Founding a company with your best friend: Easier said than done

While many probably already had a dream about starting a business or a company with their best friend, there are only a few that succeeded in doing so. It seems like it was written since their university years for Piet Hein Barkmeijer and David Mozes, 2 of the 3 founders of Tech Rise Ventures (soon to be rebranded as Tech Rise People, more will follow), to begin a company together. This is why for Best Friend day, in a double interview, they reminisce on how they were able to build a company together with a passionate vision all while maintaining a healthy relationship. As we discover several contradictory facets of their friendship, one can see the logical connection between their relationship and the creation of Tech Rise Ventures as they both tried with a third partner, Julien Van Diest, to build a cohesive whole by combining their three visions.

When and how did you first meet each other?

Piet Hein: 24 years ago, in 1998, we started studying in Groningen, a university city in the north of the Netherlands. We went to the same fraternity and we were just a group of boys who didn’t know each other brought together. We were forced to do a lot of activities together. David and I didn’t hit it off directly, we clicked three years later or so. What we had in common is that we both very much enjoyed just doing stuff, being proactive, like sports, but David was especially ambitious in studying. We kept each other in balance with sports, our studies, and of course at the fraternity where we did a lot of social stuff. So it was very intense, we saw each other at least five days a week.

How did your relationship evolve up to today?

David: What was already clear by that time is that we both set ourselves with long term expectations, for example, we both liked running, and we had an aim of marathons, so there was always something going for the long run. What differentiates us is that Piet always took the more social roots, whereas I always took the more quantitative path. In our company already, but that’s a big step forward. It would always be Piet who was the social guy, and I was more of a kind of fixer. When Piet Hein went for coffee with a lot of people in the university library, I was figuring out and trying to make sure we got the right bus at the right time. It was those types of things.

Piet Hein: That was 24 years ago and it progressed to when we started working. David went into more commercial and analytical roles, whereas I was in recruitment quite early. In one’s career, there are ups and downs, so it is good to always have this sort of a challenger or someone who knows everything about you, having a sparring partner helps a lot. You can ask each other: “Is this the right step? Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right moment?” All this comes together in a career, the two of us discussed a lot of things in that manner. Many things came together that way.

You kind of guided each other hand in hand to where you are today?

David: Coaching might be the right word. And taking the time to hear somebody out is important. Piet did it even more than I, he was always ready to connect me with the next person for new insights. And it was part of his role as a professional. It was deeply rooted in his DNA to always figure out a creative, flexible way of connecting somebody with some insights on formulating your vision.

Piet Hein: I remember we had early morning talks about four times a week. The first thing we’d do once out of the house. We’d call each other to speak about business, about networks, where a lot of people would simply discuss what they did on the weekend. Also, David and I don’t share that many hobbies. I listen to hip hop, he listens to dance, I’m a football player, he’s a hockey player, he likes to go to the clubs and I’m more of a beer drinker. There is not much overlap in what we do from that perspective. Yet, we always discussed our plans for the week in those early morning phone calls: “What are the tough challenges that you face ahead? Or is this not going well?” That was sparring on multiple levels.

David: So having a real buddy when it comes down to a lot of these professional challenges. That is, I think, quite rare. There’s a heavy split between friendship and business quite often. But colleagues can become friends or friends can sometimes become colleagues but what we have built over time in the last 15 years is super intertwined.

Take us through the creation of Tech Rise, how did it happen?

Piet Hein: Well, I remember very well, in the first wave of Corona, I was working at Atradius as an interim recruiter. That project was fading out because my assignment was coming to an end, but COVID-19 made it quite uncertain how that would evolve. David was working at Volta Venture investment firm, which was also coming to an end. I remember we said: “This would be the right time to see what was going to be the future from an entrepreneurial spirit, of things that we’ve discussed of how recruitment and investment come together. We started thinking about models of how we would do this. We came up with the name Tech Rise in five minutes, and it still feels very good.

David: There was something fundamental as well. Yes, there was something with investments and with recruitment. That was kind of a hint at the gap in the market. Even more fundamental is that Piet Hein was super sociable and super well connected and very good at his assignment. There was a need for an organisational business building around it. It came down to the simplest things like how to build a company, invoicing, bookkeeping and legal structures. In the end, how to build something more than a really good connector between clients and candidates. My structural and business mindset created a good synergy with the recruitment magic Piet Hein brings. As he is perfect in operations and connecting and I’m more on the base and the structure. For example, please do not put Piet Hein in front of an Excel sheet, but I’m quite fine with doing an Excel. That’s how to summarise it.

