My AIP story, and I’m proud of it!
For us, 2003 was the year we made the big step to independent entrepreneurship. We were four colleagues working at a company that was threatening to go bankrupt; it suffered heavy losses due to bureaucracy and lack of focus. We thought: “We have to get out of here, but how?” We wrote business plan after business plan and held difficult talks with the bank to get financing. That financing would come, but only with bricks and mortar as collateral. We brooded over our plans, rewrote them, talked to other potential financiers. Were we ready to take that step, to take the risk?
Talks with the bank
And then, the company that employed us did go bankrupt. Now was the time to act! The four of us put our heads together. Will we get the capital to start a business, who should we take with us? Would we be able to take clients with us too?
We talked with the bank again and again. We needed the capital to start, then our homes would have to serve as collateral, it was our only option. We finally made the move with 17 people: 4 shareholders and 13 employees. Later we said to ourselves: where did we find the courage to do this? Around that time, one of us received a card from a friend with a Loesje text “I decided that I could do anything!” and that was just how we were feeling at that time.
“I decided that I could do anything!”
A motivated team with knowledge and drive
We felt we had something unique in our hands. A motivated team with knowledge and drive; flourishing clients in a literally blooming breeding sector; fun projects and the confidence that we could establish a healthy business.
The first weeks were hectic and nerve-racking. The majority of colleagues were working from their spare room. We kept in contact via MSN. The first week we visited our clients to inform them of our plans. With fresh cakes in the car we traveled the country to explain that we were starting a new company. The enthusiastic responses we received from customers were encouraging. They wanted to know who we had on board and approved of our team. They offered to bring projects forward so that we had something to be getting on with. Some even said: “Invoice us every two weeks, so you’ll get a healthy cash flow going quickly”. It was great to see this tremendous commitment from our clients.
“Invoice us every two weeks, so you’ll get a healthy cash flow going quickly”
This got us off to a whirl-wind start. We were working on all fronts at the same time: offices, an accountant, the bank, office furniture, equipment and of course, servicing our clients. Everything had to be done at once. But finding suitable premises was a bit more problematic. Moving back into the old office building would be quick and efficient, but to do that, we had to strike a deal with the holding company of the business that had just gone bankrupt. That was an emotional threshold because, in our view, it was the holding that had caused the bankruptcy. Soon, the practical advantage won over the distasteful feeling. So the old desks, which we had already acquired from the curator, were put back in their places marked in the flooring, and we were truly in business. Clients hardly noticed the bankruptcy, because they continued to do business with the same people. That gave them confidence.
Clients hardly noticed the bankruptcy
Naturally, the first year was nerve racking, but it was with great satisfaction that we celebrated our first anniversary. We had been in business for one whole year and the results were better than we could have dreamt. We were as proud as peacocks!
Focus on specific markets
An important choice underpinning the success of AIP is the focus on specific markets. Who could have imagined that after just a few years we would be thriving. Specialist in information management for the plant breeding sector and certification for farmers and market gardeners. It goes without saying that we discussed at length whether even this was not too broad. But this is what we were good at and this would be our focus. Later we realized that our focus on these two specific areas was a major success factor.
However, an aspect that is certainly just as important is the focus on our own culture. One of our clients once said that they do business with AIP because AIP’s culture fits in with that of their own organization. We speak the same language. That sounds great, but what does that really mean?
Ultimately, we think that it all comes down to our people. They all have a background and their own story. A home situation that in some way or another is unique, hobbies that show their passion, commitment to the client’s business operations and those of AIP. A genuine interest and compassion for what colleagues and clients do. And ultimately, we have confidence in each other. Clients trust us with an assignment, and we are confident that we receive appropriate appreciation for our input. Naturally, that includes financial compensation, but just as important is the personal value.
The first years…
The first years were successful. Good results, satisfied customers and AIP employees who are happy with their work. But we wanted to do more and to guarantee continuity for our existing clients. We had and still have a great deal of knowledge of their business processes. In addition to custom-made products and consultancy, how could we market that? That was the point at which we started our own product development. Standard solutions that could be used by multiple clients. At present, we have two products: E-Brida and Mercado. And currently, more than 70 breeding companies use these products which have been specially developed for the sector.
Wageningen has remained our home base, but we have spread our wings internationally. The first foreign client was an organization in New Zealand. “If we’re going to go international, let’s go as far away as possible”, we said to each other.
“If we’re going to go international, let’s go as far away as possible”
At the moment we do business with clients on five continents. And this internationalization has added a new dimension to our business operations. We now travel the whole world to demonstrate our products and services at international conferences. Our consultants implement our software at locations all around the globe.
Our team now has more than 30 players and we’re ready for the next step. Developments in plant breeding are rapid. The new technologies that have become available mean that observations can be made quicker and more frequently and in other ways. Generating data is no longer the skill, it’s knowing how to use it that requires expertise. We’re interested in how we can support our clients to improve their processes that use the information. We continue to invest in knowledge and software development so we can continue to fulfil the role of partner as expressed in our company name. We ensure we attract people who fit in our culture and with that of our clients.
Our reliability, common sense and commitment to the sector remain our key values.
Our company name says enough: Agri Information Partners. With our knowledge of Agriculture and Information Management we will continue to fulfill the role of partner in the years to come.
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