Building the world’s largest online diamond exchange
Meet Andre Woons, the co-founder and CTO of Nivoda, the largest B2B marketplace for diamonds. With over 220 employees under his leadership, he manages both the engineering and logistics functions of the company.
Andre's passion for technology started early - he built his first website at just 14 years old. He went on to co-found Florin, which was rated the best peer-to-peer payment app in the Netherlands. Prior to that, he spent over five years as a freelance website and application developer.
Driven by his desire to help people and businesses succeed through technology, customer experience, and automation, Andre has been instrumental in scaling Nivoda from a team of two to a thriving organization with hundreds of employees. In this profile, he shares insights and pivotal moments from his journey.
Q: Can you share a few pivotal moments or decisions that you faced at Nivoda?
Moving to Hong Kong
Our company originated in London, but the diamonds we use are primarily sourced from India and Hong Kong. When we first started out with just one customer, I made the decision to relocate to Hong Kong. This move required us to invest everything we had at the time, but it proved to be a wise choice. By establishing an office in Hong Kong, I was able to take charge of logistics and oversee the internal platform and supplier relationships. This hands-on approach allowed me to quickly address any supply chain issues that arose.
We had just achieved product-market fit when COVID-19 hit us hard. Our sales plummeted by 80-90% overnight and remained at rock bottom for months. We were uncertain about the future and dreaded the possibility of fewer engagements and weddings in the coming months and years. As sales gradually picked up, we faced another challenge - our supply chain was severely disrupted due to lockdowns. It was a nerve-wracking time, but we managed to pull through and keep the company and team intact. I'm grateful that we made it through that tough period.
Zero-inventory business model
Focusing on our key insight about running a zero-inventory business is paying off. We debated how to communicate it to customers and adjust our company to support it. But now, we see that our customers are more successful when they implement a zero-inventory and virtual sales model. Our job is to help them achieve this.
Q: Can you share a few insights or learnings from your journey thus far that could benefit other entrepreneurs or engineering leaders?
Don’t sweat your stack
Don't worry too much about your tech stack when starting out. For our platform, I used Heroku to build the first version, with two monoliths for the backend and frontend. It wasn't until almost four years later that we moved to AWS. However, I wouldn't change that decision because it allowed us to quickly iterate on the product and focus on achieving product-market fit, which was our top priority at the time.
Sharing customer feedback internally
It's important to share all customer feedback with your team – whether it's positive or negative. We use a Slack channel to post customer feedback, which was super motivating for the team as we hit product-market fit. It also helps new team members understand pain points and has made us a better company overall. Radical transparency has allowed us to deliver a better product.
Customization for B2B
Customization is crucial when starting out as a B2B product. It's important to tailor pricing and products to win over each customer, especially since your product may not be fully developed yet. However, it's also important to stay true to your core focus. We made the decision early on to abstract things like pricing and product visibility, which has allowed us to test our pricing model and user experience without requiring additional development.
Q: Curious how you blend angel investing with operating. Do you have an investment thesis, or are you more opportunistic?
I have just started my angel investing journey but my thesis at the moment is to only invest in products I actually use myself. I wouldn’t invest in a product or company that has great metrics, but that I am not using myself. Dispatch is a product that I wished existed before discovering it, and after meeting the team and looking at the growth plans, I decided to invest.
Q: We met after you signed up for Dispatch. What problem were you looking to solve with Dispatch?
As a leader, I need to be efficient with my time. That means finding ways to be more effective in my communication. But Slack can be such a mess. I loved how Superhuman helped me manage my email inbox, and wanted to achieve the same with Slack.
Q: How have you tailored your Dispatch setup to your current role and responsibilities at Nivoda?
Setting up my inboxes
DMs go to my “Important” inbox, along with a few other channels that are most relevant to my areas of my responsibility.
Everything else goes into the “Other” inbox. Lower priority channels skip my inbox, unless I’m mentioned.
To Do and Waiting
I’ve created two custom inboxes: “To Do” and “Waiting”.
Every day, I review my “To Do” inbox and either reply or add them to our Jira for further tracking.
I also review the “Waiting” inbox to check on tasks that are still outstanding.
The “Snooze” feature is super helpful too. It lets me clear messages from my inbox, knowing that I'll receive a timely reminder later on.
Q: Any final words of advice for other entrepreneurs or engineering leaders?
Getting stuck in “reactive mode”
It’s really easy to get stuck in a “reactive mode” of operating: getting through your tasks, but not thinking about the big picture or focusing your effort on where you can have the most impact.
To avoid that for myself and the teams I manage, we implemented a tactic to force ourselves to be proactive every single week.
Weekly business review
I call it the weekly business review. It’s super simple. Every single week, I meet with that team. The agenda is as follows:
a. Review the metrics that this team owns
b. Discuss next steps and create action items for next week
- Action items
a. Review the action items from the previous week
b. Discuss progress and create action items for next week
This meeting takes anywhere between 15 to 60 minutes a week, and has a huge impact on the team’s ability to get out of “reactive mode”.
Every week I put aside an hour to run this same meeting with myself. It helps me focus on areas of the business where I can have the biggest impact.