What is the result when you put a banker, a techie and an aerospace engineer together with the right dose of inspiration? Right, you get OptimaData, the full-service multi-platform data(base) service provider. In this article, Gerard Zuidweg, Edco Wallet and Martijn Wallet reflect on five years of OptimaData.
Three different careers come together
Edco: ‘Our careers started out completely differently. Gerard is a former banker, my brother Martijn studied aerospace engineering and my career started in technology. I began as a mechanic at Xafax Netherlands, a company that traded in payment card systems for schools. After a few years the commuting distance got to me and I ended up at the secondment agency United Technical Solutions. Suddenly I was on the other side of the table, deploying mechanics at different companies. This role suited me perfectly: negotiating prices, salaries and conditions. Bringing supply and demand together came naturally to me. I moved up within UTS and ended up as Operations Manager at parent company USG. There I was asked to set up a new secondment label aimed at job placement in the technological sector. It was great fun to set that up from scratch, but no matter how fun and challenging it was, at a certain point I had been there long enough. After that, I set up an IT secondment label for the Nováccent Group as well. With my experience in the secondment market and having successfully set up a secondment label twice, I ended up as a relationship manager at Pay for People, a specialist in back office services. There I laid the foundation for taking customer relationship management to the next level, but after a year or two I felt like it was time for the next step, but what?’
Martijn: ‘When I graduated in aerospace engineering in 1997, Fokker had just gone bankrupt. The aircraft industry was not very buoyant, while the IT industry was just starting to revive. I felt completely at home there and so my career in IT began. Soon I was asked to become a Database Administrator (DBA) and that's how I got into the world of databases. It's also a profession that suits me: I'm a tidy type, work very neatly and am quite a perfectionist. Qualities that a DBA needs. I discovered that when you're a DBA at a company, you know their database by heart at a certain point. After a side project at ABN AMRO, I decided to go freelance. As a freelancer you're free to choose your own clients and it was even better pay. When the banking crisis hit, I ended up permanently employed at Nováccent Group, a company that offered businesses database consultancy and managed services. There I was also introduced to open source databases. In the end, I felt more at home as a freelancer. Through a friend I met Gerard. In 2014, we set up PageLoad with five entrepreneurs, a company that offered solutions for optimally performing mobile and desktop websites. Behind every website is a database and that's where I came in with my expertise. A great experience, but five captains on one ship didn't work in the long run.’
A bright future for database technology
Gerard: ‘I worked for many years at ABN AMRO as a banker. I started as a trainee, and through all kinds of line and management positions I ended up in the Management Team Netherlands for the Businesses. In my final years at the bank, I saw the banking world change rapidly. The things I liked, the clients, relationship management, gradually disappeared and the bank became more and more an IT organization. Then I switched to a startup in the Fintech sector, but there I missed the connection with the customer. Around that time I met Martijn, and PageLoad came on my path. With PageLoad, we managed to bring in great clients and projects and set up a successful company in a short time. However, the importance of Pageload's specialism, namely website optimisation, was quickly outpaced by technical and market developments. We could see that database technology was the future.’
The seed was planted
Martijn: 'When we realized this, the seed was planted that later would become OptimaData. Gerard and I discussed our ideas and soon concluded that the core thing was finding the right people. That really is a profession in itself. But where do you find a good recruiter who also wants to be an entrepreneur? Well, sometimes you already have what you are looking for. Edco was an expert in his field and when we asked him about it, it turned out to be perfect timing: he was interested in something else. That's how the three of us started OptimaData.
Getting along with each other
Edco: ‘When Martijn called me, I was immediately interested. But first I had to get acquainted with Gerard. We didn't know each other and if you want to start a company, you have to be able to get along with each other. Fortunately, there was an immediate connection; we soon felt that we had the same goal. All three of us are very different, but that is our strength.’
Martijn: 'It's our strength, but it took some effort at the beginning. Together with a coach we discovered that OptimaData is the result of our combined strengths, precisely because we complement each other so well. Yes, we had to learn to get along with each other, but once we did, we only strengthened each other. OptimaData would never have become what it is now if one of the three of us had left.
Added value for the client
Gerard: ‘The coaching process helped us to understand each other better. I love to see that what binds us, from day one, is the desire to really be of value for the client. We do that on the basis of long-term commitment, from a family spirit. We possess a great deal of knowledge and expertise, but we are approachable and very flexible in communication. That is also what we want to be and to radiate, no matter how fast we grow. That added value for the customer is the drive of everyone who works here. When the customer calls, we are there for them, without exception.’
Quick to put a finger on the problem
Gerard: 'Sometimes I am really amazed by our people. A customer has a problem, they organize a call and within half an hour they have put their finger on it. That doesn't mean the problem is solved immediately, but the direction in which the solution should go is quickly established. I think that's very impressive. I also notice in all our people that they are all proud to work here. The informal working atmosphere and the open, transparent culture appeals to us all.’
Database expertise increasingly relevant
Gerard: ‘Quite a few things have changed over the past few years. About five years ago our focus was still on long-term secondment of our DBAs, nowadays we deploy our experts part-time in organizations. We are more interested in providing added value for all developments within an organization than in just supplying hands. And cloud developments also bring about major changes, of course. What does it mean when a computer is no longer located under the customer's desk, but somewhere in the cloud in America? But we are not afraid of these developments. Our added value will remain necessary in every situation. If not because of the availability of systems, then because of the efficiency drive, being the accountant. When I see large companies switching completely to the cloud, I think: what are you committing yourself to? Make sure that you at least have the knowledge to manage, otherwise you become completely dependent on such a cloud provider.’
Expanding the skillset
Martijn: ‘That's why it's so important that we continue to develop. We are IT professionals and we have to stay that way. If you outsource everything to cloud providers, you run a big risk. The knowledge and experience of a DBA is still necessary. If not for solving complex problems or major disruptions, then it is for making infrastructural choices or setting up data models. That is why we are constantly looking around to see how we can hone our database expertise. That's something I can really look forward to in the morning, expanding our skillset even further.’
Gerard: ‘Whatever the developments are going to be, the most important thing is that we retain the character of our company. That is important for us as managers, but also for our employees. The people on the floor are the company’s assets, not the managers. Managers tend to want to be in the spotlight quite a bit, while the experts tend to be introverts. But they are the ones who make our company what it is. I am far in the minority here, as the only manager. Martijn has a profession, Edco has a profession, the guys have a profession, I kind of stick everything together. I envy them for their craftsmanship, for how deep they can dive into things, but I do bring the vision, the connection, which is also important.’
Grow from strength and passion
Edco: ‘It is great to see how we have all assumed our roles, but that we have also arranged everything in such a way that the business continues to run if one of us is not there. That is good for the future of the company and we want to continue doing that in the coming years: working more on our company than in it. After all, if you're growing, you need to be able to take a step back. Growth, by the way, is not our goal; such growth comes from the fun we have. If you only think about growth, it is fleeting, but if you grow from your strength and passion, it is real and lasting.’
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