Mastering the Art of Networking

Mastering the Art of Networking

It is generally known that humans are social creatures. It is also generally known that most people do not enjoy networking. Nevertheless, turning networking into a social activity might be more valuable than you would initially think. In fact, research shows that people who are well-networked, are three times more influential than people who are not. Still, “well-networked” is a rather vague term, which, depending on how creative you are, could be interpreted in many different ways. All loosely defined terms aside, social capital is becoming more and more crucial as people continue to switch jobs at accelerating rates and as the rise of freelancers will continue changing the workforce (read about it here). So how to gain social capital? Exactly, by investing your precious time and energy into building genuine relationships. In other words, networking is more important than ever.

“ If you are known to possess specific skills or have incredibly creative ideas, you automatically become more attractive as a networking partner.”

First of all, let’s examine what it takes to establish network power. Recent studies show that it largely depends on the strength of your relationships, how much attention you command when engaging in networking and how attractive of a networker you seem. For example, if you just threw a killer presentation or have incredibly creative ideas, you automatically become more attractive as a networking partner than somebody who lacks such presentation skills or ideas. Quite logical right? What is rather logical too, is that you will have most networking power with the people you have built mutual trust and respect with. Clearly, that does not happen overnight and for that very reason, those people tend to be friends, long-time colleagues or others that you have spent long days with. Unfortunately, the pool of people that you have such deep connections with is likely to be limited, however sociable you may be. As such, expanding and intensifying your professional relationships should be high on your list too. Here’s some quick tips.

Location, Location, Location
Research has shown that, at network events, the best spot for networking is the place where people exit the bar. The first thing people usually do when entering such an event, is getting their hands on a drink. Chances are they will move towards the bar to fulfill this pressing need. Once people got their drinks, they are ready to mingle and get chatty. And who is there to talk to? Surprise, surprise, it is you, strategically located at the exit of the bar. 

What’s In a Name?
Having trouble remembering people’s names? You are not alone. However, we are going to solve this problem forever by introducing you to an extremely effective technique that derived from the Ecologically Oriented Neurorehabilitation of Memory program. Here is how it works. When you meet somebody, find one feature of their appearance which reminds you of an object which you can link their name to. For instance, let’s imagine you meet someone who introduces himself as Dave, and it strikes you that Dave has a small head. In your mind you could match Dave to a Dove (they have small heads too), so that when you run into him later, you will see the Dove and know that his name is Dave. Still with me? A big plus: this technique will not only boost your memory but probably also your creativity. A final comment: it would probably be wise not to tell the other party about this technique. 


Mind the Body Lingo
In this article we pointed out that over 50% of what we are communicating happens through body language. As for your facial expression, remember to smile, slightly lift your eyebrows and open your eyes a little more than usual, in order to come across as more approachable. Complement this by your posture: drawing your shoulders back, slightly lifting your chin and being mindful of what you are doing with your limbs. To make people feel listened to, mirror their gestures, nod (but do not not overnod) and tilt your head a few inches. 

Make a Plan
Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, outlines that a common mistake of people trying to build a strong network, is that they fail to see the necessity of an action plan. Just like any other objective, networking requires planning. How? 

Step 1: Create two lists. One should include the people you want to meet, whereas the other should include people you have already met and plan to strengthen the relationship with. 

Step 2: For each list, determine which actions will be required to meet or intensify the connection. This could include sending a follow-up message after you have met someone, monthly coffee meetings or making a great first impression if you are meeting somebody for the first time.

Step 3: Regularly update the action plan. For real, it will help you stay on top of your game. 

Without any doubt, networking is the key to unlocking new business opportunities. Therefore, connecting with people in such a way that they value being connected to you, is essential. The idea that networking is something that only takes place in business settings, is a little outdated too. Who knows you might meet an incredibly knowledgeable connection in that Vinyasa yoga class, waiting in line of a bar or on that Monday morning flight to London. We suggest you get right to it.

Got different ideas? We’d love to connect! 

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through. 

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected]

Pivoting: Business Models Don’t Work Unless You Do

Pivoting: Business Models Don’t Work Unless You Do

Remember why focusing on experimentation, constantly integrating customer feedback and iterative design could make the difference between success and failure? In this article we introduced the concept of the lean startup. It was concluded that the days of elaborate planning, building on intuition and executing big designs upfront are officially over. Now that you get the overall lean startup idea, let’s dig a little deeper and learn what it takes to successfully surrender to this innovative approach. 

