We talked to Esben Bistrup Halvorsen, CEO of Smallbrooks, a crowdfunding platform and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: Thank you for caring. Overall, my family and I are doing fine.
With a 1-year old and a 3-year old, we have been extremely occupied during the periods where the kindergartens have been closed. It’s hard to do your job when you are also working as a babysitter.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Smallbrooks.
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: After I got my Ph.D. in mathematics, I started working in the IT industry. However, I quickly realized that I did not like working for the “big corporates,” so I took an additional master’s degree in computer science and then founded the company together with two others. In the beginning, I was the guy doing all the programming, but today I am the CEO and am doing pretty much everything that is not programming.
How does Smallbrooks innovate?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: Smallbrooks is an IT company that creates crowdfunding platforms for others. Our customers are typically large organizations that use crowdfunding as a way to engage and empower their own crowd (of customers, members, etc.). Thus, we help our customers innovate, and by doing so, we innovate a lot ourselves along the way, simply because we listen to our customers and try to adapt to their needs.
During our 8 years in existence, we have tried to be very agile and have changed our strategy multiple times along the way. To begin with, we focused on running our own crowdfunding platform here in Denmark, but today our main focus is our IT solution for crowdfunding which is a product with global potential.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: In some ways, we have been lucky, and in others, not. We were lucky because our existing customers are large organizations that have continued to pay their bills regardless of the pandemic. We were unlucky because a lot of the conversations we had with potential customers stopped for a longer period, which meant that we did not get any new customers for a long time. So financially, we have not grown as much as we were hoping for. But it could have been worse.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: We did not lay off any staff during the pandemic. On the contrary, some people left us last summer, so we suddenly had to hire new staff, which was a challenge because most job interviews were held online and because we received huge amounts of applications for some of the positions. We have managed well, I think, working from home, etc., but everyone is really looking forward to getting back to the office soon. We miss being around good colleagues and having a chat by the coffee machine!
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: We have worked a lot on improving our customer relationship management. Not because of the pandemic, but just because we have more and more projects that need to be planned and coordinated between customers and our IT department. We have recently started using Monday.com for this and are happy to have an online tool where all stakeholders can clearly see what has been agreed on and how things are progressing.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: We have received a loan from the Danish Growth Fund, which has helped us get through the period with no new customers.
Your final thoughts?
Esben Bistrup Halvorsen: Crowdfunding is an amazing tool that allows people to help each other – directly, peer-to-peer, and without being dependent on banks, governments, or anything else. The Covid-19 virus has made the usefulness of crowdfunding much more clear. Many of the potential customers we talked to when everything suddenly shut down told us that they wished they already had a crowdfunding platform because it would have been extremely helpful in the current situation. When the pandemic struck, it was too late to get started. So I guess a key takeaway is getting into the crowdfunding game now before the next pandemic strikes.
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