In the heart of downtown San Francisco, where the famed Powell Street cable cars turn around and prepare to climb back up Nob Hill, lie EFactor’s headquarters. Adrie Reinders and Marion Freijsen run their company from the majestic Flood Building, an iconic landmark and one of the few buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake. Like the Flood Building, EFactor rests on a solid foundation: serial entrepreneur Reinders, one of the founding fathers of the Dutch software industry, his son, Roeland Reinders, and experienced businesswoman Freijsen.
EFactor is a professional social network for entrepreneurs. The company’s heart is EFactor.com, a site where entrepreneurs meet up with not only colleagues, but also potential investors, clients and partners. EFactor launched in 2008 and has since grown to over one million members, whose membership gives them access to a wealth of information and advice from experts on entrepreneurship, financing and growing a healthy company. They also receive discounts on products and services such as insurance, software, meeting rooms and car rentals. “If you wake up in the middle of the night with a question about your business, you should be able to go to EFactor.com and find the answer there,” according to Roeland Reinders. EFactor also organizes around one hundred events a year, all over the world. In addition to that, the company offers mentoring and coaching services to starting companies.
Importance of a network
In 2007, Adrie Reinders and Marion Freijsen wrote a book about how networking can change a company’s dynamics: The N Factor. They collected so much material for that book that they decided to write a second one, on entrepreneurship. “Halfway through, we were amazed to discover that there was not a single social network devoted to entrepreneurs,” Reinders says. “So we put the book aside and started building one.”
Though Reinders has been running companies for decades, creating the network he envisioned was a challenge. “We made every mistake you could make. It turned out to be difficult to translate our ideas into a website. Our first website wasn’t interactive enough, so we had to throw it away. Now we have a better site, and we’re working with a designer who used to work for Apple. He rebuilt the site from scratch.” It was a long road, Reinders says, but EFactor has since grown to more than one million members in 187 different countries. The company’s marketing focuses on India, China, the Netherlands and England in addition to America. The team has grown to 29, and the company is currentlypreparing to go public.
Expertise in technology
The region’s talent for developing social media platforms is what drew EFactor to San Francisco, Reinders says. He has been running companies in the US since 1983, in New York, Boston, Chicago and other cities. “Even while I had an 1100-employee company in the Netherlands, Microlife, I was working in America. It gave me a lot of energy,” he says. “America is the land of entrepreneurs; entrepreneurship is part of the culture here.”
Reinders insisted that EFactor establish its base in Silicon Valley. “This is a fantastic environment when you need expertise on technology and social media.”
Reinders also praises Silicon Valley for having the perfect infrastructure for startups that need money. As seasoned business owners, he and Freijsen regularly advise young entrepreneurs who come by the office. His greatest tip for an entrepreneur who wants to make it in America is “homework, homework, homework. Do your homework first; figure out what’s possible. Visit everyone you’ll need to deal with. Get to know your competition and the logistics process.” A few more words of advice: Be prepared to lose money; it’s an expensive country. Don’t be tempted by the enormity of the American market; start small.
The entrepreneurial landscape
No matter how much critical advice Reinders gives, his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship always shines through. “People here appreciate it when you take risks, when you do well,” he says. “They don’t hold it against you if it doesn’t work out. They say, ‘Did you learn anything? Yes? Then hop right back in the saddle.’ The true sports mentality, that’s what you find in the entrepreneurial landscape here.” Reinders says he has fully embraced American business values. “In business, it’s always important that you understand your partner.” But, he concludes, “My accent has always given me an advantage. Whenever I called potential clients or partners, I said I was calling from Amsterdam—even if I was in New York—and they were always intrigued. You’ve got to have something that sets you apart from the rest.”