Founder of the month: Esther Bisschop
Written by Clare Adamson
This month we met with Esther Bisschop, one of the founders of Th3rd, she shared all about her unconventional journey from cultural anthropology student to technical program manager at Snap Inc. Read along to discover how she defined her own career and took little steps that brought her to where she is now.
The importance of role models
Esther was born and raised in Breda, where she early on, was instilled with the belief that she could achieve anything she worked for. Her earliest role model was her mother, who was one in five women enrolled in the dentistry department at university. Upon completing her degree, Esther’s mother opened her own practise which served as a great inspiration for Esther. “I never felt held back because I was a woman and I think that comes from my mom; you know. I really honour and appreciate her for that a lot, for bringing me up as a person and as an equal person.”
Although initially unsure about what she wanted to study, Esther decided on cultural anthropology. “I really loved it, and I think because my family background is very international and quite diverse. Everyone is from different parts of the world. So, it kind of clicked with me as well, just seeing myself as a world citizen.” She was fascinated by the philosophical and research elements but felt like she was missing more practical skills. Esther really wanted to learn a language, and so she took a year off during her studies to travel through Latin America and immerse herself in Spanish.
Utilising technology to bridge the gap
“During my study, I did have a little bit of Internet and we had a little bit of e-mail. A little bit of mobile phones emerging, and I was really fascinated like how is this going to open up cultures? How is this going to make our world maybe more accessible also for those who are not that able, maybe to travel?” She wanted to be a bridge between people and technology and so a friend of the family advised her to enter the world of e-learning. She eventually found TinQwise, an agency where she could utilise her creative capacity and anthropological skills to solve educational demands for small and big companies alike. She mentions that “it just felt like my playground, they gave me loads of opportunities and I felt like I could grow really well.” From a project manager she became an account manager, where she then progressed into management. When the organisation changed owners, Esther proposed joining the directors of the company and becoming a partner.
“It was very exciting, but also a like daunting and nerve wracking. You’re asking yourself how is this going to work out? How does this work? Becoming an entrepreneur all of a sudden, your whole perspective completely shifts, and that was a huge lesson for me, to go from employee to stakeholder. But again, this was really the right step for me at that time. I learned a lot from the old owners, and the new owners on how to run a business. I became director of operations. So, at that time we grew from about 40 to 60 people. We opened another location in Belgium. It was an amazing experience. But then after 12 years in total of the company, I was like, OK. Yeah, I’m super ready for a new challenge.”
Toddlers and travel
Both Esther and her husband had gotten to a certain level of success in their careers, and yet found themselves wanting to spend more time with their children. They felt the need to take time off to pause, and reorient themselves, while continuously asking how they could be better parents and navigate their bicultural family. They started saving money, took a sabbatical where they travelled through Latin America for eight months. While this sounded like a relaxing idea, Esther admits the reality of travelling with two small children was intense. The time she took off allowed her to redefine her identity outside of her career. She spent time thinking, “OK, I am not an operations director anymore. So, who am I? What kind of woman am I? What kind of mother do I want to be to my kids? Because they are bicultural, being Latin and Dutch. I asked myself, how are we going to navigate bringing them up?”
Although her time off was primarily devoted to her family, Esther could not help but continue to challenge herself professionally. Before leaving for her trip, Esther’s brother Rudo, had founded a startup: Th3rd. Prior to the trip, Rudo was living in Esther’s attic, and they had spent many evenings together discussing the future of his business. Esther recognised that her brother and his co-founder were extremely focused on the technical elements of their business but needed support with advertising, storytelling, and networking. Seeing this opportunity, Esther offered to spend a couple days of her week, while on her sabbatical, working on the digital advertising of Th3rd. She did this free of charge to build her marketing skills, to understand SEO hacks and google ads while simultaneously supporting her brother.
The heart of Th3rd is their specialised hardware and software combination. Rudo Bisschop and co-founder Tristan Bethe built a novel 3D scanner which made it possible to create 3D models of products and people. They created a website called ‘Human Alloy’ where they sold 3D stock models of people that companies could buy to use for example in architectural visualisations of spaces or for video games and virtual realities. In the brief time that she was supporting their team, the sales in their company went up. Upon returning from sabbatical, Rudo and Tristan asked Esther to officially join their startup.
Becoming a founder
After some negotiations, at the end of 2019, Esther, her brother, and Tristan made a deal. She bought shares in the company and became and equal stakeholder and partner. She was still finishing a couple of freelancing jobs. However, together they doubled down on the idea of 3D Saas (or 3D Scanning as a Service), to serve fashion brands recreate all their products online with the 3D scanning technology. This created good traction for Th3rd and they were enlisted at an entrepreneurship accelerator hosted by Adidas. They were in conversation with big brands like Snapchat and Nike.
Esther was about to finish an assignment at a company before fully dedicating her time to Th3rd when in March 2020, Covid surged, impacting everyone and the economy so drastically. All the interest and attention they had gotten from big companies was suddenly withdrawn, as companies implemented more conservative approaches to spending during the pandemic. Th3rd was offering innovative and exciting technology that companies were too afraid to invest into amidst the global uncertainty.
Luckily, Esther was still on contract for her freelancing job. She was able to extend the contract with that company and make ends meet, and put groceries on the table for her family, her brother and Tristan. When the restrictions were slowly being lifted in the summer, the pandemic had changed the business landscape. “The whole world was different. We did see that it really pushed the idea of a digital transformation which was good for our business.” Esther, Rudo and Tristan were a small team with incredible technology and a valuable product, however big brands were still hesitant to take a chance on them.
That was, until they reinitiated conversations with Snapchat. Snapchat saw the potential Th3rd had in changing the future of online shopping. They wanted to utilise Th3rd’s 3D technology to advance their e-commerce departments. So, when Th3rd inquired whether Snapchat would be interested in investing in their company, Snapchat responded about acquiring Th3rd instead. Rudo, Tristan and Esther were delighted with this opportunity. Belonging to a larger brand name meant that they could fully focus on the development of their technology and would be able to scale it much larger. After a short walk with the three of them they made the decision to start the M&A process and were officially acquired in 2022.
Lessons from Esther
Esther’s main source of motivation is actualisation. “I’m very much somebody who loves to manifest things. Like, OK we have this amazing idea how are we going to do that?” She is looking forward to dedicating her time to Snapchat, after which she is interested in seeing how she can use her skills and talents to assist in some of the biggest challenges the world is facing – like climate change. To other women, Esther wants to highlight the importance of being critical of the societal messages that we’re sending women. She reminds us that “As a mother, we should be very conscious of how we raise our daughters and sons (!) and what messages they’re receiving at schools. Let’s all take responsibility and be super conscious of what kind of opportunities we give especially our daughters or women.”
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