Chatting with Bert Grobben, Founder of Budding Innovations, is like talking to an old friend. This spirited guy always has plenty to share.
One moment you’re discussing the upcoming plans for the tech organisation, and the next you’re laughing about potentially putting up his sweaty, post-triathlon photo up on Facebook. Find out all about his busy entrepreneur lifestyle.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and Budding Innovations?
For as long as I can remember, I have been a science geek experimenting and trying new things. Being it making fireworks in my parents’ basement, being the lab assistant for High School Teachers, running my own summertime organic synthesis projects in the university labs, to driving my PhD supervisor mad with all the project developments I could imagine, I have always been attracted to exploring and trying to do things others shied away from or simply didn’t think was possible.
Throughout my following 15 years of Corporate career with P&G and Avery Dennison, I applied the same open mindset in exploring new ideas and developing commercial proposition that addresses new customer or market needs while being technically innovative. Being passionate and very impatient about what I do is a cocktail that eventually becomes incompatible with Corporate life, and after Avery Dennison, I took a leap of faith and turned my technology and business development skill set into the initial business model for Budding Innovations (BI) a year ago. Andre Stolz, a valued colleague turned trusted friend, was the first to see the light (maybe just a shimmer at the time), in BI and took the brave step to come onboard to building BI. The year that followed has been an amazing journey where we have organically grown our organization, and pipeline.
What is your day-to-day usually like?
No two days are ever the same, and that’s just how I like it. Monotony is wasted on me. And because I will always push the bar up, myself and my team are constantly growing and learning. My day starts, always – no exceptions – with a triple shot expresso. “Coffee first, talk later”. Once awake, I run through my social media, follow-up on personal messages, sweep my inbox and have a look at my agenda for the day. Once that is done, I head to the gym or the pool for a first workout. Fully awake and energised, I head to the Hive by 8:30, or leave to meetings across Singapore. Honestly, I don’t care what “office hours” look like. Everybody should have the freedom to decide when and where work gets done. I hold people, and myself, accountable to get the job done and won’t hold them to a particular schedule. People work best when their personal needs are met, and when there is room to flexibly address personal needs.
Although Entrepreneurial life is extremely busy where people don’t see the late nights, the work weekends, skipped holidays and all sorts, I am a firm believer that you do have to keep investing in yourself. For me, this means I will make time for sport. I am more productive at work, a better friend, a better father and a better son when I am active. I have been on the dark side and learnt from my mistakes. For the rest of the day, I split my time across spending as much time as I can with my team, my collaborators, and clients across all active programs. Even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to hide to write reports or proposals. That happens either when I stay at home early mornings to get it done at the crack of dawn, or during one of those late nights. Somehow my most creative moments are when it’s dark outside, and ‘normal’ people go to bed (or party).
During my evenings I keep a balance between either personal and professional meet-ups, and again sport. I try to keep an active social network, and although it is much less than during my corporate days, I keep a balance.
What’s your favourite thing to do on the weekends?
My weekends lately are very different than what they were a year ago. The saying goes that the 2 kinds of people that are the worst people to date are Entrepreneurs and Athletes, as they are always working or training. Well, I do both. I made a commitment to do Ironman (this started as a bet during a Beer Festival with a somewhat clouded judgement, but I didn’t give up nonetheless). Weekends are the only time I can get my long sessions in, so typically I will do my long bike and run sessions on Saturday and Sunday (this will explain the occasional penguin walk on Monday morning). I’m blessed to be part of the wonderful Triathlon group “Tricators” as these folks push, motivate and help each other unconditionally. Our motto ain’t “Swim – Bike – Run – Chill” for no reason.
Also, at least 1 or 2 weekends per month I spend with the sweetest and prettiest 7 years old in the world. She’s my biggest source of energy as she has the brightest personality, and drive to get things done. She will hold me accountable to deliver on what I promised and will not fail to ask for progress in sport and work, as much as she shows me how she has progressed. It’s looking into a mirror when I’m wit her.
What is the best and worst experiences you’ve encountered in your job?
The sensation of progress is what gives me a buzz. This progress can be anything, a team achievement, a personal improvement, meeting an impossible deadline, pulling something off that once seemed like a far-fetched dream. Budding Innovations is celebrating its first birthday on September 17th. Looking back at what we have achieved, how fast we have grown, how we landed those deals with the “big boys”, what an awesome team we have, how everybody is firing on all cylinders and gelling together as a tight team,…. that is by far the best moment in my job so far.
I look back at what are ‘bad’ moments as turning points that actually made today possible. People who once told me I had a naive idea motivated me to succeed more and for, experiments that miserably failed just showed another way of trying new things again. Experiences are “worst’ not necessarily because of what happened, but often because of how you responded to it.
If you weren’t in this line, how different do you think life would be?
I’m spoiled for life as I could never go back to my ‘old’ life again. I’m living a dream and doing what I love to do. I have been blessed and lucky to have chances, experiences and interact with people that got me here. Life has been constantly changing over the years, and always in a direction that made it better. Yes, there have been dark times and painful moments, but they all happened for a reason, and in one way or another helped to get me to where I am now. It’s hard to imagine what life would be if it wasn’t for what I do now. Maybe I would be a conservative Belgian living in my hometown, maybe I’d still be a happily married family man, maybe I’d travel more, maybe this, maybe that. It would for sure be very different. But it doesn’t matter – I love today, and I’ll love tomorrow more.
Any last words?
#Besomebody – whatever it is you do, whatever you preference is, no matter your goal, no matter your capability or talent; #Besomebody. I’m an ambassador for the global movement started by my bro Kash Shaikh. We live life by being all in, giving it our all, never holding back. Enjoying the mountainous path to glory as this is the most rewarding way to go. Reaching the top is more glorious because of all the barriers we busted, limits we raised, and goals we have rechartered. We make the impossible possible. And the only way to get there is to be all in, trust your instinct, and follow your passion.