Going Bankrupt, some lessons learned

The awesome painting of The Don, in our former office
The awesome painting of The Don, in our former office, by @rode_egel (Eric Snelleman)

Boom. We’re bankrupt. Filed for it ourselves, to cut of the land lord, mostly. But also because we finally realised that we were fighting a lost cause. And now we’re free again.

Lesson 1: Forcing the future does not work

Back in 2008, when I joined Ritzo and Ronald in De Ondernemers BV, we had great confidence in our potential and in the future of our company. We had hired Richard and were planning on hiring more people (Anita and Marije). So we needed a bigger office. We had every intention of growing a bit more. So we decided to look for an office that could house this growth. And almost as soon as we had moved there, the recession hit. The big leads to bigger projects vanished almost immediately.

So half way 2009, we had layed of all three employees and were back to three people owning a company and renting a beatiful but very large office.

We thought we could force our future by hiring smart folks and creating a nice, inspiring work place. We thought this would radiate to our potential clients. Instead: it left us with a huge commitment.

Lesson 2: Work for the right reasons

So we got to work. We banged away at finding new opportunities, finding new clients and creating enough revenue to survive. We were very inventive, coming up with solutions for problems that our clients did not yet knew they needed. That cost us a lot of time and money. We went out of our way to accept work that would pay the bills, no matter the content. For another year and a half, that worked. Mostly.

And then, after two years Ritzo gave up. He no longer could motivate himself to go through the monthly anxiety of finding out whether or not we would be able to pay ourselves a bit of salary. Ronald and I were exhausted as well, but decided to carry on with the company, without Ritzo. We knew we had to change our focus.

The need to pay the bills for our office basically corrupted our drive to create meaningful work. Instead of getting paid for real added value, we found payment that would cover our obligations. And we drained our creative resources and motivation in the process.

Lesson 3: Do not pretend to be something or someone, be who you are

Throughout these four years of continuous agony (admitted: there were still events that excited and inspired us) I felt the fear of losing face. Whenever I was asked about how the company was doing, I would try and come up with the most positive version of our story that I could think of. The company’s name added to that: calling yourself “The Entrepreneurs” basically implied that you would not shy away from adventure and potential discomfort.

But we had found out pretty early that we weren’t employers. We had a hard time with ‘having employees’. We only just knew how to motivate ourselves. So that part of entrepreneurship kinda sucked.

At the same time, we were very driven to evangelize entrepreneurship. And I still am. But I now realize that we might have inadvertently projected an image of successful entrepreneurship, when our actual monetary returns on our own projects were still very meager. Instead, we might have done better projecting an image of Entrepreneurship Evangelists, because that is what we were.

Having goals, ambitions and a story to tell are different from realizing them. Which is okay, as long as your audience can tell them apart. But more importantly: you yourself should be able to tell them apart, lest you confuse yourself. And then confuse your clients.


It is often said that lessons need to be learned, not studied. I now know what it feels like to file for Bankruptcy. I no doubt will run in to some of the ramifications of the public’s perception of Bankruptcy in the months to come. And I now have learned to value focus and lean entrepreneurship even more.

Here’s hoping that this will, in fact, improve my skills as an entrepreneur.

P.S. If you like the painting of The Don, it is up for auction.site