Where to Start? 
Heard of Osterwalder and Pigneur and their grand tool called the Business Model Canvas? It turns out that their tool offers an excellent starting point in the lean startup journey. Why? The Business Model Canvas allows entrepreneurs to create a very visual overview of their idea’s hypotheses which summarizes how value can be created for both the company as well as the customer. Where in the past founders would often and unconsciously prioritize one aspect of a business model over another, the Business Model Canvas stimulates founders to think about all essential elements of the  business and how they are and can be connected. Note that the business model that is created as such, is not set. On the contrary. The Business Model Canvas allows for flexibility and alterations that will naturally occur throughout the rest of the lean startup process. The image below states the necessary questions that should be asked in order to generate a complete Business Model Canvas.

“Companies that fail to pivot run a risk of getting stuck in the land of the living dead.”

The Quest For a Functioning Business Model
Essentially, what entrepreneurs want to do is find a business model that works. To get there, their assumptions, which have been identified in the Business Model Canvas, need to be tested. This happens through customer feedback in the customer development phase. So, the hypotheses summarized in the Business Model Canvas represent the minimum viable product. The minimum viable product requires minimum time, money and effort and is therefore relatively easy to quickly develop and to use as a tool to gather feedback. In case this feedback indicates that the hypotheses are incorrect, they should either be revised or pivoted to new hypotheses. 

Thus, a pivot basically is a course correction intended to test a newly formulated hypothesis about the business model, after an initial hypothesis turned out to be incorrect. As such, a new minimum viable product will be established that, in turn, should be used to gather customer feedback. Seems like we are going around in circles? That is exactly the point. The loop can only be exited once all the hypotheses about the product have proven to be correct. Companies that fail to pivot, therefore run a risk of getting stuck in the land of the living dead. In other words, pivoting is a crucial process aimed to finetune the minimum viable product in such a way that it accurately reflects and serves the consumer’s demands. 

Now, that all sounds lovely and rather logical but it is not as easy as it sounds. According to Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup, there are multiple types of pivots to be found, which highlights how complex the pivoting process can get. In brief, the ten different pivots are: 

1. Zoom-In Pivot
One feature of the initial product becomes the whole product.

2. Zoom-Out Pivot
The opposite of the zoom-in pivot. So, what was considered the whole product at first, now becomes a single feature. 

3. Customer Segment Pivot
The business changes customer segments.

4. Customer Need Pivot
When a business realizes the problem it is trying to solve, is not very high on the customer’s needs list.

5. Platform Pivot
Represents a change in business model where companies find out their customers are more sensitive to access rather than ownership. This is closely related to the sharing economy, read about it in a previous blog post here.

6. Business Architecture Pivot
Requires adjusting the architecture of the business. For instance, switching from being a high margin, low volume business to a low margin, high volume business.

7. Value Capture Pivot
Changes how the business generates revenue. 

8. Engine of Growth Pivot
Involves altering the company’s growth strategy in order to establish faster of more profitable growth. 

9. Channel Pivot
Marks a change in sales or distribution channels.

10. Technology Pivot
When a new technology can be implemented to reach an existing effect faster or cheaper. 

Being able to identify the kind of pivot a founder is involved with, will provide a sense of direction towards establishing an accurate minimum viable product in a shorter amount of time. And as we all know, time is money. Especially when applying the lean startup approach. 

Eager to find out how your business could benefit from pivoting? Maybe we can help!

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with start-ups and scale-ups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through.

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected] 

Amstel Lab and the Amsterdam Hub

Hi again, we are Amstel Lab. Our name already highlights our love for the thriving startup hub of Amsterdam we call home. Amstel Lab pays a tribute to the historical river, The Amstel (tried swimming in it yet?), running through the city’s beating heart. The Dutch capital is recognized as one of Europe’s most booming startup ecosystems, leading as the no.1 Challenger Hub and 4th most active startup hub in Europe. Here are seven reasons why Amsterdam in the perfect city to get your startup up and running.

