Do Check Rights, Do Business Right

Road to the USA

In the closing weeks of 2015, Peter (my father) and I participated at a Dutch Chamber of Commerce seminar in Amsterdam titled “The Road 2 the USA”, where various Dutch companies shared their business experiences in the United States. Last to speak, Mr. Laanen spoke with enthusiasm of his time running Ex’pression Center for New Media in Emeryville, California. Recounting pitching Pixar Studios to hire the digital media students graduating from the school, his message was that persistence and confidence helps make the sale in the States. This has translated well, while acting as the International Trade Director for the Netherlands Business Support Office in Silicon Valley, helping connect and support hundreds of Dutch companies over the years. Now if you know Peter, you’ll know he is always ready to add or change the presentations he gives on the fly and this day was like any other. Supplemented was a reaction to comments of previous presenters, who shared insights the use of check as a form of payment in the States: it was a hassle that served as a transaction cost for the Dutch businessman. Though a misunderstanding at best, this represented a clear case of lack of preparation on their part. Sure it does cost money to turn in a check in the Netherlands, a banking system that doesn’t use checks as a form of payment. Nonetheless a logical step to mitigate the issue when doing business in the U.S. (or anywhere for that matter) is simple: open a bank account in the United States! This was a business with plans to refurbish a factory for manufacturing, and access to American banking services wasn’t on the top of their list! This is problematic people.

Check the Do’s and Don’ts

Since we are on the issue of banking, we want to reiterate some of the Do’s and Don’ts for doing business in the U.S.A. If you are serious about doing business on the long term, you must open a banking account. You’ll be paid in checks with none other than United States dollars. If you need payments to go back in Euros to the Netherlands or elsewhere, certain bank accounts can process these transfers at incredibly low costs. It’s even possible to use new financial services like TransferWise to beat the otherwise high costs of currency conversions. As opposed to the EU, when writing checks (or balance sheets, invoices, slidedecks, etc.) the comma (,) and the period (.) are used in reverse. So while this check might make the European think he will be paid $1 million USD, it will yield only $1.

Here is your check for all of One Dollar!!

Here is your check for all of One Dollar!!

The proper way to write the check for a $1 Million looks like this:

Now you can have your million bucks! [I mean dollars!]

Now you can have your million bucks! [I mean dollars!]

Don’t be the one to have business finances in a mess when it is time to go to the accountant. Which leaves me with one more tip: when writing anything to do with money or finances in the United States, make sure to use dollars ($$$$) instead of Euros (€€€€). This goes for all measurements (Miles/Kilometres; Pounds/Kilograms, etc.), especially in presentations!

Let’s check back in on the Netherlands!

After almost 20 years outside of the Netherlands, the Laanen family (and the Brand) is returning to our home country. But don’t you worry! We will continue to advise, guide, and prepare companies to make the move the U.S. and Silicon Valley. Instead of helping you when you arrive, we will make sure you are as prepared as ever before flying away from Schiphol Airport, and connect you with the right people when you arrive. The Laanens, it’s not just a name, it’s a Brand!

Written by Bo-Peter Laanen, the younger half of the company and wrote his first blog post on this site a year ago.
Contact us to further discuss how we can help ready you for the U.S. market: 

Growing Pains: A water-containment solution for the California drought

California Drought, plummeting water levels

California drought is easy to see in Folsom lake between 2011 and 2014

Folsom Lake in 2011 and 2014, Source: Mark Martinez

By now all Californians, and hopefully many Americans, have seen the horrendous loss of water experienced in the fourth year of the California drought. The above picture exemplify such loss, though if you’d like a better reminder, Buzzfeed has put the California drought into perspective here and here.

