After attending many trade shows throughout his career, Maarten Van Den Bos decided to proactively help other businesses market themselves better at these events.
What’s your story?
I worked in the oil and gas industry for over 25 years in various positions and locations such as Syria, Oman, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria. After a dispute, I left my original company at the end of 2013 (after 23 years) and started working for a small company set up by ex-colleagues of mine. Long story short, we didn’t survive the downturn and I was forced to resign at the end of 2016. I started visiting trade shows to connect with local companies and that’s when it hit me. At an event with 448 companies I was engaged by one person. Everyone was hiding in their booth. Having visited many trade shows and being in the booth multiple times I knew there was something wrong. That’s when I developed my 5-step system to optimize performance at trade shows.
What excites you most about your industry?
The dynamics of the events and the continually changing atmosphere. I’m a person who loves change, so I thrive in that environment. I get bored easily, doing the same thing but that doesn’t happen in this business. Every client is different, every company is different, every product is different and every event is different.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My wife’s father lives in Thailand and I’ve always loved Asia. Before the oil and gas work I was in the merchant navy, sailing around the world and I fell in love with Asia then.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! The ease of setting up a business here and the support the local companies get from their government is amazing to see, and I love it.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Over my career, I have received a lot of good advice. The one I always remember is “always stay true to yourself and your clients. Your reputation is all you have and once you lose that, what else is left?”
When I started doing sales, operations and marketing, my manager told me I was the worst sales person he had ever worked with. I was too honest to the clients. I saw that as a compliment. After growing the business from 600k to 3.2 million in just 2 years I think he would have agreed, but he was no longer with the company.
Who inspires you?
My wife. I know this sounds corny but she has always stood by me, whatever I did and where ever we went. When we moved house this March, it was our 13th move in 15 years, so that puts it into perspective.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I came across two things recently that really blew me away. The first one was a video from Gary Vaynerchuk where he talks about legacy. He talks about the long-term view over the short term quick sales. I loved it because it is exactly how I think and work. The second one was an article on LinkedIn by Bob Musial called ‘A long-forgotten sales technique that delivered results.’ I guess being older I still remember the days of fantastic customer care and sales without
selling. This article made me realize why I do what I do, because it makes sense.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Everyone has ups and downs in their lives including me. But it’s important to recognise this has made me who I am today.
So far, I’ve liked the life I’ve lead. Are there things I didn’t like? Sure. Did I do things I’m not proud of? Sure. But it all makes me who I am today. The only regret I have is that I never got a degree. It seems so important now for companies. On the other hand, who would I do it for? Myself or the companies? I still want to do it someday, for myself. Just to prove to myself I can do it.
How do you unwind?
Couch potato I’m afraid. I can seemingly stare at the TV but my mind is always thinking about what else I can do. I also like to play video games. Predominantly platform games with my son. I can still keep up with him most of the time. Besides that, I’m a big F1 fan and I love playing golf even though I’m really bad at it. I also love playing golf with my wife.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. Because my wife’s father lives there in a small village with nothing around but farmland.
Everyone in business should read this book:
The lean startup by Eric Ries. Test the market all the time and supply what they want, not what you think they need. Don’t be afraid to change.
Shameless plug for your business:
Do you want to grow your business and do market research all at once? Trade shows and exhibitions are the ultimate tool for you. I help companies perform more effectively and efficiently at live marketing events like trade shows, road shows, conventions and exhibitions. I will show you how to make money from these events everytime.
How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.