they want to spend? Those factors could be different for every individual and technology such as AI can help us optimize the learning experience for each of our users.
Peter: Talking about our goals for next year makes me realize how much we have achieved already. During this same period last year we formulated our goals for 2018. We can now say that we met all of them and more. And most importantly, we did so with a lot more fun and energy than I could ever imagine. I believe we’re building something cool here. We have a great team and we’re really helping people get better at what they do. I’m very proud of that and just hope we can keep that going during the next twelve months.
Let’s have a look beyond 2019: where should this all lead to?
Peter: To me, Lepaya is about preparing professionals for life in general and their careers in particular. Universities are not really helping their students getting ready for the real world. So once people start their careers they miss certain soft skills that are detrimental in a corporate environment, such as time management and giving and receiving feedback. I hope Lepaya will be known for bridging the gap between university and work. A company that people look at as the place to acquire skills that bring them further in life.
René: I full heartedly agree with Peter. No one deciphered personal development yet. There are so many tools and methods out there, but we still don’t know the optimal solution. I hope that with the work we do, we contribute to finding the answer. That’s why we put a lot of effort in data and machine learning, and even work with neuroscientists. When I think back at the start of my career, I remember several multi-day training sessions. They were interesting and all, but the impact was quite limited. I never walked out of there knowing what I would start doing differently tomorrow. I want our users to know exactly what they should do differently after a training. What they should do to become a better professional. Because that’s why people go to trainings: to learn, to become better, to develop themselves. That’s what makes them happy and that’s what we want to give them.
Questions, comments or suggestions? Or want to intern with us yourself? Visit www.lepaya.com, comment below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course Peter and René are also always open to hear from you directly!