Quality of Life
Want to live the good life? Come to Amsterdam! Amsterdam ranks extremely high on quality of life. Cost of living is relatively low, Dutch people have a great work-life balance and Amsterdam offers a ton of culture. History, sightseeing and restaurants a plenty just outside your doorstep. Sometimes it can even be sunny. What else to wish for?   

Talent Hub
In one of our earlier blogs, we pointed out that having the right people on board of a startup, is one of the key ingredients for success. Amsterdam offers just that. The city is known to attract global and local talent alike. The presence of promising and international-oriented talent is a leading reason for investors, companies and startups to settle in Amsterdam. In addition, level of education ranks high in The Netherlands and the government supports the attraction of foreign highly skilled migrants.  Amsterdam specifically leads the path for Tech Talent.

Don’t speak Dutch? Not to worry! Over 90% of the Dutch speak English, which is also the leading language of business for most companies and startups. As long as you know the meaning of “lekker” you will be perfectly able to get by. We suggest you ask a random person in the pub for its meaning.

Ease of Doing Business
Doing business with a Dutchman? Easy peasy. The Netherlands ranks no.4 worldwide in ease of doing business.

It has one of the most open economies in the world and leads the way in technology, infrastructure and innovation. Additionally, the Dutch embrace commerce and are known to be very open and tolerant people.

Government Support
The Dutch government and Amsterdam municipality go out of their way to boost the startup scene through several startup initiatives. An example is StartupAmsterdam, a programme which fosters  innovation and sustainability through entrepreneurship. On top of that, registering a new business is very easy, with plenty of tax deduction schemes (hooray!) to attract both national and international entrepreneurs.

Attractive Investment Destination
Amsterdam is not just a popular destination for tourists. Banks in Amsterdam have attractive lending policies for startups, but it is also a booming capital for financial capital from Angel investors and venture capitalists. 76% of startup investments in The Netherlands are for Amsterdam based startups, and 53% of funding comes from foreign investors.

Rich Startup Scene
Finally, Amsterdam is a startup paradise thriving with startup events, accelerators and startup hubs such as Rent24, B.Amsterdam, TNW Conference and Amsterdam Capital Week, to name a few.

As much as we love to tell you about our startup lifestyle, it is probably best to experience it first hand. Come join us in Amsterdam and meet up with us near the Amsterdam Dam! Get to know more in our Dutch Startup Scene series over the coming weeks…

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through. 

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected]

Anneloes van der Steenstraten & Sterre Bisschop

Anneloes van der Steenstraten & Sterre Bisschop


The Lean Startup For Dummies

The Lean Startup For Dummies

Among today’s buzzwords such as disruptive innovation, digital transformation and corporate synergy, there is one term to be found which seems to fascinate many entrepreneurial spirits. Indeed, we are talking about the lean startup. Although most people vaguely nod when their peers enthusiastically use the term in every other sentence, it could be extremely useful to understand what the concept of the lean startup comprises. Here is how we are going to get you back on top of your game. 

A Brief History
And a rather recent one. In the early 2000’s, cracks were beginning to show in the conventional way of starting a business. Traditionally, founders were expected to establish a solid business plan, outlining a seizable problem to be solved, in order to provide proper financial forecasts. In addition, the business plan was a tool to convince investors of the idea’s potential; a long and tiring process. Once the money was in, developers would spend long nights in their garages to make the concept ready for launch. Essentially, it was believed that, before even executing the business idea, having a business plan would be a means for the company to be prepared for any hurdle that would present itself along way. However, note that in this rather slow and long process, there had not been any interaction with the customer yet. So, more often than not, after huge amounts of money and time were invested, entrepreneurs would find out that the market was, in fact, not interested in the company’s product. So, the traditional way of starting a business often resulted in a mismatch between the product and the market needs.

Naturally, this called for a change in approach and the lean startup provided exactly that. Around 2010, it had become a serious methodology which (small) companies rapidly and eagerly started to adopt. Basically, the big difference with traditional ways of starting a business, is that previously a company would start with following a proposed business model. 

The lean approach, however, suggests that the business model is not the starting point.

“The business model is looked for and established along the way.”

 Instead, the business model is looked for and established along the way. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “a lean start up is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

How Does It Work?
The lean startup methodology is based on three key principles.

Firstly, the elaborate business plan is being ditched and replaced by the Business Model Canvas. Introduced by Alexander Osterwalder, this visual and strategic tool summarizes the founders’ hypotheses, by defining nine essential building blocks which together shape the firm.  

