• Rianne

How do they do it? Surviving the first 3 years after the bankruptcy - part 2/3

Can you imagine that you end up in a situation that if you had the choice between going through that situation or the process of having cancer and chemo again, you would actually prefer to go through chemo? This is the feeling Gerben had the first 1,5 years after the bankruptcy of his company.

In this blog post the second of the three series of ‘How do they do it?’ (read part 1 here) we - Rianne & Gerben - share our story of the first 3 years after the bankruptcy of Gerben his company (TInker) and how we survived this most difficult experience and period in our lives. We will talk about what such an event did to Gerben as the entrepreneur behind the company, to Rianne as being ‘the partner of’, to us as a new couple and later to us as a family with the birth of Benjamin. We will be very open about what the consequences of the bankruptcy were and are, how we financially and mentally got through the first years and what our lifesavers were.

It turned out to be that you weren’t standing at the edge of greatness, but on the edge of misfortune and tremendous challenge, a bankruptcy one you never dreamt about or even held possible.

This is a different side of the story around a bankruptcy, one not many people talk about, one that at first sight may not find the most sympathy or none at all, this is the story of the entrepreneur and his family behind the bankruptcy: an open, vulnerable and honest one.

Realizing it was over

Imagine you are one of the founders of a tech start-up, a company where you put your heart and soul in, all of your time and money, a company you’re very proud of, a company which is extremely vibrant and energizing, young and ambitious people surrounding you and working together with you on realizing that dream company, that idea that will shake up the entire airline industry, everybody gives that extra mile everyday and the office is an inspiring place you rather not even leave, the sky is the limit, one investment round after the other goes very smoothly, the company keeps on evolving, milestone after milestone get accomplished, the turnover of the company keeps on growing and the company just thrives and thrives…. And then you are in that last investment round* before that big technological development launch which most likely will skyrocket your turnover in just a couple of months, you are on top of the mountain, on the edge of greatness……

and then

the investment round goes bad, very bad, and everything gets into a rollercoaster, a big storm, forces were playing where you had no influence on anymore, the company slips through your fingers, you see everything you have worked tremendously hard for for over 5 years get destructed in just a couple of months.

When you realized that it is really over, that the dream came to an end and that there is only a nightmare left, you just wanted to stop breathing.

It turned out to be that you weren’t standing at the edge of greatness, but on the edge of misfortune and tremendous challenge, a bankruptcy one you never dreamt about or even held possible.

Your reality comes crushing down on you, everything you believed in including yourself gets demolished, you receive dozens of threats and even death wishes from creditors, you feel responsible for all the loss of all parties involved, you don’t believe in yourself anymore and you lost everything you believed in.

When you realized that it is really over, that the dream came to an end and that there is only a nightmare left, you just wanted to stop breathing.

This was Gerben in June 2017.

It is so hard to describe what kind of feelings you go through as an entrepreneur to see your lives work disappear in front of you, but we tried to write it down, it is unimaginably hard and it left deep marks and of course for every entrepreneur it is different, for Gerben as being a quite emotional and passionate person it struck right and deep into his heart.

The impact on our lives

So you can imagine that the bankruptcy - the ending of the company by itself - was quite a hardship, but unfortunately that wasn’t all of it!

Just after the bankruptcy the real show started, there was no time to take a breath or to start healing after the big storm, no another storm just came crashing in. All the stakeholders, the curator, the lawyers, judges, the tax authorities, the media….everybody wanted to know what happened, to everyone you had to explain the situation in detail and you had to proof every fact. Not once or twice but dozens of times, and all the questions are focused on the possibility of fraudulent activities, And of course this is normal procedure when you talk about millions of euro’s and the least that you can do as an entrepreneur, explain yourself, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

We keep wondering - Why do we tend to believe the worst instead of the best?

And on top of that the impact on friends, family and society was tremendous. The situation was primetime news on Dutch television so everyone knew. And In the Netherlands a bankruptcy has a different correlation than for example in America. In the Netherlands people associate a bankruptcy if you are lucky just with an inadequate entrepreneur, but most likely with a fraud. Most people just think there must be something illegal going on or the entrepreneur must be a fool or inadequate and definitely not good enough, You get that stamp on your face and now you have to live the rest of your life in poverty - at least that is what the perception is.

And this we noticed big time.

We had a handful of friends and family who supported us unconditionally, who didn’t ask any questions who just were there for us, every day and were genuinely interested in our state of being. And even the parents of Rianne, we were just a couple of months together, believed Gerben’s story and didn’t need to hear any explanation. They just wanted to support us financially and mentally.

And there was the rest………all the friends and family who asked the same questions as all the lawyers, curators, authorities, they all wanted an explanation and also one time wasn’t enough….Gerben had to keep explaining himself and to be honest after explaining yourself multiple times to the ‘official’ channels you just don’t want to explain anymore, and then you notice big time who your friends are and who are genuinely there for you as a human being.

When Gerben stopped explaining himself to friends and family they started doubting him (even more) and people were even making remarks about the fact that Gerben still drove in his Mini……there must be something illegal going on, how is this possible? You should live in poverty.

