Who says you can't create a global software company based in Europe? The Dutch have done it before and look poised to do it again. Just three years old, Tridion, a privately held content-management software firm in Amsterdam, is ranked as a "visionary" company by the tech consultancy Gartner Group and boasts blue-chip customers like Akzo Nobel, Carrefour and KLM. Analysts say its market share in Europe is growing faster than that of any comparable company. When it comes to content-management software, "Tridion is the rising star in Europe and will soon have a global reach," says Andrew Warzecha, a senior vice president in the Chicago office of META Group, an IT research and consulting firm.
Tridion is one of 20 companies pitching to some 60 foreign venture capitalists on the Dutch Tech Tour, which is taking place in and around Amsterdam May 22-24. The events are organized by the European Tech Tours, a not-for-profit association that attempts to link Europe's best tech companies with foreign capital. Among the scheduled guest speakers at the Dutch tour are the CEOs of CMG and Exact Software, two Dutch success stories, and Jan Baan, co-founder of the once-hot software maker Baan. After spectacular success, Baan faced management problems, an industry downturn and questions about its finances that caused its stock to collapse. What remained was eventually sold to Invensys.
Nonetheless, Jan Baan continues to have an influence on the software market. He is now preparing to launch several new software companies through Vanenburg Group, a Dutch holding company he co-created with his brother Paul. One of his ventures is Cordys, which will offer Web-based software to let a company collaborate online securely and in real-time with its business partners. "Dutchmen are known for being pioneers, exploring boundaries and discovering greenfields," says Baan, Cordys' ceo. "The rise of information technology in that regard is not much different from the voyage to the west of a Dutch East India Company ship some 400 years ago. The route changes during the trip, and the weather both cooperates with and jeopardizes the realization of your plans." Baan believes making mistakes is part of being an entrepreneur. "Today, within the Vanenburg Group," he says, "we are still making mistakes and taking risks with an almost endless motivation to be successful in execution."
Whether the new ventures are successful or not, "we owe a lot to Baan some 5,000 people got their training there," says Roland Slot, 39, leader of the Dutch Tech Tour. Slot is co-founder of four Dutch software companies, including three on the tour: Tridion, Fredhopper, which makes software to ease online navigation, and Adnovate, which produces software allowing customers to create and deliver print advertising digitally. All three of the companies have hired former Baan employees. Among other lessons, Slot says, Baan's troubles have taught Dutch software entrepreneurs to keep a tighter grip on their finances.
Slot is also founder of WARP Equity Partners, a Hilversum company that acquires majority stakes in Dutch software companies and helps them become international players. He created WARP with longtime business partner Patrick Van Gent.
The two earned their fortunes through the sale of a Web consultancy they founded called Twinspark, which was sold at the height of the tech bubble. They are reinvesting their money in other start-ups, including Tridion, which was spun off from Twinspark. Slot currently serves as Tridion's board chairman, Van Gent as its vice president of marketing.
Through WARP, Slot says he hopes to build five Dutch software companies over the next 10 years that will first become European leaders and then global players. He expects Tridion to be one of them. "I am passionate about the opportunity called Europe for local technology companies," Slot says, "and I have learned the importance of establishing strong and lasting pan-European personal networks to create the next generation of European technology leaders." The Dutch Tech Tour could give companies like Tridion the contacts and the venture capital to do just that.