A lawn in Santa Cruz, Source: RYOT

Californians across the state are taking water saving measures: shorter showers, letting the lawn grow yellow, and criticizing Central Valley Almond growers and cattle ranchers. For years, motorists traveling up and down Highway 5 have seen politically motivated signage from farmers protesting water cut backs to the Central Valley mandated by Sacramento politicians. Since the California drought is at the forefront for politicians and citizens alike, the water intensive practices of Californian farmers are taking a hit. Of course many will point out the substantial contribution agriculture makes to the Californian economy, not least William Shatner. Shatner is proposing to build a water pipeline from Seattle or another place with a water surplus. Besides the troubling environmental concerns and short-term benefits of such a plan, the solution California needs must think long term. If agriculture is the biggest culprit for guzzling up water, what can be done to reduce the water-consumption footprint?

In January of this year, Sir Richard Branson sent out the above tweet identifying 15 business opportunities. Among them was the need for water-efficient agriculture, citing the Global Opportunity Report and identifying a water containment system for plants.

“Planting Technology for Deserts: Using only a one time dose of 15 liters [4.2 gallons] of water, the Groasis Waterboxx can achieve a crop survival rate of over 90% in the most water-scare environments. The box prevents water from evaporating, and collects rainwater and condensation from the surroundings, releasing only 50ml each day.”

Let’s get this straight, someone made a plant box, that you only water once AND will support the water needs of plants! This isn’t one of those far fetched miracle wonder products, the Groasis Waterboxx is a highly recognized solution for plant growth in the face of water scarcity and arid conditions. Tests in the deserts of Spain, Mexico, and Kuwait and on the Galapagos Islands have proven the system works in keeping plants alive and achieving faster growth. Read a full explanation of how the Groasis technology works.

California drought solution in the form of water containment system: the Groasis Waterboxx

The Waterbox, a solution for the California drought

Currently, agriculture uses up to 80% of California’s water resources. Imagine if all those almond trees and other crops were planted with the Groasis Waterboxx, the amount of water needed could be reduced tremendously. Reducing the water footprint, coupled with the state’s water saving measures in urban areas will allow the opportunity for water resources to replenish over time. The State of California should have a hand in making this happen.

As of now, the Waterboxx is available in the US for purchase via EarthGrow for individuals, for example this urban farming done by this Californian.

Though as described, California needs water-efficient agriculture on a mass-scale. If the Groasis Waterboxx is the solution for drought for you, contact Peter Laanen of the Laanen-the Brand directly via email here.

Written by Bo-Peter Laanen, operations at Laanen the Brand. 

Creating New Investors with StartupDelta


Starting January 14th Startup Delta will take its first tour around the Netherlands, to host a series of 6 mini-hackathons to co-create the online startup community ecosystems, centered around The meetup session for the Amsterdam community is already fully booked, evidence of the excitement within the startup community around StartupDelta, lead by Neelie Kroes. The program for each of the six meetups focus on gathering and providing information around four points:

  • Position the Netherlands as the country for startups within Europe.
  • Attract (fast growing) tech startups, talent, investors and corporate innovation teams from foreign countries.
  • Inform Dutch as well as foreign startups about all aspects relevant for Business Support.
  • Create a community for all players within our Dutch startup ecosystem.

While the initiative seeks out to position the Netherlands as the startup hub for Europe, there is a key point that these meetups are not addressing: the lack of available capital in the Netherlands. One doesn’t need to look far for evidence of Dutch startups falling apart due to lack of funding, ie. online catering business VanChefs. News site StartupJuncture detailed all the funding raised by Dutch startups in 2014, totaling up to €500 Million across 75 companies. As StartupJuncture notes, this is something to be proud of among us Dutch, but to achieve the ambitions of StartupDelta to attract foreign startups and investors to the Netherlands, much more is necessary.


The Reinvestment Cycle. Source: Startup Capital Ventures


There is abundant wealth in the Netherlands; in order to create the reinvestment cycle that is character of Silicon Valley for successful startups, StartupDelta should focus on creating new sources of investment from experienced business people who can become Angel Investors and from big brand names that are able to make big investments. Venture Capital firms will also need to mature, but do more to raise capital for their funds. To understand more of why these funding structures are necessary to create leading startup scene in Europe, looking at the lifecycle of startups will provide more insight.

