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Interview with Dennis van der Veen, CEO & Founder, Hamster

Dennis van der Veen
"I’m a people person and I care about my team and the individual members. That means in good times and in bad times. I’m a strong believer of reciprocity. Give and take. I give individuals and teams a responsibility and trust. If they can handle that I’m easy on people if they can’t perform on their normal level because of circumstances."

Bio

Dennis is an entrepreneur with a broad experience in start- and scale-ups in an international environment. He’s a generalist, builder, networker and a problem solver. Dennis has a strong focus on IT, ICO/ STO and the crypto space. As an Investor, Advisor, Fund Raiser. Very well connected in the international start-up scene. Result oriented guy with humour. Dedicated to get results, but with respect for the people he’s working with.

You can find his social network for investors, Hamster, that will be debuting today.

Interview

When managing your team of traders/PMs, how do you handle the fact you are a player at the same time you are the coach? How do you lead at the same time you manage assets shoulder-to-shoulder with your team? Do you distance yourself and lead “from above” or get closer and reveal your own vulnerability? Mistakes made in your own trades? What level of closeness do you cultivate with team members?

Although there is a hierarchy I want to be close to my team. Working together. Only then I’m able to get their natural respect and understand up close and personal what’s going on in the business and with the individuals and team.

Making mistakes is a part of everyday work. So making mistakes is OK to a certain level. If I make a mistake I’m also open about it. Maybe they can learn from it. I don’t try to hide it, but share it and make it a moment of learning. I expect the same from the team.

I have a facilitating management style. So, in hierarchy I’m the leader, but I try to level with the team as much as possible. I’m trying to build such a relationship people are working for me and not for a salary.

How do you balance the CEO and CIO roles? How much time do you spend on asset and portfolio management versus operational/HR/logistical issues? What tasks are you comfortable outsourcing versus which ones must you absolutely do yourself? (Hiring, compliance, raising assets, IR, etc)

I don’t have a fixed % for dividing my time. While we are still a small team I basically do everything and assist where I can. It’s good two have two boots on the ground during the growing phase of the company.

I personally take care of hiring and raising funds. Compliance, Finance etc. is my responsibility in the end, but I do like to outsource/ delegate that to team members.

What incentives and bonuses do you use to keep key talent motivated? What kind of parameters do you use when assessing them for promotion/allocation increases/retention? Do you use the same criteria when vetting new hires as well?

We use a bonus system. We put quarterly KPIs in place and the four quarters together make the end of year bonus.

We use the same system for new hires. One system for everybody. As transparent as it can be.

How do you manage the different emotions that come up in individuals and the team itself? Sadness and depression in low times, stress and burnout in intense periods? Do you use incentives, support them personally, or use other resources?

I’m a people person and I care about my team and the individual members. That means in good times and in bad times.

I’m a strong believer of reciprocity. Give and take. I give individuals and teams a responsibility and trust. If they can handle that I’m easy on people if they can’t perform on their normal level because of circumstances. But… If people break my trust, reciprocity is off the table and I expect people to manage their personal stuff outside of the company and keep performing.

I don’t use specific incentives but if a person keeps on performing in bad times, I will show my appreciation at the end of the year in the form of an incentive.

I work the same with everyday issues. I don’t ask people to do a lot of overtime, but it comes with the job.  And if an individual does make the necessary overtime and has to see a dentist and is an hour short that day, I’m OK with it. Reciprocity. But if you work your exact eight hours per day, that hour has to come from your holiday balance, you make up the hour the next day of visit the dentist outside working hours.

How do you specifically manage the top performers? The most ambitious and highest performing individuals usually want unreasonably high rewards, and if they don’t get it they threaten leaving. How do you walk the tightrope between retaining rising stars and giving them what they want?

I try to challenge people all the time. So over-performers will get extra tasks and responsibility. Or a role in the company that fits them better if available. 

I don’t believe money is a motivator for these people. If people do work for money it’s about time to find a new employer. One top performer leaving makes space for another person waiting in the shadow for her/ his chance.

So I’m not worried. Never in my life a company or department crashed because a top performer left. So I’m not scared of people leaving. And we must be aware of the balance of the salaries between the team members. If you don’t, the system is not transparent anymore and will fail. So, paying more is fine, but within the limits of the salary ranges we have. 

And if people threaten to leave the company if we don’t pay more, please go elsewhere and have a great future.

Lessons from Dennis

  • Level with your people. Despite being a leader, in a flat organisation you have to be open and vulnerable about your weaknesses. That’s how you earn your team’s respect;
  • Specialise in what you do best and/or most enjoy. Although you can do fundraising, compliance, and many other tasks yourself, do what is most worth your time and let the rest be outsourced by other people;
  • Use similar compensation/performance criteria for all employees. By evaluating everybody from junior to senior members using the same system, you don’t create “second-class citizens”. Everybody in the team has the same criteria;
  • Reciprocity. You get what you put in. If you establish a relationship of trust, it’s not about how many hours you put in. Sometimes you will do favors, sometimes you will get favors in return – but it’s not about keeping track;
  • Create incentives through alignment, not just money. If a top performer just wants money, there are countless places they can work for and zero loyalty. By being aligned wit the values and culture of the company, you create loyalty;

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