Rolf Rijkmans: A great startup needs a great team – and you need to start building one ASAP
Rolf Rijkmans is an Entrepreneur in Residence at YES!Delft and he thoroughly enjoys his role as mentor for a diverse group of founders. With a strong commercial and HR background and having worked with a number of tech companies over the years, Rolf brings a wide range of expertise to early-stage startups. He also works with private equity organizations and advises them on whether their portfolio companies are ready for the future. If not, he is the guy who helps them with it.
At YES!Delft, he doesn’t have a focus area per se, which is what makes his job that much more exciting. “I work with startups developing all kinds of technology – anything from drone to medical tech,” he says.
Building a strong HR & Organizational foundation
As an Entrepreneur in Residence for about four years now, Rolf channels his knowledge and experience to help founders prepare their companies for future growth. “I advise startups mostly on HR-related topics such as defining their vision and mission statement, core values, as well as their recruitment strategy and processes.”
He works with startups within the YES!Delft Accelerator program, but he also advises startups on an individual basis and participates in half-yearly check-ins to discuss progress and strategic challenges. In other words, he gets to build strong relationships with the teams he advises.
“When introduced to a new startup, I always start by getting to know them better and putting myself in their shoes. I try to get a feeling for what they do and how they do it. They appreciate this approach.”
In the Accelerator program teams are usually made up of between two and 12 people, which Rolf describes as quite small. But that is exactly when they need the most direction. Being the HR expert he is, Rolf believes these early stages are key to shaping up a strong and dedicated team.
“Think of it this way,” he says. “When you are only two founders and you hire a third person, you are essentially increasing your team by 50%. One person may not seem like a lot, but it is. And if it’s not the right one, it can cost you a lot of energy and frustration.”
Therefore, growing your team wisely from the start can optimize your resources and speed up your growth, too.
But how do you hire the right people?
Rolf has a good idea of how to answer this question – with an example.
Not too long ago, he worked together with the CEO of a startup that found himself in a situation where he needed to grow his team fast. “Up to that point, the founders had been recruiting people mostly via their network. And that’s great, it works for a while. But then they got a one-million-euro financing round and needed to scale.”
So, they went to Rolf to ask how.
“It all starts with the basics,” he answered. “I asked them what they want to stand for and achieve with their business. I advised them to define their core values, vision and mission.” Once they had that figured out, it would also be easier to define what characteristics they want to see in their future team members.
“My advice is to start by spending just a few hours around the topics of vision, mission and values. Have a brainstorm and let the outcome sink in. Then pick it up later and build on it as you go.”
It is a simple exercise that many early-stage companies tend to skip as seemingly more pressing topics arise. At YES!Delft, however – and with the help of experts like Rolf, they are put on the agenda from the beginning so founders have the chance to build the best teams they possibly can.
“What I love most about working with startups is that I get to learn new things all the time. I learn about new markets and industries, what startups need, and how we can best work together.”
“As Entrepreneurs in Residence, we are here to give founders a mirror – show them what they have and what they still need to reach their goals.”