Secondly, to test the hypotheses mentioned above, the company depends on customer development, also referred to as the get out of the building approach. It implies that potential customers and partners are being consulted for feedback about various aspects of the business model. Think of pricing, the product’s features or distribution channels. This process should be quick in order to create minimum viable products based on immediate consumer feedback. Based on this input, the products are being redesigned after which the cycle starts all over again. As such, the product is continuously being revised and adjusted based on critical customer insights. 

The third principle is based on a magical thing called agile development, which is closely connected to customer development. Agile development aims to eliminate wasted resources and time as the product is being established incrementally. So, agile development essentially describes the process which allows companies to get to the minimum viable products being tested. 

Although the lean method sounds quite logical now, it has been changing the business landscape significantly. In fact, unlike its name suggests, it is not only startups that benefit from its approach. More and more large firms start to adopt the methodology as they start to understand that it is a successful tool to keep up with the pace of innovation.

Zooming in to the Netherlands, there is no denying that the lean startup is immensely popular. Some even claim that us Dutchies have more lean startup consultants than startups itself. Companies such as ING, Rockstart and various startups as well as universities are convinced that the lean startup is more than a buzzword. Rather, it is at the heart of innovation. In a way, it even provides the basis for disruptive innovation, digital transformation and corporate synergy. We will leave that for later.

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through. 

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected]

Mastering Your Body Language in Business

Despite the general consensus that people who work behind a computer do not use their bodies enough, we might be a whole lot more physical than we actually think. Generally speaking, more than 50% of communication in conveyed through nonverbal communication. Yes, we are talking body language here. Although you might speak several languages and order you gelato in Italian and your baguettes in French, the importance of nonverbal expression should not be underestimated. Also in business. In fact, considering the large amounts of information we communicate by using our bodies, it is rather odd that we are often unaware of what message we are bringing across in the process. We pick our words wisely, shouldn’t we do that with our nonverbals too? Luckily, we are here to help and put together a quick guide to mastering your bodylanguange in business situations. 

Stand Tall
One of the first aspects that other people unconsciously notice, are postures. As such, it is important to be aware of this. In order to appear confident, you should stand or sit with a straight spine, draw the shoulders back and lift the chest slightly. Careful here: in case this is overdone, it can come across as dominant which might not always be your goal. Want to show that you are interested in what the other person is saying? Lean in slightly. This makes you more open and approachable.

Eyes, Ice, Baby
There is a reason why people say that the eyes are the window to the soul. In Western cultures, eye contact in business is an important factor in building trust as it can show that you are worthy of the other person’s trust and respect. Want to let somebody know that you are listening? Eye contact tells the speaker you are actively paying attention and focused. Avoiding eye contact is often associated with dislike, discomfort or disinterest. As such, being aware of eye contact, including the look in your eyes and how long you hold a certain gaze, is extremely important. It forms the basis of building a connection with your conversation partner. 

Other Facials
Besides the eyes, there is so much more information to be found in the face. Although spoken language often creates barriers, the facial expressions for happiness, anger, fear, sadness, surprise and disgust are the same in most cultures around the world. Nevertheless, there are still some tricks that you can apply to come across as smarter, more approachable and positive. How? Relax your jaw, keep your chin up, smile and open your eyes while slightly raising your eyebrows. All those elements will make you more pleasant to look at and in turn positively impact the image people create of you.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
Want to make the other person feel at ease? Mirror their behavior. Sit down if your conversation partner is seated or mirror small gestures and facial expressions. Although this might seem odd at first, mirroring is a great tool to build a connection in a harmonious manner as it will cause people to like you more.

Mind the Limbs
Remember you had to give that high school presentation about India and suddenly became aware of your arms as you had no clue what to do with them? Right, our arms and legs (including hands and feet) actually make up a rather large part of our bodies and consequently communicate loads of info too. Pointing your feet in the direction of someone subconsciously demonstrates engagement and interest in that person. Introverts will often point their toes inwards and extroverts outwards. Moreover, crossed arms and legs indicate disinterest or an unwillingness to communicate, whereas unfolded arms and legs has the opposite effect.

