Pieter Vaniperen from PWVConsultants – CEO Interview
When did you know you wanted to start your own company?
I started my first company when I was young. I think a part of me was always entrepreneurial. I realized early on that the way I think doesn’t fit well in boxes.
What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?
Early in my career, before I was a Senior Executive at Fortune 500 companies like 21st Century Fox, I had to learn how to make the projects I ran successful. This gave me a unique purview into both sides of the consultancy relationship, and I knew I could find a better way to bring value to both parties. I had a list a mile long of things I didn’t want to do, what didn’t work vs. what did, the causes of organizational failings. I understood what I brought to the table as an architect, manager and consultant. Later, as an executive, I would constantly see projects go awry. Time and time again initiatives would deliver nothing or less than nothing. Sometimes I would see what appeared to be a success on the surface, but ended up being non-functional under the hood. I began to ask myself, how can we make these relationships successful and provide value at each step of the engagement? How can we ensure that both parties find consistent and actionable value at each step of the way? How can I create the un-agency? Out of this, PWV Consultants was born, and with it came Radical Production Transparency. A process based in the tenets of transparency and mutual accountability.
How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?
The leap happened very quickly. People were ready on day one for something different, and our philosophy really refreshes those who are jaded (even ourselves). So it was sort of a running leap.
Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?
I think a few folks inspired me, it’s hard to just pinpoint one. I think the biggest influence was probably my education at NYU. I started coding at a very young age and had already worked professionally before college, so I opted to pursue other interests there, majoring in theatre/film and organizational psychology. I think, as I pursued those, I was taught an invaluable skill from the theatre/film side, which I think has been key to my pursuits: One – Learn to vomit creatively. That is to say, you won’t always have immediate inspiration, so you need to develop a process to work the idea and problems. Then keep ideating until you find it. Two – If you don’t need it, get the f**k rid of it. We often hold on to ideas or processes and refuse to edit. Editing is what allows focus for both you and your customer or client. Three – Make something great from nothing. We were given a task where there are teams of five, everyone is on at least two teams. Each team is given a space and a budget of $50 to mount a show – in New York. This task seems nearly impossible. It isn’t, and it teaches you hustle in a very effective way. Last – You can only change things you are willing to be part of. If you aren’t willing to invest in, and live and breathe, something you won’t have the right perspective to change it. This sort of intentional microcosm of learning through struggle and support of many talented professors who are also active working professionals ended up accelerating my entrepreneurial and programming facets. And, frankly, there are days where I still creatively vomit.
Who is your favorite mentor and why?
My favorite mentor is one of my early leaders while I was rising in my work at TDA. Frankly, that company has some good folks. One of my favorite leaders there instilled in me a principle of communication I carry to this day. PWV Consultants solves highly technical, messy problems for companies. Effectively communicating extremely technical information to non-technical leaders is challenging. This mentor taught me a key exercise. Explain to the pizza shop owner down the street why he should do this and what it does for him. He made me understand that finding metaphors and ways of explaining highly technical concepts in a way a layman can understand, without condescension, is a skill possibly as important as being incredibly gifted technically, and definitely in some cases more important.
What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?
Getting internal folks to really buy in and understand the process and culture. People often go back to habits they have formed over the years, and it’s a lot to ask people to come in and engage in doing things in possibly a very different way. There are definitely really talented folks who couldn’t adapt, so we had to figure out how to target not just talent, but how someone thinks, problem solves and adapts.
What has been the hardest lesson to learn?
The philosophy we have will not work for everyone and that is okay. It works extremely well for many, but there are certain corporate traits, a certain place in maturity and readiness that has to be there for it to succeed with clients and even our internal folks. That was hard because your instinct is that you want to help everyone. Understanding when to walk away or when to move on, internally and externally, is an important lesson.
What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?
Just some of the sheer extraordinary things we have done. We take on projects that often are someone’s growing dumpster fire, or something that they aren’t quite sure is possible. When we see that change and that spark from the change, and then trust builds, it’s exhilarating.
What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?
I think Covid is probably the weirdest thing. There were lots of phone calls and difficult moments where I had to keep calm and trust that the challenges of adapting to a new way of work will pass, and as long as we PWV adapt and move forward with our clients, we can thrive in any environment.
What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?
Easily some of the key folks I have brought in that have helped turn my vision into reality. Businesses succeed and fail on people and philosophies more than on anything else.
What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?
Trying to make everyone happy at the same time. The truth is, everything doesn’t go according to plan and everyone isn’t always going to be 100% happy. But long term success is more important than being 100% happy all the time. Success takes discomfort, and discipline to ride out the discomfort.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?
It had an effect early on when everyone sort of panicked along with the market. But through the years, since I work in a field that brings rapid change, I have seen people react to change before. Generally, people take about 3 weeks to regulate to change. Week one is denial – this is temporary things, will go back. Week two is panic – this can’t be happening, I can’t adapt to this. Week 3 is this isn’t going back – this is what normal is now, what does that mean for me. Week 4 is okay, let’s carry on. I think we saw exactly that from many of our clients, luckily. There are many businesses that can’t work remotely, or can’t deliver work via the internet. So we count ourselves as relatively lucky.
What keeps you passionate about your company?
The interesting problems that I get to work on. I am lucky to have client flow where, often, as soon as we have figured out one set of problems, another one presents itself. Which means we are always finding new challenges and expanding our knowledge and expertise.
What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?
There are a few things. I give myself focused time with my kids to just play and engage. I give myself mental space everyday to decompress and do something passive. I also try to do something creative outside of work once a week.
What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?
If you don’t need it, get the f**k rid of it. This is a rule to live by. But most importantly for entrepreneurs, the number one thing I see is lack of focus. What is the real core value proposition of what you are trying to do? Streamline away all the extras. Start there, do that well, then add on to it. People often feel like they need to do too many things to compete. They forget that most modern conglomerates started with one very specific value proposition. They may have pivoted several times to find that one thing, but it was one not seventeen. I have seen VCs and Angels ask companies in their infancy how they will diversify revenue. Stop, get a stream of revenue, then worry about that. If you don’t need it, get the f**k rid of it. Trust me it’s freeing.
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