Don’t be promotional, be authentic. It is not about you or your company — it is about adding value. Being promotional is only going to turn your audience off. No one wants a pitch about your product. It is about how you provide value and you have to share your insights. We never post anything that is not organic or neutral for our audience and for the companies we work with. For example, with Nike we always think about the objectives of Nike and does it fit on our channels? What value does it have?
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Cortenraede.
Danny Cortenraede is a serial entrepreneur & business investor. He is President and Managing Partner of Wannahaves, a first-class digital media agency with offices in both Europe and the US. Wannahaves platform 433 is the biggest digital sports content brand globally. The companies have over 55 million followers and more than 1 Billion views per week across their platforms.
Prior to starting his own business, Danny spent 10 years working for big global companies like Vodafone, Sony and T-Mobile.
Danny is born and raised in the Netherlands but moved to NYC to open a second office and recently opened another office in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Previously, I have worked for 10 years in the corporate world. For big global companies like Vodafone, Sony & T-Mobile. Telecommunications & consumer electronics industries.
I always wanted to start my own business. My father, grandfather are also successful entrepreneurs. So, I quit my (high paid) corporate job to start my own business. With my former business partner — we built a media company from scratch — Enterprise Media. We worked for big companies like Disney, ABN AMRO and NS. After selling the company, I started building a new company, NanoFixit (liquid screen protector), together with an investor. These days I have a private equity firm; DC Venture Capital Partners and one of my most recent business ventures are Wannahaves & 433. I created Wannahaves and now it is a multi-million-dollar company with three offices around the globe. We started in Amsterdam (I am originally from Europe), opened our second office in NYC and three months ago our third office in Los Angeles. We work closely with huge companies like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Red Bull, Samsung, Heineken and many more. 433 is the biggest sports community in the world with 45 million followers and more than 1 billion views per week. We are working closely with the biggest soccer stars in the world like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Having created several successful companies around the globe has given me the opportunity to work with the best leaders from other successful companies.
What I like the most is bringing great ideas into the world successfully. There are many business opportunities and the number of start-ups is rising each year. However, building successful companies is very challenging. There are many great concepts but most ideas and the assumptions they carry turn out to be bad after all. It happens often that a start-up is based on a technological invention or a personal product idea. In all the excitement of the start-up there is a lot going on where crucial steps are skipped in the process. By narrowing things down to its essence, I created the right focus and foundation to build a solid business efficiently step-by-step.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My entrepreneurial journey is one wild ride! Leaving Europe and moving to the US with my family, the pandemic and growing several businesses has been a big adventure.
Opening an office in NYC with all the preparations like getting a visa, creating a clear business plan, making sure you have enough customers, recruiting people, preparing everything with the family — it has all been a fun challenge. I have definitely learned that you need flexibility and to see the bigger picture. Everything is different when you start over in a new country.
On top of that a worldwide pandemic tried to stop the progress. Budgets have been put on hold in the sports marketing world when there are no games or the games are without fans. It made me have to think, stay sharp and focus on the projects. Pivoting to business models conducive to short-term survival along with long-term resilience and growth. With Wannahaves I believe we are in the right spot with digital marketing but still there is a lot going on a global scale.
We are still closing deals and we want to continue to grow so we decided to open another office in Los Angeles. We work with partners like LA Galaxy, LAFC, official partner MLS, Nike and Adidas.
You have to be able to get back up after some setbacks. For me it is all worth it and I feel I stronger than ever but it is only possible if you really want it and work on every single piece: growing emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, financially and intellectually.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning of my career, I was super enthusiastic and hungry (which is still the case) but I was so enthusiastic that I was interested in every opportunity. I now have a clear goal and vision and I say no to the things which are not aligned with this. Otherwise you lose focus and will not succeed.
I can share a story that is not when I was first starting my career but more recent. As mentioned we work a lot with Nike and at one event there were all the big players; Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Piere Aubameyang.
We had the chance to talk with them but I don’t know if you have ever been at an event like this? It is hectic! Especially if you want to talk to the players. Of course, they reserve time but it is never enough time. We prepared for a lot of things to happen but not that I ended up having to walk back to the car with one of the players to get an interview! At the end I liked it because “the vibe” was good just walking and asking questions. But it taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
With thought leadership you change your company’s brand perception, it’s about being the best in your industry and adding real value. It is about building trust, expertise, knowledge and credibility. This way you will have a much higher ROI — higher than any other online marketing activities.