The Startup Life Cycle

The Startup Life Cycle. Source:

The Startup Life Cycle. Source: NetValley

My favorite definition of a Startup runs along these lines: “A startup is a company which has yet to find a scalable business model.” While some say a startup is a state of mind, the purpose of my definition is to take into account the monetary aspect of startup companies. Most startups seek this scalable model as they develop or have developed a product or service ready for the market. However, where most startups encounter problems is a region in the life cycle known as the “Valley of Death”. Typically speaking, companies need capital during this time in order to survive until it turns a profit and create and refine its scalable model. More than capital, founders need mentoring; cue the Angel Investors. Getting to the break-even point is no easy affair, and even then achieving a scalable model for sustainable growth is hard work. However, once the startup creates a scalable model, the company needs to grow too. Seed Rounds and Venture Capital will support the company team to expand in order scale out the product or service and eventually the maturity in which the company no longer really refers to itself as a startup. StartupDelta exists as a concentrated effort by the Ministry of Economics to support startups because the ministry recognizes the potential for small young companies to make a big impact. If the goal of creating a startup ecosystem is to be realized, capital must be available.

StartupDelta must create the Reinvestment Cycle to achieve its goals

StartupDelta will surely boost the Netherlands startup community, and the goals they’ve set as outlined above will help accomplish that. Nonetheless, an emphasis on making capital available to startups need to be present. The StartupDelta tour across the Netherlands will set the stage for Neelie Kroes and it is without a doubt of great importance. As these meetups take place to co-create the community portals, those present must focus on how to stimulate the Netherlands’ normally conservative fiscal sentiment into investing in risky startups. My suggestion is to build a place for startups and investors to seriously meet and find each other, but beyond that convince experienced business people with enough personal liquid assets to become Angel Investors. Furthermore, existing and future Venture Capital Firms in the Netherlands will need help raising money for their funds, StartupDelta can help here too. Ambitious entrepreneurs with talent and innovation are building startups and get great support from accelerators and knowledge centers (who are the main partners of StartupDelta too!). The next step in creating the reinvestment cycle for the startup ecosystem is to help these startups find their scalable model and reap profits. What comes next is hallmark of Silicon Valley, companies grow big, go public and profits are made for the startup, its Angels and the VCs; they go back to invest in new startups. When this happens, StartupDelta will succeed in making the Netherlands the startup ecosystem of Europe we want it to be.

Bo-Peter is Operations of Benelux for Laanen the Brand, and also has his own blog at Contact him via twitter @BLaanen with any questions or comments. 

A rewarding Mexican business trip

By invitation of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Mexico City I was introduced to a new world of opportunities. The trip was initiated by Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman, the former Deputy Consul General of the Dutch Consulate in San Francisco.

Day one, in Mexico City, we paid a visit to Popcorn Brain. They produce games, virals and videos, and amongst others work for one of the largest department stores in Mexico; ‘Liverpool’. One of the political parties used them in a last effort to win the Presidential election. Even though female contender Josefina Vázquez Mota didn’t make it, Popcorn Brain’s viral product made a huge impression. Within two weeks they had more than 500,000 active users, with an average time on site of almost 5 minutes. Popcorn Brain’s Co-Founder and Creative Director, Diego Molina, was born in Chili, but grew up in the Netherlands and graduated from the HKU in Utrecht, the Netherlands. After a short business stint in Costa Rica, Diego and partner Francis Brunette Pastor found the wealth of business opportunities Mexico City has to offer.

Héroe de México from Popcornbrain on Vimeo.

Now, pay attention Dutch game makers and visual effects companies; they outsource much of their work to …. the Netherlands. Let’s think in reverse, what about translating, English aside, your Dutch work to Spanish. This opens a vast world of Latin countries to your disposal. Mexico is the biggest exporter of games in Latin American Countries. But wait, there is more, how about Texas and California with their huge population of Hispanics?! Talking about possibilities! And the folks of Popcorn Brain can also be your conduit to the right translators, etc.

