7 lessons in business with André Kwakernaat: you can’t survive through innovation alone

Andre Kwakernaat

André Kwakernaat is co-founder of Twinfield, an innovative cloud accounting software provider, which was established in 2000. In order to strengthen their international online software presence, Twinfield was acquired by Wolters Kluwer some eleven years later. Kwakernaat is currently Director of Business Innovation Tax & Accounting Europe at Wolters Kluwer. He’s also the founder of Team4Talent, where he’s team leader to six Ironman athletes. André Kwakernaat shares his key lessons in business below.

1. Win-win
“Twinfield’s success can largely be attributed to the fact that we consistently put ourselves in the accountant’s shoes. Understanding client issues and actively devising solutions for them is a practice that I’ve applied universally. I also spent 5 years teaching business administration and computer science. As a teacher, you’ve simply got to understand your audience. My lessons were held on Fridays between 15.00 and 17.00. Not exactly the optimal time for motivated students. So, I started giving lessons during their free periods, when they still had plenty of energy. This resulted in a win-win situation.”

2. Starting, failing, learning and recovering
“Twinfield developed the first online accounting program 16 years ago. When online accounting was still considered revolutionary! It was a period of regular failure, learning from mistakes, recovering and moving on. Perseverance is extremely important. My first challenge came with Sonera ZED. Their figures per country didn’t tally, meaning that they didn’t have sufficient insight into their monthly figures. Placing and consolidating their accounting in the cloud provided immediate clarity. In just 7 years, we became the largest online provider in the Netherlands.”

3. Engagement
“You need to highlight your strengths, empathise with your clients and perform thorough research. I’m responsible for software renewal at Wolters Kluwer, Europe. During the past year, we’ve been busy working on the Cloony project – a client/accountant collaboration based on fully transparent solutions. This program is set to break all records! In order to succeed, I’ve gathered input from customers and colleagues from the Netherlands, Germany, England and a number of other countries. By regularly visiting clients and taking to the stage, I’ve also been able to ascertain how our clients rate it.”

4. Knowledge is power
“The question of big data can no longer be ignored. Suppose that you have 100 customers and you send them all a bill. Who regularly pays on time? With whom can you do better business? Big data provides immediate insight. We’ve developed a Virtual Reality program in order to provide even greater clarity. Don your VR glasses and you’ll get to observe several different buildings that each represent a customer’s financial size. A block of flats represents a large customer, a small cottage a small customer. You subsequently see customer sales invoices and their corresponding payments being sent. If a customer doesn’t pay on time, then their building catches fire. You’re quickly able to perceive opportunities for improvement and identify what will lead to profit or loss. Enabling you to rapidly anticipate trends.”

5. Investing
“My international scope enables me to witness the Netherlands being overtaken by other countries. An example: I’m regularly in neighbouring Germany. A country with huge potential. I’m particularly excited about Berlin. A city that boasts investor and government innovation and investment. Such as a dedicated centre for start-ups. It’s positively bursting with energy and ideas that’s hugely attractive to business. I predict that Berlin will become the European hotspot, just like Silicon Valley. Something that’s definitely feasible in the Netherlands too. The entrepreneurial Dutch mind needs to stop dawdling and focus again on growth. The most important step is reverse thinking for success.”

6. Focus and collaboration
“Sport is often used as a metaphor for business; I get to see the similarities close hand. One such similarity between sport and business is the importance of focus. At Twinfield, I was inclined to stray off course, a tendency that was quickly reigned in. At Team4Talent, there was the conscious decision to focus solely on the Ironman triathlon.
Another similarity is clever collaboration. During the preparation stage for instance, when everything, from health and bikes to shoes and helmets, must be fully considered. You need to collaborate cleverly and consistently with your teammates throughout the entire competition.”

7. Team spirit
“I’m thrilled to see how we link Team4Talent to business. We do this by purposely choosing for the path less travelled and by being original and innovative. I’ll happily test the boundaries in order to create the ultimate team spirit. In the Ironman, for instance, it’s against the rules to cycle directly behind one another (a technique known as drafting). Yet, if 3 of the 9 competitors in the leading group are Team4Talent men, then this has a debilitating effect on the other 6 and gives our athletes an additional boost. The same applies to business. If you’ve got a strong team that’s going all out for a win, then together you’ll achieve significantly more. Ultimately, if you succeed in sport or business, then you have to recognise who contributed to that success. Share the glory.”

“Do I wish to embark upon a totally new venture? No idea, I don’t think so. ICT and sport are immensely motivating and satisfy my urge to innovate and improve. And innovation is who I am!”

Twinfield: www.twinfield.nl www.team4talent.com
Virtual Reality program: www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Rsbn2R8I8