Founders Fridays is a new StartupAmsterdam initiative that showcases local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer five questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem’s most inspirational stories and role models. We hope that by giving startup founders a space to share their insights and experience, we’ll all learn and grow together.
This week we spoke to Marieke van Iperen, the CEO and co-founder of Settly, a digital relocation platform that helps companies with hiring top international talent.
1. How did your career journey lead you to founding Settly?
Looking back at [this stage of] my life now, everything feels connected, but that was definitely not the case whilst I was in the midst of it. I dropped out of school before the age of 18 because life was confusing. I wanted to travel, explore the world, leave my comfort zone and learn by doing instead of reading books.
This journey lasted 10 years and took me from selling festival tickets in Greece, setting up my own bar in Ibiza, exploring a few ventures in Latin America and spending five years in Australia and New Zealand, to establishing my career in recruitment and HR, working for companies such as Nike, Adecco, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Starbucks. I spent some time in London and more recently in San Francisco working for Uber, where I was lucky to work with some of the brightest minds in the world and learn all about tech, scalability and international growth.
I’ve always been intrigued by the concepts of home and feeling at home. For me, there’s nothing more fulfilling than arriving in a new country where you don’t know anyone or anything to make new friends and help others feel at home. Many times, I didn’t even speak the same language and our cultures were completely different, but having shared values (and a good sense of humour) goes a long way.
At work, attracting and retaining international talent – global talent mobility and total reward – became my specialism. We discovered that onboarding international talent generally takes three to five times longer than hiring locally, and that we never had enough headcounts in HR to provide the services and care that we wanted for our people, resulting in employees leaving simply because they (or their partner) didn’t feel at home, which was outside of our control and turned out to be a costly exercise.
A founder’s eureka moment can come at any time – even on the edge of a cliff
My co-founder, Kimo Paula, already had a housing company (Expat Housing Network) and supported international employees at all the key tech companies. He saw similar opportunities with his client base. Experiencing first-hand how the new generation of international talent emerged while the services around them did not adapt to their needs, it became our goal to create a new service aligned with the future international workforce. One that is digital, community-driven and focussing on experience. We decided to join forces and Settly and its mission were born.
And to be honest, becoming a mum helped too. My priorities shifted, work-life balance and purpose became more important, but that’s a story for another time.
2. Why did you choose Amsterdam to start and grow your business?
I’d never expected to return to the Netherlands, but when I did, I found myself being drawn to Amsterdam because of its international feel in combination with the city’s historical setting. I used to love getting lost while riding my bike to work and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason and because the city is a great international hub for tech companies and talent, it seemed like a natural step to start Settly here. The city furthermore has a big ecosystem that supports startups and we have definitely been able to accelerate because of this. All in all, Amsterdam hasn’t proved me wrong! Though we have expanded across the border, I’m still a strong advocate of the city and can see the potential and attractiveness it has for both startups and international talent.
Building the platform remotely before working remotely became a thing
3. How are you approaching diversity and inclusion as you build your team?
At Settly, our mission is to help everyone to feel at home, no matter where you come from, what gender you identify with, your beliefs or what your sexual preferences are. This is the foundation of what we do and why. We believe that our differences make us stronger: they allow us to empathise with our clients. Our people are our most valuable asset. As part of our sourcing strategy, we proactively look for diversity. We want people who share our values and our love for helping others feel welcome. We are proud to have 13 nationalities on our team, with a healthy mix of different age groups, genders and perspectives.
4. When it comes to funding, in the Netherlands only five percent of funding goes to mixed and female-founded startups and scale-ups. What has been your personal experience with this?
There is definitely room to improve the numbers when it comes to investing in female-founded or mixed co-founded startups. Luckily it isn’t something that we’ve experienced at Settly. I still recall staring at that first email from a well-known global VC. We’d only just launched our platform and I couldn’t believe my luck.
But when we started exploring the pros and cons of early-stage funding, we quickly realised this avenue was not for us. At least not yet. Although it would definitely help to accelerate our growth even more, for us it is important to find investors who are aligned with our mission, values and our long-term goals. For this reason, we’ve chosen to stay bootstrapped as we strongly believe in long-term return on investment versus growth being the driver behind key decisions. So far, we’ve been fortunate to scale the team internationally without funding. In order to make the next step globally, we may consider VCs and are in the process of researching which ones are a good match for us in the long term. Luckily there’s no need to rush the decision. There’s a right time for everything.
5. What has been a recent “win” for your business?
Our biggest win? The last 12 months have been somewhat of a rollercoaster, managing relocations during a pandemic, and naming one wouldn’t do our team’s efforts justice. There are a few accomplishments that I’m proud of. We expanded internationally, accelerated our growth and doubled our team (again) in the past six months, all whilst being bootstrapped. Having said that, our biggest win has been that we managed to do all of the above whilst staying true to our core values and, more importantly, maintaining a user NPS of 9.6.
If you want to learn more about the women breaking through in Amsterdam’s startup scene, check out this roundup of Amsterdam’s wonder women.
And if you want to share your story with our local ecosystem, you can contact us by email: email@example.com