Where do Erasmus University students end up? In this section, EUR alumni talk about their career and life after graduation: what did they learn along the way? And in the process, we glean some useful tips on what you should or shouldn’t do when building a career for yourself.
Leon Joanknecht (39)
Studie: Business Administration (1997-2003)
Current job: Founder of Filmfabriek, established in Breda. Together with his team of three, Joanknecht builds and sells scanners that can be used to digitise analogue films and automatically restore the footage images. “Building on the success of Filmfabriek feels like an adventure story.”
Career: Starting as a strategic consultant at Policy Research Corporation, Leon went on to work as a manager at asset manager Robeco. As chairman of Robeco’s art committee, he selected new additions to the firm’s collection, which are permanently exhibited in its new building opposite Central Station.
“I had a box full of old home movies of my three older sisters, my twin brother and me. I wanted to digitise these, but I wasn’t too thrilled by the poor quality of the existing equipment. To extract the best possible quality from these films, I went in search of a better alternative.
I eventually found an inventor online who had developed a very good device, but he lacked the commercial skills to market it. I ended up buying the rights to the film scanner from him. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after, which meant that we also became responsible for its further development. The product has been well-received all over the world, and fortunately, this enthusiasm is only growing.
Since starting seven years ago, I have sold over 50 scanners. The scanner itself costs some 25,000 euro. Incidentally, I still haven’t got round to digitising my own films.”
“My ideal with this device is to digitise as many analogue films as possible and create a new online archive of historical footage. Wouldn’t it be great if a random search term – say ‘Rotterdam 1950’ – yields a whole score of film clips? I can look at old footage like this for hours – even when I don’t know who’s in it. These images are incredibly valuable and they shouldn’t be lost to posterity. I am also looking for a new investor in the film scanner: someone who recognises its value for our historical heritage and isn’t exclusively interested in ROI.”
“As an entrepreneur, I love the fact that every day is different; including problems and setbacks. One day, I’m getting to the bottom of a technical issue and I’m on the phone with the tax people; the next day, I’m eating lunch with a client on a terrace somewhere in Italy. While I have a lot of determination and conviction, I occasionally feel insecure too. For example, I will only find out whether our efforts to improve the sound quality have paid off after putting in the work. But there’s nothing wrong with feeling insecure – it keeps you on your toes. You can move forward by asking people’s help. That’s why I never hesitate to call on my vast network of contacts.”
A roof-top bar in every city
“During the first years of Filmfabriek, I still worked at Robeco four days a week. Together with Roel, my business partner back then, I would fly to clients in Tokyo and Las Vegas to explain how the device works. Due to all the investments, we hardly made any money off Filmfabriek in those early days. Our reward was going out after we had concluded our business. We had a tradition: wherever we were, we made a habit of visiting the local roof-top bars.
I still travel to clients after we’ve sold one of the scanners, for detailed explanations. I also hop on the plane if something is malfunctioning. My most recent trip was to Italy, to a town near Venice. [smiling] Nowadays, I keep going out for my own time, by the way.”
‘Ik heb niet altijd gelijk’
“I have been consciously working on my identity since my student days in Rotterdam. As an identical twin, this wasn’t a big deal to me until I was 18 or so. I work on it by meeting new people via friends, networks and clubs. I’m not always right, and I get a better insight into who I am by hearing other people’s opinions.
And this includes trying new things. In 2000, for example, I helped organise Eurekaweek. I was handling PR – something I had never done before. Getting out there and raising funds rather suited me, so this experience yielded a very useful insight.
Besides doing new things and meeting new people, I have always attended a lot of trainings that helped me ‘grow’, both at the Junior Chamber International (JCI) networking club and at Robeco. And without my enterprise coach, Filmfabriek would have never become the success it is today.”