Kenn Wouters, founder of Unikoo (©Movito)
Already incorporating in the name of your company that you are unique: admittedly, that shows guts! However, that is by no means boastful at Unikoo, because no other full service agency in our country offers expertise in finance & administration, recruitment & talent management, marketing & communication, technology & web development and graphic design. Founder and CEO Kenn Wouters explains how he came up with that idea and how he manages it all. “We want to become a flexible extension of our customers’ organization.”
“Until a few years ago, I was in charge of an HR tech company, an SME with about fifty people on the payroll,” says Kenn Wouters. “I found that I always had to turn to different suppliers for the use of external expertise, which often resulted in very complex situations. For example, when a supplier was lost and I had to google a new one and choose from hundreds of alternatives. Or when an external online marketer contradicted an external web builder.”
“In line with this, there was the realization that entrepreneurs and business managers often spend only twenty percent of their time on tasks with high added value, because up to 80 percent of their time is spent on less priority matters that could just as well be outsourced. Such activities are detrimental to productivity,” says Wouters.
No long-term guarantees
“Based on all that, I thought it would be useful if I had one external point of contact for all my questions and needs,” continues Wouters. “Since that didn’t exist, my entrepreneurial spirit resurfaced: with my experience from both the SME tech sector and the Big Four (Deloitte; nvdr) I was well placed to set up a quality point of contact for other companies myself. More specifically for companies that are in a growth phase and want to make use of a wide range of support services, which are often also bottleneck services.”
We do not impose a specific model, but bring the right puzzle pieces to the table, so that the customer can use them to put together his or her puzzle
“I once read an interview with Jürgen Ingels that sums it up well: if you want to grow as a company, focus on your core – or whatever it is you want to be innovative in – and let the right experts surround you for the rest. We want to meet this with Unikoo, by offering ‘everything else’ in a centralized manner. In the form of operational, but also strategic support. And if necessary, we supplement our own expertise with partners such as an accounting firm, PR agency or video production company. Actually, I see it this way: we do not impose a certain model, but bring the right puzzle pieces to the table, so that the customer can use them to put together his or her puzzle.”
Founding 5 companies through trial and error
Five years after its foundation, Unikoo consists of more than thirty permanent employees, with the ambition to reach forty employees in 2023. In addition, there is a very nice customer portfolio.
“High impact start-ups with ten to 200 employees: that is really the sweet spot what we aim for”said the founding CEO. “For example, we have Dripl, Bolt and The Beacon as customers. With the aim of becoming a real, flexible extension of their organization. Not only can we work structurally, project-based or temporarily, we can also handle different volumes thanks to our robust teams. This also means that we do not ask for long-term guarantees.”
It took some growing pains to get to where we are today, but in hindsight it was all worth it
That cooperation model proved to be successful from the start, precisely because Unikoo was so broad in its services. “In the beginning, that was sometimes accompanied by a lot of cursing,” says Wouters. “Because we are five service lines worked, it seemed like I had founded five companies, all at the same time (laughs).”
“So it took some growing pains to get to where we are today, but in hindsight it was all worth it. Those five service lines were also very nicely structured over time, with clear team leads taking ownership of their area of expertise. In the beginning of Unikoo we acted a little too much as fixers, who went to solve problems at companies on demand.”
“Actually, we did everything the opposite of what is written in the handbook for start-ups,” Wouters laughs when he looks back on Unikoo’s trajectory. “First of all, people say that as a start-up you must above all keep focus: we immediately put five service lines on. Secondly, you have to look for financing: we have not raised any funding to date. Real bootstrapping So. But we did succeed in building a company that passed the 2.4 million euro mark last year.”
In fact, we have done the opposite of everything in the handbook for start-ups
However, something will change in that trajectory of organic growth, because Unikoo completed its first acquisition in January. “Because we offer a wide range of services, ranging from pure financial support to the elaboration of creative issues, we were not always recognized as a branding player.”
“At a certain point Hippo came our way, a five-headed creative agency that wanted to focus 100 percent on projects related to branding and therefore did not want to deal with the business itself. Consequently, the question arose whether they could join Unikoo. DBut we were all too happy to go into it because it really allows us now as well creative agency to put on the market.”
Will they make another acquisition in the future? “That remains to be seen,” replies Wouters. “First and foremost, we want to look at our own organization: become more robust in breadth and, for example, further expand our recently started HR service line. Our credibility and reputation among growth companies can also be increased somewhat, especially because we hope that these companies will eventually full service instead of buying some services from our offer cherrypicken”, says the founding CEO.
Transcending the status of supplier and becoming an active partner: I see that as an ideal future for Unikoo
“In terms of geographic coverage, we want to expand to Ghent – today we have our head office in Antwerp and we have a hub in Limburg – in order to guarantee customers more proximity. A company in Bruges will not easily call on an Antwerp player for administrative services, so we want to meet that need.”
“And if I may think in the longer term, I hope that in the foreseeable future we can become a partner that not only provides services to start-ups, scale-ups and innovative SMEs, but acts as a kind venture also actively participates in so that we together can grow. Going beyond the status of supplier and becoming an active partner: I see that as the ideal future for Unikoo”, concludes Wouters.