Challenge yourself to grow by encouraging those around you to question you. Build your organization and yourself with robustness by having people willing to raise the difficult issues.
Pointer Brand Protection’s COO and co-founder, Jan-Maarten Laurijssen, trained as an economist at Haarlem Business School before founding the company with two friends when they finished university. Beginning as a small software portal that could provide an automated solution to the problem of counterfeits and other intellectual property infringements, Jan-Maarten has helped scale the company to an international level. Today, Pointer have more than 150 people in their offices around the world. The company performs online monitoring and removals, online to offline investigation services, and is at the forefront of protecting businesses from counterfeits, copyright infringements, and grey trade issues.
Jan-Maarten writes frequently on issues concerning intellectual property, technology, and e-commerce. Away from the office, he enjoys spending time with his young family and has a keen interest in photography.
Where did the idea for Pointer Brand Protection come from?
As with many origin stories, Pointer began through a combination of good fortune and a desire to do something worthwhile. I studied Economics at Haarlem Business School in the Netherlands and while there I became friends with Jornt van Bennekum and Robert Stolk who studied Logistics and Business. We got together and our combined strengths led us to consider how e-commerce was changing and where the potential opportunity might be. We saw that brands had this incredible opportunity to grow, but that that growth was going to be hampered by people counterfeiting their products. IP infringement had been an issue for years even then, but there was no real automated software solution that would accurately scrape the internet for infringements and allow for enforcement in an efficient way – so we built one!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m the COO as well one of the co-founders so part of my role means having oversight through all departments. That means I do spend a lot of time in our head office now, and those days tend to be filled with meetings. Part of productivity for me is appointing the right people and then having trust in them. Having people around you that you can rely on means that you don’t have to be involved in every single decision and that you can let go of certain tasks to focus on making strategic decisions to move things forward for everyone.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think one of my skills is that I’m a very detail-oriented person so I’m always looking to ask that one question that will really unlock an idea for everyone in the room. By really interrogating a concept you can give life to it and allow it to take shape in a way that really gets the input of more than one person. Creativity doesn’t need to be an individualistic process and I think being able to ask the right questions at the right time can really help everyone to find a common understanding of an idea.
What’s one trend that excites you?
There’s so much that’s going on with the automation of data and its relationship to intellectual property that it’s hard to pick, but our refinements in the way we use images in our scraping technologies is something I can’t wait to roll out further. By using machine learning we are really getting to the heart of the way that our systems can find infringing listings based on common data points in visual images. It’s very exciting.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a bit of a magpie with ideas. I collect as many as possible and then keep a little store of them around me at all times. It’s not only entrepreneurial ideas, often it’s just things I come across that set off some cross-pollinating pathway in my head. To ingrain it as a habit I try to read widely and make a point of visiting a wide range of different internet resources every day. I want to see insights from everywhere.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To not be afraid to do it your own way. I’m glad that I got the chance to start my own business straight from university, that’s been an invaluable learning curve for me. I would say that you don’t always need to run the tried and tested route of working for a big company or even an SME in order to gain an experience of work, sometimes it’s just better to go out and try, even if you might fail.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It’s definitely not the case that nobody agrees with this but within our industry of intellectual property and brand protection there is a lot of scepticism about how appropriate or useful it can be to educate consumers. You absolutely have to keep enforcing against criminals, I’m rock solid on that, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some elements of outreach that show consumers there is another way. Maybe I’m overly hopeful about people’s motivations but I think that a lot of people do end up buying counterfeits through confusion and the intentional deceptions of sellers.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I make sure that at least once a day I’m in a situation where I know someone is going to challenge me and try and change my way of thinking on something. Without challenge there’s no growth.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It can be tempting in this industry to try and juggle too many balls because you’re sat in a hinterland between clients, the public, legal experts, tech people, and law enforcement. In terms of making sure that Pointer continues to prosper and developing processes and technologies that really push the boundaries, I focus on the clients above all else. We are the experts so we can advise them on the best ways to perform certain functions but they know their own business intimately. Working with them and always trying to anticipate their needs means there are plenty of transferable insights when you look to grow your client base further down the line.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I don’t consider things as failures because it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, if you want to grow fast in a lean and effective way, you will definitely make mistakes. That only thing that really would be a failure is not to learn from your mistakes. Try a lot, fail fast and improve. Smarter, better, smarter.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have been reading a lot about algae harvesting and the impact that can have on climate change. Algae can take in huge amounts of c02 but at the moment the business case is not feasible yet. My hope would be to set up a crowd-funding venture that helps start algae farms where people are willing to contribute to fix the climate problem.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Photography is a hobby of mine so I’m always looking for new lenses that I might want to play with. Sadly $100 only gets you a fraction, so I’ll come back to that next time I add those fractions together!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Funnel.io is probably the software that I’m using most at the moment. I like to be able to array a lot of information in one interface; whether that’s business intelligence, marketing budgets, or analytics data, and Funnel gives me that opportunity. Searching around through a million open tabs can be a productivity drain.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
On a recent LinkedIn article, I wrote about Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. That’s something I read recently which made me conceptualize how we talk to consumers about the black market in a new way, so it’s something that’s been on my mind. It’s not a business book but a history of humanity and of how we’ve evolved as societies. I think that there’s so much insight and inspiration to be taken from the past that I’d definitely suggest other people should read it. It might seem a bit abstruse to be getting entrepreneurial ideas from reading about ancient civilizations, but history if the best teacher.
What is your favorite quote?
Never say no, always say yes but.
• Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be individualistic. Surround yourself with good people and don’t be afraid to keep asking questions.
• Interrogating a concept can really bring it to life through dialogue.
• Challenge yourself to grow by encouraging those around you to question you. Build your organization and yourself with robustness by having people willing to raise the difficult issues.