Risk Talk with Ben Woldring

On the sidelines of the Risk Conference 2020, the Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO and Founder of Bencom Group Ben Woldring. He is also known from comparison platforms like Gaslicht.com and Bellen.com. In 2003, he was announced as Entrepreneur of the year by EY and in 2006, as the European Entrepreneur of the year under 25 years old by the American business magazine Business Week.

Ben, can you tell us a little bit about your story?

I followed coding classes in high school, and I thought about putting this knowledge into practice. So, during summer, I borrowed a book called “HTML in 20 steps” which taught everything on how to build a successful website. Thus, I followed all the different steps from this book and was able to make a website where the consumer could compare prices for mobile phone services. Then, I contacted the famous TV program in the Netherlands called “Kassa” as they were looking for experts on this field and they contacted me the next day on my dad’s phone to offer me a position at Kassa.

I contacted the famous TV program in the Netherlands called “Kassa”

Due to my young age (13 years old), I was not able to register the company, Bellen.com, myself and that’s why my mom took the whole responsibility and was the director of the company until my 18th birthday anniversary.

What does your company, Bencom Group, do?

We help people save money regarding their bills in utilities, telecom, health insurance. So, we compare the market and make it transparent for the consumers. This process makes it easier for them to switch to the best provider.

What is your business model?

We cover the whole market, so the companies are listed for free on our platform. Once the consumer switches to another provider, we get a small compensation via a transaction fee paid by the provider. We do not charge the end consumer. The transaction fee is determined by Bencom, but the amount is the same as for all the providers, to stay truly independent.

In line with this successful story, would you advise a young entrepreneur to follow the same path and drop college to develop his or her company?

Not exactly. Being a college dropout is not a thing in itself. At the age of 13 years old, your first priority is to finish high school. I like to learn but it was difficult to combine the development of a fast growing company with my studies at the university. And for me, it felt like missing a lot of opportunities by not working on deals and projects to be at school instead. That’s why I decided to drop out of college to focus fully on my business.

"Being a college dropout is not a thing in itself"

How do you see the digital outlook?

You see signs that traditional companies are becoming more active now in the digital space than ever. Look at companies such as Amazon and Bol.com in the Netherlands. There are still plenty of opportunities to catch in this digital age, for example: look at Swapfiets. You only need to be careful to not only burn money but develop a profitable business to not be dependent on money markets.

Following your talk regarding the valuation of platform companies, what do you think about the valuation of tech companies such as Amazon which is constantly? And also, what are your thoughts about a potential tech bubble?

This news takes us back to 2000s, where the valuations at that time were also quite high. However, there is a big difference between the 2000s and our situation right now. Back then, it was all based on promises, like the promise that people will be able to buy their clothes online, the promise that they will be able to order their food online. 20 years ago, this digital life was just a promise, the investors believed it, but it was too early and then most of them collapsed, especially the ones only good in burning the investors’ money. And now, the promise is happening: people do buy their food and even shoes online.

So, is the valuation actually worse now? At first, tech companies are burning money as they are developing at a fast path. Look at Amazon for example, how to work hard on global market domination. Their market share is already high and this gives them the ability to decide which rules to apply on their platform. It is much easier to increase your profit when you are the market leader. So maybe the valuation looks crazy when looking at the balance sheet and net earnings but if you look at the potential they have, those companies will simply just become money machines thanks to their margins and market positions.

More specifically on the banking industry that also digitalized.

We start to see digitalization in various industries, but some countries adapt faster than others. For instance, countries like Sweden and the Netherlands do great on digital adaptation. An example with the early adoption of WhatsApp: I was in San Francisco when it came in the news that the Dutch were already heavily using WhatsApp over text messages (sms), while in San Francisco some people were just starting to use it. Same thing with Tikkie. Even though the Netherlands is a small country, it is an interesting market for E-commerce and tech space to witness the fast adaptation of new technologies. 

How do you adapt to this fast-changing environment?

I love to force myself to follow all these new technologies. So, I read a lot, speak internationally at conferences which enables me to meet various interesting people and entrepreneurs where we can inspire each other. I am also in a supervisory board of the Northern investment agency called NOM NV. And within the country, you have a lot of regional investment funds created by the Dutch government to stimulate entrepreneurship and businesses. This brings me a lot of knowledge about valuation and the financial part as well.

"I love to force myself to follow all these new technologies"

As the last question, what would be your advice to students starting their career now and maybe want to become an entrepreneur?

So, three pieces of advice that might be useful are:

  • Play around: play with new technologies and try to understand the business by doing. Put simply: Explore by doing.
  • Make use of the platform economy we are currently living in. Nowadays, you have a lot of tools available to you to set up a business even if it appears that the competition keeps increasing, there are a lot of advantages provided by those platforms to start a business successfully.
  • Don’t think you can only set up a business thanks to investors' money. If you can benefit from your family and/or friends’ money or personal saving then you can keep the shares of your business and the longer you are able to keep the 100% shares, the more you are in control of how your company is developing. Keep in mind to also have a diverse team, gender, and backgrounds mixed to have a good balance.

Cover photo: Roos Holvast