In this interview series, entrepreneurs discuss how their company was affected by COVID-19, with highlights, low points, new routines and opportunities and what comes next. This time: entrepreneur and investor Marco de Jong.
De Jong has worked as a consultant for Ogilvy & Mather, in the telecommunication industry as a sales and marketing director (the predecessor of Ziggo) and 10 years as general manager of web agency theFactor.e. Since september 2016, he has been focussing on investing and accelerating new internet ventures in several industries, with his G-Force investment fund. He also founded the Northern Online Entrepreneurs, a group of more than 50 Northern Dutch established companies.
How’s business currently?
“It’s weird, but I’m actually busier than before the lockdown. Sure, things have slowed down a lot, but I spend the majority of my day on the phone or in video calls. I’m also chairman of the board of the Ronald McDonald House Groningen and chairman of the supervisory board of Public Education Groningen (PBE), and with all the changes because of the lockdown and the PBE chairman of the board stepping down in September, things are pretty busy
“And on a personal note, it was challenging to see kids from economically and socially less fortunate families being stuck at home, without the role models and inspiration they get from going to school. But you know, as a silver lining, I do get a lot of energy out of all of the wonderful initiatives sprouting up, the spirit of creativity and just figuring out how we can change the way we do things in the near future.”
And how are things at home?
“My wife has a vital profession and I have three teenagers at home, so with all the chores around the house, cooking and cleaning, I’d say this is a great lesson in humility! <laughs> But things are good though. Going for a walk in the sun and daily visits to Mahalo, a great little coffee place, not bad at all. It was a little tough not being able to visit my mother at first though, but she got more phone calls than ever. One thing that was funny, walking the dogs suddenly went from a chore to a ‘hooray’ moment!”
“This was supposed to be the year where we really wanted to grow the G-Force Capital investment fund, but everything is on hold now, most likely until December. People are just a little hesitant, you know? I’m also worried about the Corona app and hope it doesn’t become a total failure. It’s always the big boys who win the contracts to develop these things, not the promising startups and scale-ups, simply because they don’t have the lobbying power of big corporates.”
How do you think this will affect the rest of the Groningen startup and scale-up ecosystem?
“Some businesses are doing great, some are struggling. Some were already struggling and this will be the final push. A startup like Dropper is currently doing really well, but promising startups like Tubber, Parkos and Tckl have to scale things back.”
“The digital sector is doing fine now, but they will feel the effects later, when their clients can no longer pay the bills. It’s a domino effect. E-commerce businesses, of which we have a lot here, are peaking. But after this crisis, they will have to start competing with Amazon too.”
What’s your take on the near future?
“I actually love thinking about these things and the possibilities of moving forward as a society. I’m texting back and forth with Wilbert van de Kamp, just bouncing ideas, like universal basic income, how we look at work and working remotely, things like that. And I love to have philosophical conversations with Kaweh Ebrahimi-Far, sitting outside on the patio of Mahalo. Let’s hope this crisis will bring a lot of opportunities to finally change the things that need changing.”
“The North has been doing well on all fronts during the lockdown, and I’m currently involved in things we can do for the ‘vital chains’ in the Northern Netherlands and the rest of the country. Like, how can we make lasting changes in the production and pharma industries, healthcare and education, using e-health, e-learning for example?”
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Vletter