The afternoon session was at the Dutch Embassy in Santa Fe, Mexico City.

The afternoon session was at the Dutch Embassy in Santa Fe, Mexico City.

The afternoon session was at the Dutch Embassy in Santa Fe, Mexico City. The presentations were aimed at best opportunities for Dutch companies to collaborate with Mexican partners in the following fields:

  • e-Health, having a close relationship with serious games
  • Design
  • Infrastructure and logistics
  • Energy (renewable)
  • Water and sustainability

For more information regarding these topics, contact Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman:

Wednesday the 24th, we travelled to Villahermosa, the capital of the State of Tabasco, one of the richest oil states of Mexico. However, they must focus on an economy without oil given the privatization of oil giant PEMEX.

The State of Tabasco must focus on an economy without oil given the privatization of oil giant PEMEX.

The State of Tabasco must focus on an economy without oil given the privatization of oil giant PEMEX.

We had conversations with Carlos Reyes Abreu, Director General for Energy, regarding the El Macayo Dam that doesn’t really produce energy and needs a lot of work to have it function properly. Other areas of renewable energy were discussed and we will inform and introduce the right parties to the Energy department. Opportunities! The next meeting was with an extended panel, moderated by Carlos Fernando Mayo Gonzalez, Deputy Secretary for the Promotion of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. We had a very lively discussion with representatives of the oil industry and folks with a high tech background or business. Of course there are discrepancies, but everybody knows that change is inevitable. One of the companies, truly looking for collaboration, approached us immediately after the extended meeting. The folks of Integra IT are in the field of oil, specifically process optimization, but are also an IT integration company:

Not exactly Silicon Valley, given the location and the PEMEX dominance, but a good start, that’s for sure. Next to me: Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman

Not exactly Silicon Valley, given the location and the PEMEX dominance, but a good start, that’s for sure. Next to me: Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman

Wednesday the 25th, we were invited to the Centre for Development and Exchange of Innovation and Technology Knowledge. The following business gathering dealt more in depth with the topic ‘An economy without oil’. Probably better stated as an economy next to oil. Topics and focus areas discussed:

  • Innovation
  • Agro culture
  • Tourism (think also chocolate because of the cacao industry)
  • Renewable energy
  • Water
  • Logistics and transportation
  • Infrastructure
  • Partnerships
  • Regulation to make it all happen

To underline the importance of collaboration with parties from the Netherlands, we were invited by the governor of Tabasco for a formal luncheon. All participants, some 20 people, had their say and we were honored to be such a big part of conversation.

From left to right: David Gustavo Rodriguez Rosario, Secretary Development for Economy and Tourism, yours truly, Governor Arturo Núñez Jiménez, Dutch Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman, Embassy Economic Officer and translator Josine van den Bekerom and last but not least, Emilio Martinez de Velazco Aguirre, Regional Director of CONACYT, National Institute for Development and Strengthening of Mexico’s Scientific and Technological Modernization.

From left to right: David Gustavo Rodriguez Rosario, Secretary Development for Economy and Tourism, yours truly, Governor Arturo Núñez Jiménez, Dutch Deputy Ambassador Jaap Veerman, Embassy Economic Officer and translator Josine van den Bekerom and last but not least, Emilio Martinez de Velazco Aguirre, Regional Director of CONACYT, National Institute for Development and Strengthening of Mexico’s Scientific and Technological Modernization.

It was quite the week, but the opportunities in Mexico, with very willing government parties, are overwhelming. Now it is up to the private parties to come to the table and make it happen. Laanen the Brand is ready to guide you into a world of opportunities. Contact Peter Laanen:

What You See is What You Get…

…Not so fast!