A lot of people call themselves influencers these days and focus on followers and engagement. They will affect a person’s behavior but it is not THE expert or a go-to resource in your field.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Thought leadership will build trust and credibility. What is important is that you — on a consistent basis — provide your target audience with accurate and valuable content. This will gain you a loyal audience, who trust you and will help boost your business. Be aware it takes the right attitude and consistency, but you will achieve much higher results and brand awareness.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
I’ve built several companies in the last few years and it is not just selling your product or service. It is building a value proposition, thinking what the customer or your audience wants? A lot of people still think they know what the customer wants and there are a lot of assumptions. I strongly believe in adding real value to your audience and fill in the needs.
· Unique value proposition that serves customers’ needs
· Innovate product
· Strong business model, preferably with multiple revenue streams
· All tested and validated by the first paying customers
· Proof of scale by substantial growth
I believe in connecting with thought leaders in the industry. We are very well connected with the biggest athletes in the world and connecting the hip hop culture with soccer. We are now working on a project together with Roc Nation (Jay-Z). There is a big overlap since a lot of soccer/ football players are big fans of hip hop and there is an emotional connection.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1. Don’t be promotional, be authentic
It is not about you or your company — it is about adding value. Being promotional is only going to turn your audience off. No one wants a pitch about your product. It is about how you provide value and you have to share your insights. We never post anything that is not organic or neutral for our audience and for the companies we work with. For example, with Nike we always think about the objectives of Nike and does it fit on our channels? What value does it have?
2. Be consistent.
Consistency is key. We make sure we create consistently high-quality content. This will not only help you become searchable on the internet, but also help you build your credibility. If you want to build a following you need to be consistent in your posting. Trusting relationships do not happen overnight. It is not about turning a quick profit or getting in on the latest trend; it is about being passionate about your industry.
3. Deep understanding of problems
First you must understand the problems of your target audience, this way you can create useful content for your readers. Just creating content will not help them solve their problems and get you a thought leader. But it is really important to dig deep and get to the heart of the “issues”. This way you can create content that is adding real value and is helping people.
4) Create original content
Do you want to be an authority in your industry? It needs to be quality content and informative. Think about surveys, case studies and research.
You want to add the value and make your audience more intelligent after reading or watching your content.
5) Reflection: What is working and what is not?
Data, data, data. It is super important to look at the metrics and the KPI’s to see what is working and what is not. Every day we analyze all the data.
Look at your engagement, comments, editorial feedback, traffic and talk with your audience. It is like a real relationship. If you don’t talk with your partner the relationship will not last long.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
For me there are a couple of people who understand what thought leadership is. Gary Vaynerchuk is one of them. Gary is in our advisory board so we have a special relationship. Gary delivers insightful content that motivates me to hustle harder, have patiences and enjoy the journey. Gary always thinks about the value for his audience. You need to love his style but he is authentic.
Other thought leaders; Simon Sinek, Tony Robbins & Seth Godin
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
There are a lot of people who want to be thought leaders and the “problem” is that everybody has a voice these days. In my opinion, be careful who you listen to and don’t listen to everybody. Choose one or two people who are the best in your niche. Those people have done it already and you can learn a lot from them.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Don’t micromanage and make sure you have a vision and an endurance strategy
Two-thirds of small businesses in the U.S. might close permanently if shutdowns and strict social distancing regulations persist for five months. This asks a lot of all the executives and leaders. Executives have done amazing adaptive work during the first months of the pandemic, but doing business in the new normal is going to take at least 12 to 18 months.
Now is the time for companies to make it happen. Leaders need to get clear about what their vision is, set clear goals and then deliberately leverage their teams to accomplish those objectives.
You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re under the wire and you have to perform to survive. Employees have never been more motivated since they now have increased stake in their companies and keeping their jobs.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
What I like the most is to help other entrepreneurs or investors. Helping companies to unlock their full potential and create value into the world. There are so many great ideas and I want to help bring them to life. There are many aspects that have an impact on the road to success. The result is that over 90% of new businesses fail, 75% of the ventures never return the investment and in 30–40% of businesses the investors lose their whole initial investment.
Getting on board as early as possible, ideally at the idea stage enables founders to build their venture in a lean and efficient way by the shared entrepreneurial mindset and unique mix of experience, knowledge, network, resources and skills.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Successful people do all the things that unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.”
“Dream big, work hard, stay focused and surround yourself with good people “
I have always dreamed big. Even as a little boy I wanted to achieve my goals and win. You need to stay focused on your goals. If you have set backs — and you will. You will stand up and fight. Believe me I had setbacks but that doesn’t matter. I always see the bigger picture and want to achieve my goal. Besides this I believe in working and also in your private environment you need to surround yourself with good people. People you can trust, you can learn from and have a good time with.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Sir Richard Branson is one of the greatest entrepreneurs the UK has ever produced. Without him a lot of things wouldn’t be how they are today, such as the music we listen to, the charities we support, and quite possibly soon space travel. Besides that he is also a very nice person. A lot of respect for Sir Branson!
How can our readers follow you online?