Five years ago, Charly van der Straten and Xander Koenen made their dream a reality and started their own company: Charly Cares. Founded in Amsterdam and successfully expanded to almost 60 places across the Netherlands.
It is high time for a frank conversation with the two founders about this adventure; the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, the hard lessons, and building and expanding the company. It's an inspiring conversation with two real entrepreneurs, who with their vision have definitively changed the traditional form of childcare for good.
You founded Charly Cares 5 years ago. Do you remember what you were thinking when you signed the papers?
Charly: “No clue. What I do know is that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at the time. Or, well, we knew it was going to be quite the adventure. But if I had told myself back then what was going to come our way, I would not have believed you. I do know is that we had a very strong belief in our idea, and also a very down-to-earth view on entrepreneurship: not just talking but doing, and just starting at the beginning.”
Xander, is entrepreneurship really in your blood? For example, have you always thought that you would one day run your own company?
Xander considers it carefully and says: “In principle, yes, because my parents had their own business, so I think I learned a lot from that. I thought it was great to see, with them, hard work but also a certain type of freedom. Although running a fast-growing company like Charly Cares does not necessarily foster that sense of freedom. The ambitions that we have, the investments that we make, the team that we have... it is quite a responsibility. I do get to do what I like and what I am good at more and more, which makes me fell good. I am not one of those entrepreneurs who started running a business at the age of 15. I have, however, been looking for a good idea, something I really believe in, from an early age. In the past, I've had several ideas, but none of those were good enough.”
Charly, how did you come up with the name Charly Cares and Babysitting Angels?
Charly: “I remember that I was discussing the concept with Roderik Hagemand (a good friend of ours) and Xander at the kitchen table. I felt very strongly that there had to be some sort of personification in the name, because it involves trust and entrusting your kids to ‘someone’. Xander thought the biggest and wanted an international name. Roderik felt that the Charly Cares babysitters needed to be distinct, and came up with the idea of Angels under Charly's wing. That is how it started, and we no longer doubted it for a minute. In hindsight, ‘Cares’ nicely covers our ambition around care in the broadest sense of the work, unburdening but also caring about.”
What not many people know is that you started out as a couple and then moved on as business partners. What makes you a good duo?
Charly laughs for a moment, looks at Xander, and says: “Ooh, what a daring question! True, the love affair did not make it. But it wouldn't have made it without Charly Cares either, haha. Setting up Charly Cares together has not been easy, we can be honest about that. Xander and I are water and fire, with a completely different way of thinking and doing. I think that that is a golden combination for a business partnership, because we complement each other. It is essential that you trust each other blindly, which is why I think many founders start from a friendship or relationship. Still, many companies fail in that area, which I also understand very well. It's like a marriage that is constantly under pressure due to ambitions and developments. That is why it is extra special that we get to celebrate our five-year anniversay together with our fantastic team, a great milestone!”
5 years is indeed a milestone, but Xander, what has been your absolute highlight so far?
Xander: “I always find this a very difficult question. I think it's because I don't look back enough, I'm always working on the next steps that need to be taken. Charly always says that it is important to take a moment to appreciate the highlights. Maybe she's right about that, because it's always 90% struggling and 10% celebrating, haha. Great highlights of the past year have been the launch of the new app. A gigantic project of our CTO Diederik Hoek which we all worked on very hard. Another one is the collaboration with ABN AMRO - the faster payment of the Angels. Charly Cares Business is also closing some major deals, which is really exciting. That kind of success does not happen overnight.”
And finally, what will the next five years look like?
Charly: “The next year, great new adventures will come up for Charly Cares. We can't wait to get the green light to make these plans come true. We are convinced that there is still a lot in store for Charly Cares. Expanding to different cities (also internationally) and perhaps new services wil be the focus for the next five years.
But first we will close this bizarre period, a year that has cost a lot of energy, but also has brought a lot of (entrepreneurial) lessons. Hopefully I will close the year with the birth of a healthy baby, because Ruben and I are expecting our first child any time soon.
Xander, what about you?
Xander: "I fully agree with Charly. Wrap this up and in good spirits through to 2021, and the next five years Charly Cares....!"