Founder of the month: Anieke Lamers
Written by Clare Adamson
This month at Equals we’re putting Anieke Lamers from Peekabond in the spotlight to celebrate and share her founder journey.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Anieke initially studied finance in Amsterdam, Australia, Argentina, Kenya, the US and London. She had a career in venture capital, and for 8 years she worked for different funds, investors and even a bank. Through this experience she encountered many different start-ups at different stages of their process and was unknowingly gathering experience which would inform her founder journey. As an investor, Anieke was always dedicated to helping underrepresented founders, it would bother her to see how few women would apply for funding. Additionally, she noticed that women would often ask for smaller amounts of money and would present their ideas with more hesitancy. Whereas she noticed men were more likely to bluff their way through a pitch.
Her international experience meant that Anieke had many expat friends and family all over the world. Global connections can be hard to maintain, but Anieke is particularly passionate about fostering long distance relationships and cross-cultural bonds. Her sister who lives in Australia has two young daughters who she is “completely in love with”. However, she found it difficult to build meaningful connections with them as an aunt because of the time zone difference and the short attention span of children. She searched the market for a solution, but finding none that worked for her she was driven to build something to tackle this problem.
Anieke conducted research which validated the importance of strong familial bonds in young children for developing resilience later in life. Once she recognised this market opportunity, she was able to piece together her experience, passion and skills. All these factors gave her the determination to create a solution, first for her nieces, but also to share with other families separated by distance. She identified many use cases: military families, families where one person is working abroad, families where one member is in the hospital or incarcerated. Additionally, the pandemic forced people to connect online, which meant that there was a demand for new ways of interacting over the internet. Anieke knew she wanted a business partner, and after “co-founder dating” for a while she found her perfect match: Vincent van den Noort. Anieke quit her job and together they started their app: Peekabond, in July of 2021.
Through Peekabond you can do two things. First, it offers inspiration for games that you can play with young children to stimulate their development when you’re apart. Second, you can send videos or pictures through the app at a convenient time for you, and then see the reaction of the recipient when they open the message. Her nieces were the inspiration and her first test subjects, because at the heart of it she really wanted to make something that she could use to connect with them. She wanted to solve a problem for her family, but also saw so many families separated by distance that needed something to help them stay in contact. Peekabond has now been downloaded in over 70 countries.
From investor to entrepreneur
Now as an entrepreneur, Anieke was on the other side of the table. Despite her experience in venture capital giving her an advantage, she still faced many challenges when pitching to investors for funding. She recalls one instance where an investor said to her “oh hey, you’re doing this thing for young children. Don’t you want your own children?” A very loaded question regardless of how you answer it. On one hand she wants to reply “No, Peekabond is my child and I’m totally devoted to it.” On the other hand, she wanted to say to him “that’s none of your business.” From the perspective of an investor, she understood where this question comes from. As a woman, if you were the single founder of your company and you take maternity leave then it has implications for the business. Investors want to ensure that they are going to receive a return from their contribution, and so are hesitant about taking chances on women.
As an impact investor Anieke wanted to be authentic with her process, yet she found that the Start-up scene had a lot of people pretending to be super successful. All the vanity metrics from companies like Forbes talking about “The top 50 most inspiring founders in…” hide the fact that “there’s so much poverty within entrepreneurship! So many struggles and so much pain. And everyone is just saying wow look at me! I’m amazing”. She grappled with understanding to what extent should you expose your vulnerabilities, when the success of your company relies on looking externally successful in order to attract funding. From an investors perspective, she valued knowing about the struggles of her portfolio companies so that she could better help them rather than just throwing money at a company. Regardless of this, it’s still an uphill battle practising honesty in the start-up industry that is so dependent on the visuals.
The importance of diversity
In order to overcome these challenges, there’s a huge need for allies and enthusiastic supporters willing to push an agenda of equality. Anieke joined a group called Tech advocates, which aids underrepresented founders in the Netherlands. The first cohort was 6 people including women of colour and one man of colour. Through this experience Anieke recognised her biases as a white female founder and saw first-hand the benefits of having a gender and racially diverse group. Anieke also recently received investment from a group called Joanna invests, who aim to help more women become angel investors for female entrepreneurs. In this group Anieke was also introduced to male investors who value female entrepreneurship and want to help them get ahead. “It’s important not to exclude those investors who are committed to the cause” because united you can achieve more.
Lessons from Anieke
Anieke wants to tell other founders to “tune into why you want to do this and stick to that.” She didn’t know how she would connect families across the world. But her determination to achieve this is what keeps her so motivated.
Another lesson Anieke want to share is that you should avoid listening to everyone’s advice. You will reach a lot of people who are enthusiastic about your mission, and they are all going to give their opinions. “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” Since everyone can relate to being separated by distance, whenever Anieke talks about Peekabond, someone always had something to say, which she admits can be quite overwhelming. She advises other female founders to select a maximum of 5 trustworthy advisors, and to most of all trust yourself and your own authority on the matter.
Finally, one goal that Anieke wants to achieve this year is being more vocal about her lessons. Although it’s difficult because of the repercussions that you could face as an entrepreneur, being vulnerable allows for more people to relate to you and reminds people that everyone makes mistakes. She wants to tell entrepreneurs to learn to look at each mistake with a growth mindset, and to see them as opportunities to propel you even further forward.
Want to read more inspiring founder stories? Check our other founders out here!