Everything just changed, people were gossiping behind our backs, social events became very uncomfortable, all the network society clubs we use to join would rather see us leave, people were even telling to not do business with us, we had to pay upfront for products - and at that time I (Rianne) had still some savings and was paying all the bills.

We keep wondering - Why do we tend to believe the worst instead of the best?

It is just heart breaking to experience that a lot of people are celebrating with you when you have success and want to be part of that success but don’t genuinely care about your wellbeing when things get tough.

And on the other hand it is heartwarming to see that there were some really good friends around and even strangers who stepped up and were there for us…….unconditionally.

Now three years later we cleaned up our list with friends and we got use to dealing with some family members (can’t choose them), and a month ago we got a message from the curator that he considers to close the case because he is of the opinion that Gerben and his business partner did everything according to the rules. Of course they knew this by themselves but having the curator saying this - is just something and it is a milestone on it self.

Especially when a lot of people accused you of being a fraud, including the investor from the final round. It looks like that his advisors and himself made it their personal mission to publicly break Gerben. We have been dealing with them and their lawsuits for three years now and in the beginning this was really hard, everything Gerben said they turned around and made it look like he was lying and they are doing everything to make life pretty hard for Gerben and for us as a family. This even after the judge ruled in favor of Gerben and his business partner. The investor appealed….the appeal is still pending. We hope we can close this chapter soon, but probably earliest next year. But maybe you can imagine how much stress a big lawsuits and a flood of threatening and insinuating lawyer letters brings with it, especially in the first two years when you are mentally most vulnerable.

Best thing in this whole situation, is that the guys had an insurance and we are still super grateful that they cover all the legal costs.

Mental break down & financial stress

One of the things Gerben found the hardest to deal with next to the fact that my life got impacted in a huge way, was dealing with feeling very responsible for all the losses. Especially all the people who invested in or cooperated with the company, people and businesses who lost a lot of money and small entrepreneurs who faced a big financially challenging situations afterwards. It is something he still needs to learn to live with.

Every form of stress was too much, even going to the supermarket and buying some bread. He came back totally lost, very anxious and with bananas.

With all this happening, Gerben ended up in a deep depression and mental break down in 2017, he didn’t want to live anymore, had no self confidence and a really hard time getting out of bed. His brains were just not working anymore. Every form of stress was too much, even going to the supermarket and buying some bread. He came back totally lost, very anxious and with bananas.

At some point he was even struggling to tie his shoelaces.

So where we started as a vibrant and very in love couple full of life & energy, we ended up in totally different roles just after a couple of months. I had to step up and support Gerben in everything he had to do, from making sure he didn’t forget his appointments, tying his shoes to helping him sort out all the things that needed to be done. And this just after I quitted my job and started my own company.

The mental pressure on the both of us was tremendous, I did step up and carried a lot, but to be honest it was tearing me down, draining all the energy out of me and it just felt that there was no room for me and my troubles. Gerben was there to support me and did everything he could, but he was struggling by himself……it was just overwhelming, We stayed together 24/7 ever since and probably years to come. We were each others rocks and kept each other afloat.

But then the financial troubles came.

The first months of 2017 we lived from my savings - Gerben didn’t had one salary payment since months and had nothing left anymore, except a lot of debts. Things were pretty ok but then at the end of 2017 everything got really tight and we needed to be very creative with making extra income.

Two years we struggled, two years and almost every month we didn’t know if we would be able to pay the mortgage. The stress of not having enough money, that financial pressure every month, is just killing. It was the worst stress we have ever experienced. We had to think about every cent that we were spending and making sure we did it wisely.

We kept holding on to our dreams and core values, we just knew that we would figure it out in the long run.

Luckily I only missed one mortgage payment with a period of 14 days and we never had to skip a meal. We just needed to get very creative (which was tremendously challenging with all the stress and pressure we felt), got some people who helped us out (including my parents and a friend who lended us money) and I kept holding on to my dream company - my fashion label (which turned out to be not my dream life - blog post coming soon).

So what we did

(no financial advice guys)

  • I raised my estimate income for the coming years in my tax form: In the Netherlands as a house owner and an employee (which I was the first 2 months of 2107) you can get tax returns upfront - that made us a stable 600 euro’s a month (of course needed to be paid back in time)

  • postponed my tax returns with a year

  • I did some extra consultancy assignments - and wasn’t picky - also some simple hostess jobs

  • we slept in my atelier on an air bed so we could rent out our home on airBnB (big money in Amsterdam between the 250 and 480 euros per night)

  • we sold a lot of stuff we didn’t need anymore

  • I subleased parts of the atelier and took on some extra assignments form third parties

  • I launched my online courses and stepped up with coaching, and

  • in the second year when I was pregnant Gerben arranged beautiful sailing adventures for people on a sailing yacht and the year after we lived on our sailing yacht and organized different sailing masterclasses combined with personal development.

To be honest, the most easiest way to solve our stress was for me stopping my fashion business immediately and finding a job. It would have made everything way more easier and Gerben wouldn’t have been gone half the time of my pregnancy, but than I couldn’t have supported Gerben every day as I did and we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today.

