Scaling up in Europe: 5 do’s and don’ts of doing business in the Netherlands

Scaling up in Europe: 5 do’s and don’ts of doing business in the Netherlands

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As a small country full of tech-savvy people, the Netherlands is a great place for setting up your tech startup. If you are planning to expand and do business in The Netherlands, there are a couple of things you need to know. We ask Willem-Frederik Metzelaar, business development manager Benelux at EIT Digital, about his do’s and don’ts for scale-ups that want to go Dutch.

Metzelaar helps Dutch enterprises with their expansion to other countries. A big part of his work at the EIT Digital Accelerator also goes the other way, as he supports scale-ups that are looking to land in the Dutch market. “The Netherlands is a very interesting market for tech companies. It may not be a big market, compared to countries such as Germany, France or the UK. But the Netherlands is very open to innovation and is a highly developed and well-structured technological environment.”

Planning on doing business here? Check out these tips Metzelaar shared with us!

1. Arrive on time

In general, the Dutch are easy to deal with and doing business doesn’t come with a thick set of instructions. Metzelaar does stress one point. “If you have a meeting, you arrive on time.

“The Dutch clearly don’t like to be kept waiting, but more importantly, it’s about trust. “Doing business in the Netherlands means you have to build a relation based on trust. Arriving on time is not only a decent and polite thing to do. It also shows you can be trusted with honouring an agreement. Once you’ve gained trust, the Dutch will move to doing business fairly quickly.”

2. It’s not about you

Once you’ve arranged the first meeting, rest assured that the Dutch have already checked your website and LinkedIn profile, so make sure they are up to date. They have a good feeling who you are, which leads to another tip from Metzelaar: “We sometimes come across startups that really want to talk about themselves. Talk about who they are as a person. Don’t do that for too long. A short introduction is enough, then talk about your solution. This also goes for conference calls. Just assume they’ve already checked you out online.

And remember: the Dutch typically are very direct. This might come across as rude, but is really just their way of communicating. So do not feel offended and try to get used to it. You might even find it refreshing!”

3. Have some patience

The fact that Dutch like to do business quickly and efficiently, doesn’t mean your patience won’t be tested. Metzelaar: “You arrived on time, you pitched a great product. You did your homework, and you’ve confirmed your reputation. Even the CEO seemed to love your idea. Everything looks like it’s going through the fast lane. But then your potential client starts something called ‘polderen’, a Dutch way of finding a solution that works for as many people as possible.”

A lot of different people in the company get to have their say or evaluate your product. “This is sometimes hard to understand for startups from other countries. The fact that the CEO likes your idea, isn’t the finish line, it’s just the start. The Dutch want to make absolutely sure they get the best there is. Don’t be surprised when, after months of negotiation, the client suddenly starts comparing you to a competitor and tries to find out what you can do better. You’re hoping to get to a proof of concept, but they suddenly found another company that offers something similar as you.”

“This even happens for scale-ups that get scouted. For many enterprises coming to the Netherlands, this may come as a surprise. It can be a long and sometimes frustrating process. Generally, the bigger the company, the more people get involved, the longer the ‘polderen’ takes. The government takes the cake. Before you know it, a year has gone by. But stay patient, things are moving forward.”

4. Stick to the Randstad

The Netherlands is a small country. Distances are short, infrastructure is good. So does it really matter where your company will be located? “For Chinese people, our entire country is like a city with some patches of green on the outskirts”, says Metzelaar. That doesn’t mean that you should just set up your Dutch headquarters anywhere in the country.

Metzelaar thinks you should look to the Randstad; the densely populated western part of the country. “This is where you have the largest cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam. If you’re dealing with the government, you really want to be in Den Haag. In Amsterdam, you’re close to multiple data centres. If your startup transfers a lot of data, this is where you’ll have the highest transfer rates. There are also two airports, Rotterdam/The Hague Airport and Schiphol Airport, connecting this area with the rest of Europe and the world.” We might add that outside of the Randstad, Eindhoven with its big tech campus is also a great place to go.

5. Don’t sell your product, sell a solution

Whether you try to find clients or are looking for funding, having just a stellar product is not enough to make it, says Metzelaar: “Just because you can make it, doesn’t mean we have to buy it”, is a regular state of mind for Dutch businesses. You can have the most fantastic product, but if it doesn’t offer a solution for that particular business, they won’t be interested. Fine-tuning your pitch to the other side’s business case will get you to the next step. If you can prove a Dutch potential client that your product gives him the edge, doing business will be fairly easy.”

This article is produced in a collaboration with EIT Digital. Read more about our partnering opportunities.

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