Spotlight on MaxClass: participant in PICNIC '10 Pitch Night and Marketplace
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PICNIC has a passion for great ideas and inspiring individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit. In 2010, we introduced the PICNIC Business Program with expanded offerings for start-ups, SMBs and entrepreneurs. One of the participants was Michiel Klonhammer, with his new initiative called MaxClass. Michiel’s been hard at work since last year’s event, and his social networking platform specifically for schools/classrooms is now live! Keep reading to find out more about Michiel and MaxClass…
Get to know MaxClass: Social media for school and home
We’re always curious to find out more about people and companies who participate in PICNIC, especially ones that seem on the brink of having a real impact in their market. Happily, Michiel Klonhammer was more than willing to give us a peek behind the scenes of MaxClass and the process he went through transforming a great idea into a functioning business.
Congratulations on the launch of MaxClass! Can you tell us a little more about your company, who MaxClass is meant for, and the benefits of such a platform?
MaxClass is a communication platform for pupils, parents and teachers. We call it social media for school and home but it's different from current social media in that it's specifically designed for education and it's private. We first presented the concept during Picnic ‘10 and after a private beta we went live at the end of January 2011. After about 6 weeks we have 250 classes in the Netherlands and - really exciting - since we opened up to non-Dutch schools yesterday we have schools in India, Alaska, Florida, Columbia and Australia. They are all just starting up so it's too early to know how it's going but we're really excited!
When did you first get the idea for MaxClass? Many great business ideas get stuck at the idea phase. What gave you the courage to actually pursue turning this idea into a business/service?
I know it sounds crazy, but I simply woke up with the whole idea as a blueprint. I'm happy I told my girlfriend about it in detail that morning otherwise I might not have believed this myself. Somehow I am just completely convinced this needs to be done. Once I started telling people about it, they kept saying that "it must already exist". But I knew that wasn't the case so I realized I was on to something important.
How much time was there between the idea stage and the launch stage? Can you walk us through some of your key milestones along the way?
I started talking about it in 2009 with lots of people (especially parents, teachers and educational publishers) and it took nearly a year of research, sketching and planning before I stopped my job and invested all my money into it.
I realized I needed a brilliant team to pull this off and I was lucky to find Marc Worrell (ex Mediamatic), Joost Faber (ex Lostboys) and Atilla Erdodi (ex Erlang Solutions) willing to join me.
That's really the biggest step - the people. In November we had a big party to launch a private beta and then we were ready to go live at the end of January. So I guess from the morning I woke up, to the day we went live took about 20 months.
Do you consider yourself an “entrepreneur at heart”? Have you started other businesses in the past, or is this your first venture? What do you find most appealing about running your own business?
Yes, I think this is my perfect fit. I love art, science and even large corporations but I'm probably at my best in a startup situation. It's incredible what you can achieve with a small team of smart people. The combination of low overhead and enough energy to work obsessively is pretty productive! But at the same time, I like managing a bigger company as I did before (with ICATT interactive media) so I'm looking forward to growing. It's fun to work like crazy for a while, but at the same time I want people that work with me to be able to have a life.
You participated in PICNIC ’10 at Pitch Night and the Chamber of Commerce Marketplace. How did you find out about these activities and what made you decide to attend?
PICNIC is the coolest event in the Netherlands by far. I love the crazy mix of stuff that goes on.
I've been a visitor several times even though it's pretty expensive for smaller companies. So I had already decided to try and do our first presentation there somehow. I heard about the specific event through Syntens and the PICNIC mailing lists, so it didn't take long to jump at that chance.
What did you find most valuable about your experience at PICNIC? Did you gain any good connections or learn something new? If so, please elaborate!
The nice thing about PICNIC is that a lot of people have an open mind and are just curious. So when you're still in the phase of getting your story straight, it's a great place. It's different from a regular conference because you can discuss instead of only presenting.
We actually met some of the people that joined the private beta later and we interviewed a lot of visitors to see what they thought. We had three interns that we dressed up as a Russian Camera crew (one of the interns was Russian) - which actually got them past security!
I met an investor on the dance floor (this is really true!) who I'm still in contact with.
What are your goals for MaxClass in the coming year?
Well we're trying to grow into a platform that is used by a few hundred thousand people. So we have to focus on getting it perfect, letting people know what we're doing and - not unimportantly - attracting more investors.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are considering diving in to a new business venture? For example, what are some positive (or even negative) lessons you learned as you were building MaxClass?
If you are based in the Netherlands, you need to decide you do not care too much if you fail.
The Dutch are pretty careful people and that gets in the way sometimes. At the same time, you need to know what you're doing. I chose to work on the idea for a couple of months before writing a business plan. I really don't believe that you can write a plan at the very start like starting entrepreneurs are often told. Just get to work!
Something that has been absolutely amazing is that it's possible to set up a business based on cloud applications - so for the first time ever you can avoid buying expensive licenses for such things as accounting, CRM, domain management, file servers etc and just pay for the use of it all. It's not free but so much less work and overhead. It's interesting to experience this as MaxClass is a cloud application as well.
Having said that, I personally need to work with people in one office so I can work side by side with them. I think it's wise to keep in extremely close contact with the people you work with. Of course you can do it online but I need and enjoy the contact in the office.
Finally, how can people find out more about MaxClass?
tel: +31 (0)20 8202383
Thanks once again to Michiel for sharing his story! If you are curious to find out more – especially if you work in the education sector – please don’t hesitate to get in touch with him.
If you are a (former) PICNIC participant with exciting news about your venture or a story about how PICNIC impacted your business, drop us a line at info(at)picnicnetwork.org