We kept holding on to our dreams and core values, we just knew that we would figure it out in the long run.

Consequences today - 3 years later

To be clear, a situation like we have been through leaves it marks for quite some time and maybe even a lifetime, Gerben is recovering pretty good, but is still very sensitive to stress, our money mindsets was impacted big time and still needs to develop but currently it is much better, we still get remarks from certain creditors (luckily no death threats anymore), Gerben’s confidence is getting back at a good level, there are some haters whom hope we fail, but don’t expect this to be any less in the future, Gerben still has a huge amount of debts - but started with paying them off one by one and little by little, we needed to learn to trust people again and the first hits in google aren’t the worst anymore……so overall after 3 years pretty good but not great yet - but we will get there!

And what makes a big difference is that there are a lot of investors, creditors, friends and family who support Gerben and us as a family, up until today and wish us nothing less than the best. They know that when we are back in shape mentally we can create greatness and have the greatest trust in our entrepreneurial skills (even though we doubted this for quite a time). They are even convinced that the chances are way higher this way that Gerben will be able to pay them back in time than when they put pressure on him now to pay up.

The best things we got out of this experiences and most valuable is that we got our core values and dreams extremely clear and that we can thrive even in very challenging and changing situations.

One thing I’m struggling with now, is that I earned quite some money with good investment decisions (as you can read in part 1) why we can live like we do now. But for certain creditors of Gerben that is a reason to ask us to pay up the debts. Something I do and don’t understand. The money we have now, is mine, I earned it all by myself and I have nothing to do with the debts, but on the other hand I understand that others really want their money back.

So we made a deal, all my money is mine and I decide how to spend it, all the money we earn with our activities we first deduct the company costs - which I’m financing right now and the profits we split in half so that Gerben can pay of his debts with his share of the profits and takes only part in the rare minimum costs we have as a family.

And I had a lesson to learn. I had to be more clear about my boundaries and what is mine, I’m quite a giver and want to solve everything for others. This was the perfect opportunity to learn to say no, to say enough is enough.

Fist goal as a family - running a successful business around our core values and dreams

First goal Gerben - being debt free,

First goal Rianne - reenergize and transform and then paying off the loan for the boat.

Let’s keep the good things coming.

Our lifesavers

To be able to overcome this period of our lives we had a few lifesavers next to really good friends and family. Our lifesavers were focused on getting us out of the freeze, fight or flight modus something that really works for us when facing mental challenges.

We sticked to a daily morning ritual for 2,5 years straight: (meditate, doing our affirmations & visualizations, exercise, journalling & reading - from the book Miracle Morning), last 6 months we are more going with the flow and aren't constantly more in our stress levels.. Other things we did:

  • making sure our creative minds could do their job

  • working hard but also relaxing evenly hard

  • talking to and with each other a lot,

  • investing in developing ourselves even when we didn’t have the money (I even did a course of EUR 1.900,— ex VAT in our second year - financed it with my credit card and launched an online course afterwards which payed the credit card bill), and

  • keeping the Feel the Breeze mindset: law of attraction (the art of manifesting) and living in abundance & gratitude

In the end only we are responsible for our happiness and peace of mind, we determine how people or circumstances influences us, we are responsible, nothing more and nothing less.

We hope with sharing our stories in this blog post about the entrepreneur and his family behind the bankruptcy we have shown a different light and if you are in a similar situation we maybe even inspired you. One thing that we learned from all of this, never stop chasing those dreams and don’t wait for the right moment or when you have accomplished a, b, c and d. Maybe this moment or these accomplishments will never come.

Like Gerben wanted to become a millionaire before his 40th birthday so that he could sail around the world….he made it…. but then lost everything again.

Life is meant to be lived!

We always keep in mind - we have a plan for life, but life has a plan for us as well and we focus on believing the best in people rather than the worst.

For the Dutchies: Gaat je bedrijf mogelijk failliet of is deze misschien al failliet gegaan of ken je iemand die dit meemaakt, dan kan onze masterclass in het Nederlands: Help mijn bedrijf gaat failliet die 15 januari 2021 van start gaat zeer waardevol zijn.

Masterclass - Help mijn bedrijf gaat failliet

[ENG: If you are facing a bankruptcy or friends of you in the Netherlands - then have a look at our masterclass that will launch of 15 January - Help mijn bedrijf goat failliet]

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Have a great day and Feel the breeze!

Rianne & Gerben

PS: Read here the first part of this blog series - How do they do it? Living their dream life after a bankruptcy - part 1/3. The last part, How do they do it? Keep living their dream life - part 3/3, will be online in a month. If you don’t want to miss out on anything, get extra value and be the first to know when we launch our Feel the Breeze products - make sure you subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

*this was the final investment round for that technological development, not the final investment round for the whole business, there were quite some extra developments and investment rounds planned - just like with Uber - tech start-ups just keep on evolving in the first decade. Just in case the lawyers of the investor are reading this article and using it to twist our words around again!