If it’s in there, it’ll find a way out
He considered going to art school but ended up choosing Business Administration. By the time graduation came around he already had his own business.
TEXT: Karin Koolen
PHOTO: © Jennifer Remme
The glass office of Brendan Jansen op de Haar (33) looks like something of a student lab. But don’t be fooled: ‘Kleinhandel’ is a growing business and has become something of a household name in and around the city. The co-working space takes up about ten percent of the Groothandelsgebouw, and the ex-Business-Administration student provides working spaces for about 125 companies. The young entrepreneur can be found here twice a week. The other days he spends in Amsterdam at his other company, Try Catch.
Why didn’t you graduate?
‘I did write a BA thesis, but I was missing two grades. One for corporate finance and one for management accounting – everyone trips up over those. I tried once to finish it, when I was just starting with my first business. But then I ran out of time…’
Why did you choose Business Administration in the first place?
‘After finishing high school in Zoetermeer I actually wanted to go to art school in the Hague. It seemed so cool, but I had doubts. My grandmother told me that her own father faced the same dilemma once upon a time, and his father insisted that he go to college. He became a very successful entrepreneur, but also made some beautiful paintings in the years after. His parents at the time told him: just go and study – if the artistic is in there, it’ll find a way out.’
So you chose Business Administration?
‘Yes. I always had loads of ideas. From a carwash service to a Berlin disco – that last one is because a lot of old metro stations became ghost stations after the wall fell. I saw potential in that. I was 14 at the time, had never been to a club but I already had the drawings ready.’ He laughs. ‘Business Administration made sense and Erasmus had a good reputation. I chose for the IBA track – the international angle appealed to me.’
What kind of a student were you?
‘A lazy one, I’m afraid. I didn’t necessarily enjoy studying. I was also not used to having to do a lot. High school wasn’t a problem, but at the university you really had to buckle down. I liked the Eureka week, a good introduction with the city and the university, but I never joined a fraternity. At the time I think I saw too much uniformity in them… I have a different view of it all now.’
But you did join the ESE student association – and you spent a year on their board.
‘That was fun! Student associations tend to be more content-driven. I learned a lot during that year. I was in charge of what we called the entrepreneurship cycle. It gave me a lot to do. Raise money, get good speakers on board. When that year was over I was at a bit of a loss. I hadn’t done much in terms of studying at that point, but I did get a feel of what it would be like to have my own business.’
What did you learn during that time?
‘My time at university was very formative. I used to have a bit of an edge – I got angry quickly, would lash out. I was very impatient, and I still am in a sense of the word. But I used to think of certain things as pure incompetence. By now I’ve learned that there’s more than one path to reach a goal. Consensus in a group is an important way to get ahead in the long term.’
Do you regret not graduating?
‘No. Even though I did try, especially because my parents had saved up for me to be able to go. Friends around me did graduate. So it wasn’t fun for a while, but now we’ve gotten to a time where they can also acknowledge my achievements. You develop very quickly once you enter the workforce.’
Do you ever feel the need to prove yourself?
‘That’s not what I’m about. I want to make my companies better. That’s what I’m focussed on.’
And, last but not least – are you painting?
He laughs. ‘I have paint, an easel, and some canvasses at home. All blank. But that’s okay, the need to create goes into my companies. Just like with my great-grandfather: if it’s in there, it’ll find a way out.’
Who: Brendan Jansen op de Haar
Study: Business Administration at Erasmus University.
Carreer: Founder of ‘Kleinhandel’, the biggest co-working space in Rotterdam, situated in the Groothandelsgebouw. He also founded Try Catch in 2015, a company that matches tech-talent with businesses.
‘I didn’t graduate, and yet I’m always asked to do these things!’