Para Linguistics
Actually this point is verbal, but still good to be aware of. Para linguistics refer to the aspects of speech that does not involve words. So, it is about how you speak. Think of tone of voice, pitch, pauses, volume and fluency. Attempting to keep a boring message interesting? Play with intonation and do not be afraid to use pauses to indicate that something big is coming. Apart from that, try to speak with a low pitched voice if your aim is to come across as authoritative. In addition, being aware of the volume of your speech can also have a significant effect. People who speak or laugh too loudly, can be considered annoying or very dominant. In contrast, people who speak very softly can be considered shy or timid. At the end of the day it is all about finding the right balance. 

Got other ideas or tools that will boost your nonverbals? We would love to hear your tips!

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through.

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected]

Going Dutch: How to Do Business With a Dutch(wo)man

Going Dutch: How to Do Business With a Dutch(wo)man

By now it is probably known that the Netherlands is a small country with surprisingly tall people. Despite the country’s and its people’s size, the Netherlands represents the sixth largest economy within the EU-28 and contributes almost 5% to the EU’s GDP, according to a 2019 study by CBS. Economic growth rates are high, as are the pace of innovation and housing prices. As such, it is safe to say that the Dutch economy is flourishing and you might find yourself doing business with those European cheese lovers. Here is a practical guide to successfully winning over those Dutch, business hearts.

1. Timing Is Everything
The Dutch are punctual. Very punctual. Being late is an absolute no go, as this translates into you wasting the other person’s time. Don’t just be on time, be ten minutes early.

2. Meet and Greet
When you first meet someone, don’t kiss, hug or show any sign of affection. The Dutch live in a cold country and that makes them rather cold people. Honestly, a genuine smile is as hot as it gets. Upon any introduction, shake hands firmly (not too soft, not too squeezy) and look the other person in the eye. In addition, you state your name clearly and there is no need to ask: “How are you?” or some polite equivalent.  

3. Mind the Other People
In case your host forgets to introduce you to the rest of the crowd, simply go around and introduce yourself to the other attendees. Again, the firm handshake is your friend.

4. Get to the Point
Whereas in some cultures establishing a relationship by friendly chit chat prior to doing business is extremely important, the Dutch do it slightly differently. Yes, you can speak for  roughly 30 seconds about something irrelevant 

such as the weather, but after that it is time to cut the crap. Please, do not take this personal. It simply reflects the Dutch efficiency.

5. Be Humble
If there is something that the majority of Dutchies are allergic to, it is people who brag. This means that you should keep it real and modest. If you really want to highlight one of your successes for some specific reason, be factual about it and mind your tone of voice. 

6. Be Honest
The Dutch are extremely direct. By that we really mean next level direct. Sometimes this might put you off your feet, but again, try to not take this personal. Instead, try to be a little more blunt yourself. Being straightforward is considered a positive quality which the Dutch associate with being trustworthy. 

7. Don’t “Consider It”
Again, this compliments the directness, but we cannot emphasize this enough. If you want to say “no”, say “no”. It is key not to say “I will consider it” or “look into it”. If you know you disagree with the matter at hand, you might just as well clearly state it. “Perhaps” and “maybe” are no options.

8. Eat Your Brekky
You see, lunch is not a big thing in the Netherlands. People usually eat a quick sandwich, which some even consume on their bikes or behind their computers. Whereas in some cultures lunch is an important occasion to bond or do business over, it is rather insignificant in the Netherlands. For that reason, we suggest you fill your tummy up during breakfast, in order not to faint from hunger throughout the course of the day.  

9. Ditch the Suit
Naturally, this depends on the kind of company and industry. However, generally speaking the Dutch business dress code is extremely informal. On the Dutch Zuid As you will still encounter plenty of people in a suit and tie, but this traditional species is slowly becoming extinct. Do your prior research if you want to make sure you blend in with the business crowd.

10. Hierarchy?
Just like the suit and tie, the Dutch take business hierarchy less serious than other cultures might do. Naturally, this is related to the Dutch openness and bluntness. Senior managers are known not to “play the boss” and not to display their power very evidently. Instead, all levels of employees mostly disregard someone’s position in the hierarchy in everyday interaction. Everybody plays ping-pong with everybody.

Got different ideas or experiences? We would love to hear about them!

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through. 

Want to learn more? Contact us through [email protected]