Manon Van Essen is the founder of a successful startup Magioni. With her cauliflower pizza, Manon has revolutionised the food industry. She talks to Veronika Larsen, a multi-discipline woman entrepreneur from Brno and a member of the Femme Palette community. Both girls share their advice on making it big in the world of business and what helps them overcome the fear of failure.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I have two cousins, together with whom we always dreamt of moving to the big city and becoming successful. I was also inspired by my dad, who was a working single father. He has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and said I can be anything I want to be.
What was first - the idea or the drive to start your own business?
The entrepreneurial mindset came first. I always wanted to be independent and become an entrepreneur. Initially I worked in tech and sold my first business at the age of 23 to Hallmark. Then I thought, well, if I can build a company and sell it, maybe I can make it work in an industry that is more related to sustainability. That’s why I decided to go into the food business. I aimed to make it healthier.
Once you had the idea, how did you go around turning it into a reality?
First I started thinking about what I need to do to succeed and then I talked to different people who guided me through the process (e.g. told me about different restrictions, licensing, etc.). I also wanted to make my business big, so I reached out to supermarkets. I made a 10-milestone plan which I followed and subsequently succeeded. I also wasn’t afraid to ask for help, nor was I overprotective of my idea. I was happy to discuss it with anyone. This mindset helped me because many people are afraid to ask for help and talk about their plan. But I try to remember that we are all equal and in the same boat.
How did you overcome your fears?
By doing it! I still have a lot of fears today but I try for them not to hold me back. For example, I was afraid to fail the second time around as I was already successful with my first business. I started working in a pizzeria to learn about the pizza-making process and people told me I was crazy and didn’t know what I was doing. But then I thought - screw them, this is my life! I think my cousins helped me overcome my doubts because the three of us were in a similar situation. We could support each other. In other words, your environment is extremely important. After moving to Amsterdam I surrounded myself with aspiring entrepreneurs who were very encouraging and most of them have a successful business now.
“Many people are afraid to ask for help and talk about their plan. But I try to remember that we are all equal and in the same boat.”
How did you know what steps to take?
Two months in, I got an investor who was willing to share his advice on how to succeed. Without him, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now. From then onwards, everything escalated fast and that is exactly what I was looking for.
How do you deal with failure?
I’m not good at it but I hire a lot of coaches. One of them I have on speed dial, so every time I have a bad day, I can call her and she gets me out of it. So for me investing in mental health is definitely worth it. There are plenty of resources also accessible online for free, from meditation and visualization techniques to motivational podcasts and self-help books.
How do you work on yourself?
I plan creative hours when I meet with my teammate(s) and brainstorm. We walk in a park or go to a museum to talk about new ideas. On the business side, I think I’m doing well, that’s why I need to focus more on my mental and physical health.
What mistakes have you made?
The biggest one was hiring the wrong people. Then the entity of the business goes down and it takes a while to rebuild it again. So if I could improve one thing, I would pay more attention to hiring people. Now we have a really good team but that cost us a lot of money and energy. I tend to trust people which can be a bad habit sometimes.
“There’s enough success in the world for everyone to have a fair share.”
How can you go around funding?
First, you have to believe in your idea and then, at least in the Netherlands, money is always there, so you can go to a bank or elsewhere to get funding. Start by downscaling your idea first and finding a way to launch it, then continue with the next steps and keep gaining new resources for your business.
When did you know it was time to scale?
Immediately. From the moment I baked my first pizza, which looked really ugly, I knew this was it.
What was the first role you hired for?
Marketing manager. I am an introvert, so the manager helped a lot. Marketing is everything.
How do you manage your time?
I usually get up early and meditate. When I am at work, I am very focused on the job, and when I’m home, I spend time with my friends and try to be present in the moment. My life is a good mix, when I start working at seven, I can grab lunch with friends at twelve, then finish at seven. After work, I literally switch off and work out, occasionally I work in the evening, but only for one hour max. My weekends are free.
What is the biggest challenge female founders face?
In the beginning, women are underestimated by men. But you can prove them wrong and turn it into your advantage. And I believe that this will change as the world becomes more equal. Women also need to support each other more. Instead of jealousy, we should seek encouragement. Most men are usually very nice to me but women are often less friendly. We need to be more supportive and find the power in helping each other out. It’s not as if I am successful, you can’t be.
One piece of advice for someone starting a business?
Just go for it, enjoy it and give yourself time to learn and to fail because that’s okay. Don’t give up and keep moving forwards!