‘Everyone deserves the same dreamstart I was given’

Danique Wiltink won the first edition of the TEDxAmsterdamWomen Startup Award with her idea Nimbles; an online platform that brings parents and (private) tutors together. With Nimbles, Danique responds to the changes in the supply and demand chain when it comes to tutoring. With ever growing classrooms, increased pressure to achieve and diminished attention to the individual child at school, the demand for individual tutoring of students in primary and secondary/high school has grown exponentially. Parents are able to find professionally screened tutors who will assist their children and guides them with their homework. Without interference of expensive homework institutes. Because tutors are free to set their own hourly rates, there is an option for everyone’s personal budget. Afterwards the parent rates the tutor to offer a review of the quality of guidance as a reference for others. This is also necessary to guarantee the quality of the tutors in the future.

‘Within my own company, a homework tutoring institute, I saw a need for personal attention and individual guidance and I wanted to see if I could apply this to a larger audience. When I signed up for the TEDxAmsterdamWomen Startup Award I never expected I could win. I had no idea my story would be this well received by the media and potential investors. A week after my presentation to the bigger audience I was invited everywhere and shared my story to many different media outlets such as het Financieele Dagblad because they were truly fascinated by new idea. But mostly it were parents that reached out to me that showed the true potential of the concept,’ Danique says smiling.

What was the biggest change that happened after winning the Startup Award?
‘The biggest change is that my idea has become a reality. I presented my plan and within two months the first funding was secured, I had assembled a team and we were building the platform. The development from “just an idea” to a smooth running operation has been an enormous change. Of course the fun doesn’t stop there. You are – and always will be – continuously fine-tuning your company. At first my presentation was about creating a platform where you could source additional education. The end result is quite different from what I had initially imagined. The platform for example is not an open platform, something I had wanted in the beginning. Tutors are all screened extensively by us before their profiles go live, which is approximately 15% of all the applications we get. Also the introduction of private tutoring in the Netherlands is something that is a continuous development. The thought behind private tutoring is usually that when you need homework assistance, it’s usually already too late. Private tutoring however allows you to provide students with professional one-on-one guidance and will train them to develop a method of studying which will allow them to work individually in the future without the help of additional schooling. The concept of private tutoring has been around for quite a while in Asia, the United States and the United Kingdom but is relatively new to the Netherlands.

The way our system works is that tutors are available per region. At the moment we have tutors in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Expansion of our services to for example ‘t Gooi, Kennemerland and The Hague is a slow but meticulous process. To ensure the quality of the tutoring and the satisfaction of our parents and tutors, we take our time to screen the tutors, to train them and to guide them. We guide the tutors on how to conduct their first meeting with the parents, how they can keep their lessons entertaining for their students but we also address hourly wages, paying taxes and travel times. They work as part of the Nimbles team and I want to make sure they deliver high quality, time and time again. Only when we are 100% satisfied and we feel we can offer the best possible quality, will we open up to new regions.’

What was the hardest decision you had to make this past year?
‘Difficult question.. I think following my own path – specifically when it came to securing financing – was the hardest. After winning the competition I was offered a lot of different advice and many offers. You need to be careful not to let others make your decisions for you which requires you to stay close to yourself, which is very hard. Managing expectations is key. You need to be honest and clear with other. Difficult but a necessary evil. It is up to you – and only you – to decide what you stand for and what you want to reach.

What would you do different if you could pitch again?
‘Looking back at my pitch, I don’t think I would do it differently. What I would change however is that I would have found myself a co-founder sooner. When you’re on your own, you are just alone and it is a lot of hard work. It’s nice to have someone next to you to help you carry the business forward. Also, you have double the manpower and that makes it all a little easier.

The enormous media-attention was quite overwhelming but I am so grateful because I’ve got to know so many people. For example, there were investors in the crowd who contacted me directly after the pitch and offered me their investment. And that is the best part of it all: you get the opportunity to present your startup to a larger audience and you never know what could happen. Pitching your story is a validation of your product and it is a missed opportunity if you do not try.’

What advice do you have for others when it comes to pitching?
‘It’s difficult to offer one good piece of advice. You need to be strong and resilient. It takes a lot to sign up, pitch and maybe even win. You need to be prepared for a lot of work coming your way. Be aware and prepared to deal with all the media attention that you could be facing. I only had an idea and because of all the media attention I was getting, I had the feeling of constantly being two steps behind. Which is why it was so overwhelming for me. It would be better if you already have an existing startup. You will be more prepared because you are somewhat familiar with your market. You probably already know how to deal with (media) attention, answering hard questions and maintaining a busy schedule. If all of that sounds appealing to you all I can say is: “be prepared for the rollercoaster but enjoy the ride!” Try to enjoy everything that comes your way. It sounds a little cliché but it is so important. Believe in your own idea and don’t let anyone mess with your head. It is imperative to keep focus. It’s only a small thing but very important: always say “thank you” to every piece of advice you get and only later decide whether you are going to use it. Or not. It is the only way you will be able to keep focus. Winning the 2015 Startup Award gave me an incredible start and without this competition, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would urge you to sign up because you never know what it will bring you. I will definitely be there and I can’t wait to see what startups will sign up. And who will win of course. I truly hope this year’s Startup Award winner will get as much joy and result out of the competition as I have.’

Author: Lisette Gerbrands