Startup Studio Leaders: A Conversation With Builders’ Managing Director, Michael Van Lier
Hello again to all our ‘startup studio insiders’! During the past few months, we have featured a number of incredible startup studios, their mission, and upcoming projects. Today, we are excited to bring you a new series on our blog that will dive deep into the profiles of the leaders and founders behind each entity! For our first Startup Studio Leaders feature, we had a conversation with Michael Van Lier, the founder and Managing Director of Dutch-based studio, Builders.
The Man Behind Builders Studio
Michael van Lier is an entrepreneur, innovator, and tech evangelist with over 20 years of experience empowering the next wave of tech entrepreneurship.
He started his first online company in 2000, at just 16 years old, which says a lot about his early passion for building innovative startups and learning best practices to propel his companies to success. Later, he founded and exited multiple software and cloud-oriented companies, which he grew by acquisition and organic growth.
Michael along with Managing Director, Sharon Klaver and Director of Product, Robbert van Geldrop, founded Builders, a tech-based startup studio, in 2015. Michael is currently the Managing Director of the studio, which is based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He specializes in fundraising, venture building, and product strategy. With a great deal of experience in each of these disciplines, Michael has been able to draw from past experiences throughout his career and use his past successes to inform strategy and scale efficiently.
“It all began by working with others and helping them build something that they really liked,” said Michael. “As a startup studio, we love opening up and accelerating evolving spaces where growth hurdles can be solved through software.”
What’s exciting about Builders is the quality of work that they put out combined with the love and passion that they have for the companies they work with. This is evident in their successes. In the past year, Builders has been able to achieve the following milestones:
- IPS exit in 2020, one of the first companies launched under the Builders’ portfolio.
- Launch of Obeyo in 2021, an operating system for residential real estate where operations and community go hand in hand.
We’re excited to see what Builders has in store for the near and long-term future! But just as a sneak peek, we were able to learn a little bit more about their plans for next year. Some of the most exciting initiatives on the horizon for the studio include scaling studio operations to launch more than two new ventures each year, expanding studio footprint to three European cities, building 15 ventures with 30 co-founders, and achieving €100MM portfolio valuation.
Michael Van Lier’s Formula for Success
When we asked Michael what was his favorite part of working as a startup studio, he mentioned that for him it is the ability to share the love for tech with a community of enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who have endless grit and creativity throughout the whole venture process.
“The encouragement and support that each member of the startup studio can offer allow the creative process to be incredibly valuable and results in a major impact on the world around all of us,” said Michael. “There are moments in each company’s growth, which are just pure magic, like discovering founder-opportunity fit and signing the first launching customers.”
For Michael, the formula to success for a startup studio is not always the same. At its core, a startup studio is a company that creates and launches companies. But Builders has aimed to be more than that. They pride themselves on being an independent studio, which means that they generate ideas’ internally and build these out with co-founders until the companies are able to self-support themselves.
In contrast, Michael also mentioned that, while the startup studio environment can offer plenty of success, there come some inherent challenges throughout the planning and execution processes, such as spinning out a company, which as he mentioned, can sometimes be a double-edged sword.
In this case, he does not mean that spinning out a business is an impossible quest all entrepreneurs go through, but in most cases, studios tend to launch and fund companies through the first rough and unpredictable phases of the company creation process. This is where most entrepreneurs struggle to find the right pace and progress to capture true momentum. This also means that when the partnership between the studio and co-founders prospers, it’s a real joy to be a part of the team.
Thus when a company finds product-market fit and starts rapidly growing it knows how to come out on top and becomes independent of the studio. This is what Michael and the team at Builders strive for.
A Team Effort
The independent piece is what truly makes Builders unique because they act on ideas from investors, entrepreneurs, and organizations that are ultimately nourished by the work and clear validation process that turns learnings into a viable business model.
“We work on both sides of the equation: optimizing the idea and executing with a well-balanced and experienced team of venture builders,” Michael noted. “We love the intellectual challenges that come from talking with partners.”
Michael also emphasized the importance of the hands-on involvement that studios offer and how this is necessary to build a great product. While it might be almost impossible to know each and every detail of what goes into developing a great venture, it is important to stay ahead and set clear expectations that will lead you there. For that reason, Michael believes in the importance of having the right team on board.
“We like to be a north star for our founders and the team involved in getting the product right out of the door. This is why it is important to have the right people there when you need them. We have been able to do this by always selecting two co-founders who can fully focus on the technical and business aspect of the development process, respectively. Then the studio acts like a third co-founder and early investor to support the business needed until the company is capable of supporting itself on its own,” said Michael.
Since its creation, Builders has expanded its portfolio of companies such as Influentials and IPS, showing excellent results and allowing founders and team insiders to learn from the progress and start the next round of planning for the studio.
With that in mind, Michael believes in the power of dynamics and how this team compatibility can bring more opportunities to the horizon.
Startup Studio Model Gaining Momentum
Without a doubt, Michael Van Lier is a true believer in the effectiveness of the startup studio model and the exciting offerings it has for the future of venture building. He expects that in the near future, we will be able to see a lot more studios become big players in this area, becoming the birthplace for many more impressive startups to shine and succeed. He also expects that more investors will continue to turn their heads towards this model and set up their own funds to attract the right talent and capital to put their capital into emerging studios.
Startup studios have been around for more than 25 years, and there are about 500 of them out there (with many more being founded as we speak). And just like Michael’s, there are some great success stories that have come from the creation of startup studios from all around the world. We hope his story and insights have opened up the door for you to learn more about the entrepreneurial career that startup studios can lead to.
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