Piet Hein: To help companies scale, especially tech companies, you have to be able to provide them with tech talent, engineers or developers. I am more in executive search but a friend of mine, Julien is a really good tech recruiter. The funny thing was that we both had the same idea in asking to join each other’s company to scale up. So that’s how we brought ourselves together to neutralise David and me being friends and have a scalable business. Usually, founders have no idea what to do with the money given by investors because they don’t know where to get the people. Our main objective was to control that strategic agenda for the founder and the investor. How can we combine those two? If you can control that strategic agenda with: “Hey, and what is your financing need? And what do your people need? And how can we hold a conversation on that level?” There’s a difference between many other recruitment firms, but also going in comparison to a lot of investment firms. That’s the bridge that we wanted to build, to combine those worlds because a recruiter cannot discuss financials, and a financier quite often cannot discuss the people’s needs.

Did launching a company together have an impact on your friendship?

Piet Hein: Well, it had an effect because we both have families now. We don’t see each other that much on the weekends. Since you’re with young children, you have your rhythm. So it’s very nice that we bring it together to the office. Now, of course, we see each other daily because we’re trying to build a big company, so we have goals to set, and we have decisions to make. So there are a lot of things that you have to combine and find a way to work together on how we might see things differently.

David: I think the same, if you’re seeing each other every day, then the tendency of having drinks or parties on the weekend is diminished, but on the other hand, we’re having quite a few business trips, let us not forget Malaga. If we would not have a company together, I don’t think we would have spent five days in Malaga together. So it is a little bit more centred around business. But then again, that’s fine because we did all the partying already. I just don’t see it as a deterioration, on the contrary, I see it as additional strength. What we have seen in business is that trust is so insanely important. It is so relaxing to not have any form of stress now. 90% of the time, I know how Piet thinks, there’s that layer of trust deeper than ever. Having that trustworthy person if you’re starting a new company with new guys, and you have families and there’s a lot of politics and agendas, is very important. In that sense, our friendship got to a deeper level.

What is the best experience, the best accomplishment you’ve had together at Tech Rise?

Piet Hein: Well, I think the Malaga trip was an accomplishment. With the two of us going two days ahead, having time for each other to reflect and see what is needed and how we are doing because time goes so fast. Now I’m starting to feel like I’m getting tired. I know that the holiday is coming in six weeks. So now it’s just focusing on that point.

David: The biggest accomplishment is having in 16 months 20 people working with us, and I don’t even see it working for us, but with us, with high energy and high enthusiasm. Where I think we are gradually shifting from first gear to second gear in speed. If we do this with a big group, then we can move the needle. The fact that people are willing to spend their precious time with us in our vision. That is something I think is a true accomplishment.

What do you both have to say about the growth of the company? 

David: Well, if you would have asked us two months ago, we would have full-heartedly said we expect to be with 30 people by the end of the year. That real hardcore speed as we’ve seen it now might be slightly decreasing, and we need to evaluate our actions on a month by month basis. In the end, we can hire as much as we want, but if there’s a pullback of a lot of money and there’s a recession, then recruitment is a place that will take a beating. So we’ll continue to grow, but we need to assess it a little bit more recurrently.

Piet Hein: Unfortunately, I agree with that. There’s going to be a shift from startups to scale-ups and grownups. Except for the startups that we truly believe in that can make a difference. That’s going to be a majority shift. We’re still such a small player in the market that there is so much to win for us. There are a lot of bigger companies who will be hit harder, who will have to make tough decisions, and therefore chances and opportunities will arise for us. We’re so focused on tech developers and engineers, and the scarcity in that field is prevalent, recruitment teams in companies are not able to assess what good candidates are. There’s still a lot of room for us to grow and maybe not by 5, 10, or 20 people in the coming months but more steadily. That could be good for us as well, it’s step by step, and in five years we’ll see where we are. I think Tech Rise People at that point, can be sort of a cool place to work but where we can very much help our clients in their need to rise and grow as a company.

A few last words:

Overall, it seems like David and Piet Hein don’t necessarily have the same areas of interest, or see eye to eye in the same fields. Yet, they could still see what they could do together and acknowledge how their strengths could be assembled to found Tech Rise Ventures. As both emphasise, the trust they both had for one another played a really important part in the upbringing of the company. It’s been quite the journey since the first day they met, but with Tech Rise, there is so much more to come.