What You See is What You Get……not so fast! After living in the USA for more than 16 years, you sometimes forget the somewhat minor differences between the Netherlands (or other countries for that matter) and the US of A. So, walking the streets of San Francisco from time to time, I scribble down all topics of interest that surprises folks when visiting the Golden State.

Sales tax: coming from Europe you are so used to the fact that the price on the tag is also the price you pay (VAT included). Nope, that isn’t the case over here. Sales tax will be added, and it varies from city to city. Count on an average of 10% on top, and you’ll be safe. And it really adds up when you buy a car! When staying at a hotel, the percentage could be as much as 20% because most cities charge a Hotel Room Tax, to be collected by the hotel.

Taxes are set up differently than Europe, be aware!

Taxes are set up differently than Europe, be aware!

Now let’s deal with ‘What You Hear is…’ most likely what you want to hear. Countless times I’ve heard a young energetic and excited entrepreneur say that after his demonstration his audience said it was interesting. Interesting according to the dictionary: adj. exciting or holding one’s attention. In polite California it means ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’.

Hard Work

Hard work will pay off

And realize, this is a big country, some of these values are totally different when visiting the East Coast or the Midwest parts of the US. Just like it is also difficult to comprehend that laws do vary from state to state. Beware! Since I am at it, I’d like to stress once more the fact that it is wise to confirm an appointment the morning of the very day you have it. Be nice though, say in a friendly manner that you are looking forward to having such and such meeting (or lunch) at the given time. You’d be surprised about the many times you will be disappointed if you don’t. Then, make sure you take enough time to get there. In the Bay Area with its many bridges and toll booths, a few miles could easily take half an hour or so. If possible, take public transportation. Don’t waste time of your counterpart during a meeting. First ask how much time you have, because within that time frame you’ll have to get to the point. Hence, don’t burn time with small talk! If it clicks, you’ll have eventually enough time to chat about other things than business. And, if they are throw you a curve ball, you will realize you weren’t as prepared as you might have.

Curveball: an unexpected question or moment

Curveball: an unexpected question or moment


Making a Winning Presentation

It’s presentation time!

A very important moment in the life of an entrepreneur or businessman.
First of all, make sure you don’t have more than 10 – 12 slides in your presentation.

Because in the end of the day it is about you, the presenter. When there are too many slides, your audience will be busier reading slide content than paying attention to you; there is something wrong in that picture!
Worse yet, you are reading out loud what’s on the presentation screen! This signifies a lack of preparation!
For your audience, you are the most important subject when it comes to trustworthiness, integrity, passion, and a gazillion other aspects they will pay attention to.
The presentation, whether Powerpoint or Prezi, must be transparent regarding your product/service.
You must be able to explain in a clear manner the uniqueness and advantage of what you have to offer.

This is a good example of what not to do!

Again, make sure it is in American English and avoid European values like “Euros”, “kilometers”, “liters”, “Celsius” and……well, you’ll get the picture.
Using numbers, and we’ll keep repeating this, the “decimal point is comma” rule comes in full swing.
Take note, in American values:

  • This is one hundred-thousand: 100,000
  • This is one hundred: 100.000

Why, because after the decimal point you get insignificant zeros! Sure, people can interpret correctly but the machines will not! More importantly, it looks sloppy and gives the impression you aren’t prepared.

Never say you don’t have competition, even though you feel there isn’t, they will not believe you. Make one up, there must be a company that comes somewhat close, as long as you are able to clearly state what your advantage is.
Make sure when there is a technical problem you are able to make a presentation without overhead projector help, etc.

Keep your presentation in front of you if you really need guidance for the flow of your presentation.
Finally, be prepared for the Q&A session, don’t let them throw you a curve ball.

Various tips:

  • Dress for the occasion; when you are invited for a banker’s presentation, go business casual.
  • When in Silicon Valley, don’t dress like Steve Jobs (‘cause you are not him) but dress casual.
  • Golden rule: don’t overdress, don’t underdress.
  • When you feel a joke is appropriate, it’d better be good!
  • Make sure there is a good punch line and it is in line with what you are presenting.

