Our first Amsterdam Founder Series edition took us to the Student Hotel in Amsterdam Oost where Max van den Ingh, Founder of Unmuted, gave us a crash course in Business to Business (B2B) marketing. He shared his thoughts about being a founder in Amsterdam, the value of his professional network, and how clear vision, diversity, and technology are critical to the growth of Unmuted.
Tell us about Unmuted
Unmuted is a B2B growth marketing agency. We’re helping tech companies set up marketing in a modern and performance-driven way. Often these companies rely on sales teams to sell their product or services. But they’re hitting a ceiling because they don’t have the support from a modern marketing team to help the sales team scale their operations. So often our customers have 2 options: hire more sales reps, or hire a marketing team.
As an outsider you're good at starting things and bringing a new perspective, but ultimately doing good marketing takes a lot of time and effort from people within the company.
But hiring a marketing team is pretty difficult. So you can hire a social media marketer, a community marketer, a content marketer, a performance marketer, a growth marketer, a creative marketer, a traditional marketer — there’s all these roles. If you don’t have much experience working with marketeers it’s hard to pick the right one and then harder to find the right person to fill that role. If you look on LinkedIn, there’s around fifty thousand open vacancies for growth marketing roles alone, which is insane.
You’re seeing all these scale-ups establishing these growth teams and all the innovators in the SMB corner also wanting to tap into the power of growth marketing, but they can’t find the talent. So that’s when they have to find different solutions. Our offer is one of those solutions. We offer a full-stack growth marketing team to these companies, with the strategies, people who know each other, what to work on, and how to do it best to deliver results as soon as possible. And then from there, we train people inside the company so they can stand on their own feet after a while and do it internally.
As an outsider, you're good at starting things and bringing a new perspective, but ultimately doing good marketing takes a lot of time and effort from people within the company. So I definitely believe in shorter relationships between Agency and customer and helping companies get to a point where they're able to do it on their own.
Tell us a little about the team you’re building
I collaborate with multiple freelancers. Marketeers are commercial people so they become good at what they do and they think ‘Ok I can do this on my own”. So they become a freelancer because they can earn more, and I respect that. Often some of the best marketeers are freelancers.
I see this as an advantage right now, but ultimately I would love to build up my own team of specialists. Until that point the goal is to hire more all-round marketeers internally who will collaborate with those specialists. The all-round marketer will be the point of contact for customers, and then together with the freelances they will get projects done.
What inspired you to start your own company?
I've always been working in early-stage start-ups which fuels your entrepreneurial spirit. You see all the possibilities when building everything from scratch. At a certain point I felt like I wanted to build my own thing and if it means that thing is building other companies’ marketing, then that's fine. But I wanted to build my own brand and not be an employee for the rest of my life.
What are the most valuable things you’ve learned as a founder?
Clarity and focus — really understanding what the angle is and how we believe we will get there and what are the steps that will get us there. Being able to define that and communicate about it to get full clarity that “This is the plan. This is the way we are going to do it.” and being open and transparent about it.
What happens when this transparency isn’t available?
Transparency is important as a service company because your customers will ask you questions. If they’re asking about it, they are already uncertain about what’s happening next. So I try to be as open and transparent about the way that we work and what we're working on as possible.
How do you create a shared vision and culture with your team?
Especially now with COVID, nobody is working in the same building, so technology is vital. I use a lot of technology to collaborate with clients like Slack, Notion, and Miro which are all highly collaborative tools. Of course I invite the freelancers to join me on shared Kanban boards with clients so that they know what we're working on, what you need to work on, and what other things we are working on. We meet on Slack often, and we spend a lot of time on video calls for projects. But also just to check in with each other about how it’s going, and how they are feeling about things.
So in that sense it's a very 'business’ culture, but we want to give our customers a warmer experience and that comes from our communication. Even though the people I work with are freelancers, I try to give the feeling that they work for Unmuted, or on behalf of Unmuted for our customers. This gives a warmer feeling than a cold business relationship.
How are you creating the Unmuted culture?
Culture is organic of course. But I’ve spent a great deal of time writing down the DNA of Unmuted. I've created a lot of internal documents about the way that we work, and how we want to deliver our service. We roadmap our client journey with clear expectations of what will happen in the first week, what will happen in the first month etc.
If we forget these learnings we are going to make the same mistakes again.
But I also have a massive list of client learnings. Every time I get feedback, or something didn't work out well, I write it down there. I want everyone to go over that list every month to check and see what we’ve learned from doing the actual work. This is important because it’s so new and if we forget these learnings we are going to make the same mistakes again.
How important is a diverse group of people to your work?
I think diversity, especially in marketing, is crucial. Being an outside agency, the one thing we can bring that internal teams cannot, is perspective. If you are working internally you get tunnel vision and you can't see things from an outside perspective. As an outsider, we can. Especially when you bring people from different backgrounds into the mix this helps with getting different strategies and different ideas on the table, and different ways to execute them.
What does it mean to you to be based in Amsterdam?
I think Amsterdam is a great place if you are working with tech companies or work as a tech company. Even though it's a small city of not even 1 million people — it’s tiny! But with that amount of people we've produced so many great tech companies and there are so many talented people working in tech. There are endless opportunities for me as a founder, but also for any other tech company looking to get started. I think you will find it easy to get a meeting with the founder if you have an honest topic to discuss. They will be open to having a coffee with you, guiding you and maybe even helping you out.
The network for me has always been one of my most powerful assets.
There's a lot of talented people here; it's a complete mix — engineers, marketers, everyone. And the fact that the Netherlands is such a small country, it means most companies look across borders at the start. Not only because it is a small internal market, but also because we have so many people from so many different backgrounds living and working here who will enable companies to cross borders more easily because they know foreign cultures better. So that’s a very positive thing about Amsterdam.
How do you interact with this community, and how does your network in this city help you grow as a founder?
To be honest, I lean very much on all of the people who I've been fortunate enough to work with in the past. These include freelancers I've worked with in my former jobs who I now work with in my own company, friends who have started companies who can give me advice on how to start things up, past employers who are still friends and mentors to me - I can drop by, say hi, and ask for anything. So the network for me has always been one of my most powerful assets.
Max, thanks for your time and insights!
The Amsterdam Founder Series is a Troopl initiative with the goal of shining a light on entrepreneurs in Amsterdam and how they are unlocking growth in their companies. If you are, or know of, a founder in Amsterdam who would like to be featured, please get in touch.
Each interview is combined with a portrait photography session conducted by Tristan and Benjamin, co-founders of Troopl. Portraits are made available to participants free of charge.