In his acceptance speech at this year’s European Business Awards, Edwin Van der Vennet, CEO of beMatrix, spoke about a particularly important concept for him in business: ‘respect’. At beMatrix, respect makes up the backbone of everything they do. It is why they see their suppliers and customers as ‘partners’, why their employees are ‘beManiacs’ and in particular, why beMatrix are constantly pushing forward with innovations, making their stand building systems eco-friendly and thoughtfully designed.
Along with Stefaan Decroos, Edwin is one half of the partnership behind beMatrix. The two CEOs run the company with a complementary vision, with Stefaan overseeing the sales and finance elements of the business whilst Edwin focuses on the more creative components (R&D, marketing and operations). It is this partnership that has allowed beMatrix to become what it is today – an innovative and forward-thinking company that continually disrupts its well-established industry whilst growing exponentially year-on-year. We caught up with Edwin to find out more about beMatrix’s journey to winning The Business of the Year Award with a turnover of €0-25 million at this year’s European Business Awards.
Congratulations again on winning The Award for Innovation at the European Business Awards! How did you feel when you found out that you had won one of the most prestigious prizes in business?
I was already proud to be in the awards ceremony room as a National Winner. When the winner of the best business with €0-25 million turnover was about to be announced I was relaxed, not really expecting to win. The day before, during the jury session, I had walked around the floor and felt such a powerful vibe in the room that it made me feel even more proud to be one of them.
When I heard: “and the winner from Belgium is beMatrix”, I was stunned and speechless at first. After a couple of seconds, I felt an intense feeling of respect of what we, as a team, have accomplished and in the way that we did it.
What has been the most unexpected outcome of winning the Award?
Without trying to be snooty, we have already won quite a few awards in our small niche market. Because of this and because we are a leader in this niche market, I believe that we are expected to win awards for our growth and innovation. But, winning an award that means we are the best of the best in a highly regarded cross-channel European business competition means so much more to so many people.
Since winning this award, it feels like there have been so many amazing potential opportunities knocking on our door, creating exciting partnerships or allowing us to build our brand even more! This is an exceptional privilege in a region like ours where there is no unemployment.
What was it that inspired you to found beMatrix?
I think it was a combination of my personal quest to become some sort of entrepreneur and the discovery of a great product in its infancy with enormous potential.
As a company that has grown from having just 5 employees to having over 140, is sold in over 50 countries and is also expecting its revenue to double in 2018, what would you say is the secret to achieving such remarkable growth?
I’m still flabbergasted by this achievement. I think hard work is definitely the base of it. Both me and my business partner Stefaan have done multiple jobs since we started, including cleaning, packing and putting the dustbins outside every week!
Above that and without any doubt, building the right team was and still is the main component. It’s about the importance of finding employees with the right values. People of course must be qualified to do a great job, but their values are just as important!
What has been your proudest moment at beMatrix?
I think that over the years, there have been plenty of moments to be proud of. Winning design awards in both the iF and Red Dot competitions are in the top moments. Winning the European Business Award for the best company in Europe with €0-25 million turnover was incredible and an even better moment.
However, those moments when customers have told me that beMatrix changed their lives (in a positive way of course) really gave me goose bumps and made me the proudest.
When you’re a part of such a well-established and niche industry, how do you make sure that beMatrix is always ahead of the curve?
It’s a matter of continuous hard work of course with a couple of strategic pillars:
1. be the First: We are innovating on a daily basis with respect and integrity. We are a trendsetter and take calculated risks. Our partners are benefiting from that and it makes them more successful!
2. be Valuable: We are improving our service on a daily basis. Service is becoming as important as the product itself (if not more so). Our partners should expect the unknown service level of tomorrow.
3. be the Best: We are working on our quality on a daily basis. If we deliver real quality and so respect our product, our partners will benefit from that and our product will become more popular.
4. be Everywhere: We are working on a global network on a daily basis. We don't work with customers or suppliers but make partners and create a win/win. We are constantly looking for strategic locations around the globe to make a great network of partners.
Finally, and as said before, it’s a matter of having a good team; our 5th pillar: be Together. A team that enjoys itself by working hard on these pillars!
Why do you think that yours and Stefaan’s partnership works so well?
A couple of major things. Stefaan and I share the same values, such as respect and integrity. We are both proud fathers of a larger family and value the importance of this. Neither of us fights to be the ringleader, so our discussions are always about the subject itself and not about who is right.
Next to that, we are very complimentary, so we don’t have any disagreements in managing things. Stefaan is more into sales and finances as I am more into operations, R&D & marketing.
You call your employees ‘beManiacs’ – what makes up the DNA of a ‘beManiac’ and why is it so important to have a cohesive identity making up the backbone of beMatrix?
Since we attach a lot of importance to our values (respect, passion and togetherness), they become integral to our business and make our group of employees a strong team. The team is the core strength of beMatrix. Everybody entering our facilities can feel that –from applicants looking for a job to suppliers and customers wanting to be our partner.
What would you say has been the hardest thing that you’ve faced at beMatrix?
To see and feel that when you become successful a handful of people want to grab a part of your success and try to start copying your product, product range and business model. I can look in the mirror day after day and remain proud. I’m wondering if the copycats don’t have any shame or remorse and don’t feel that a lack of integrity is hurting themselves…
In your acceptance speech at the Awards, you spoke about the importance of ‘respect’ in business and at beMatrix you think of your customers and suppliers as partners and collaborators. What do you think is gained when you begin to remove the idea of hierarchies and are instead focussing on collaboration?
The win is so much bigger when you are able to share it, and everybody wins by doing what he or she is good at. You forward the opportunities to the best in class and stick to your own core business. Everybody around you who is participating does the same. So, you get more work in your core business and make others happy by giving them work in their core business. A far more professional outcome for customers in the end. A win/win for all parties.
If you hadn’t become the CEO of beMatrix, what do you think you would have become instead?
Good question. I’m a graduated product engineer and I worked as an employee in that industry for about 10 years. I’ve always had that strong urge for independence, so I started a business when I was 34, together with Stefaan who was 39 at the time. When I was younger I always dreamed of becoming an architect. I still believe that could have been a good future too, but I have absolutely no regrets.
What has been the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
Dare to be yourself and always stay yourself! When I was a teenager and a young adult, I tried to adapt myself to the world around me and tried to live by other people’s expectations but I suppressed my identity by doing that. I believe a large majority of our younger generation is still trying to do the same and from my experience I would definitely advise everybody to: “Be yourself, express yourself and dare to be different!”
Relive the moment that beMatrix won The Business of the Year Award with Turnover of €0-25m here.
And find out more about the rest of the Winners of the 2017/18 European Business Awards here.