If, in the meantime, you have questions regarding this blog, shoot me an e-mail at

You must prepare when coming to SV

Don’t think coming to the USA is similar to revisiting a movie you just watched.
The reason we are so pushy about our tips and ‘do’s and don’ts’ has to do that even people who have visited the USA more than once surprise us with responses to these tips. Sometimes I try them out on these ‘veterans’ and when they answer “what about it?” I get suspicious. Tipping? “Well, you know, 5 – 10% if I’m happy”. My first reaction is always one of total amazement. These waiters and waitresses live on their tip of 15 – 20% (the norm) and always do their utmost to please you. Of course, they can also be pretty ticked off when getting such a pittance for their hard work. It is the reason why many restaurants and bars in a tourist magnet like San Francisco print the various tipping fees (15, 18 and 20%) on their receipts.

Peter Laanen in presentation for Holland in the Valley Startup Bootcamp

Peter presents for startups coming to SV their first time

Again, it has to do with the way one has to prepare before visiting the USA. I’ve heard people say “no way I can do an elevator pitch within sixty seconds” too many times to count. Well, you’d better have one prepared when you are in a networking situation. And, networking is something one can do under all circumstances, even at the ballpark, a social event, a bar, etc. If you really want to come here to Silicon Valley to do business, you must be able to show off all your company has to offer, and how unique it is, in a matter of a minute or minutes. When you are starring in a breakfast event where you are invited to present your company, make sure your body language is one that impresses the audience. Go rehearse in front of a mirror; this is your opportunity to make an impression on a crowd willing to make a deal with the candidate who oozes knowledge and self-confidence.

At a reception where you know literally nobody, make sure you use the ‘ice breaker’. What?! Yes, either wear something fancy or put a pin on your lapel showing off your company, your country or your favorite sport club. Nine times out of ten people will ask you what it means, or give you a compliment about your fancy shirt or tie. Now you have the start of a conversation in your pocket! If you’d like to speak with a certain person but there is no one to introduce you; watch him or her and prepare an opening sentence. That could be about shoes or anything about the apparel, but also a general remark that you, like so many others apparently, have a common interest with that person. That common interest could be the industry you are in, a hobby you share or even the beverage he/she is enjoying that very moment. Be creative! And, always, prepare as much as you can before you take that flight to the USA!

Future blogs will explain more about all these topics. If, in the meantime, you have questions regarding the ‘tips and do’s and don’ts’ on our site, shoot me an e-mail at

May 15th, 2014: Calif. Sen. Tom Berryhill Honors Peter Laanen for Fostering Economic Ties

Peter Laanen, the International Trade Director for the Netherlands Business Support Office, was honored today in the California Senate by Sen. Tom Berryhill, Chairman of the Select Committee on California-European Trade.

Sen. Berryhill presented Mr. Laanen with a resolution from the State Senate floor to commend him for strengthening the ties between the Netherlands and California through his work in the last seven years.

Sen. Berryhill praised Mr. Laanen for bringing many new Dutch companies to California, particularly “start-ups” in the high-tech field. The Senate also thanked him for his friendship and leadership in cultivating closer professional bonds between California and the Netherlands.

Hugo von Meijenfeldt, Consul General of the Netherlands, is proud to have Mr. Laanen as the International Trade Director.

“He has an amazing network, and has contributed greatly to the mission of the Consulate General,” said Mr. Von Meijenfeldt. “It is great to see that not only the Dutch, but also the Americans have benefitted from his hard work and expertise. Mr. Laanen has opened many doors for Dutch businesses in California, and I am thankful for that. He is, and will always be, irreplaceable.”

The Consulate General of The Netherlands would like to thank Mr. Laanen for his years of hard work and valuable contribution to Dutch-American relations.

Video of the presentation

Originally posted on the website of the Consulate General of the Netherlands, San Francisco here.