As the Inhouseday of Lynxx approaches, we visited Lynxx in their office in Amersfoort, in order to give you a glimpse of the company. We were truly impressed by their energy and sincerity and we are sure that you will also like this company. Continue to read the interview with the co-founder Paul Rooijmans and Peter Nijhuis from the team on this young, inspirational and creativity driven company.
Can you tell a bit about yourself and the company?
Peter: My name is Peter. I have been working for Lynxx for two and a half years. I studied in Eindhoven, so I have a mechanical engineering background. So, a little bit different than your background, but it is typical for Lynxx. We have a diversity of backgrounds of technical and other studies, but we all have something common: the need to learn, to expand yourself and be creative with data.
We do data insights for companies, tender and machine learning, which is quite in development because it is a new field. You see there is a lot of overlap between those fields and there is a lot of stuff to learn.
Paul: I am one of the two founders. I started Lynxx six years ago with Sanneke. My background is public smartcard systems; I was the head of the lead architect of the OV-Chipkaart. There were three hundred and seventy people on my team, from technical to organisational, to commercial. We designed the OV-Chipkaarten, and then we started to produce a lot of data.
Every time you tap on, tap off around eighty fields are being filled. So that means the time, which gate, the station, the amount on your card etc. We even could tell, by the speed you go through the gate, which continent you come from. There was so much data inside the systems you could use or reuse. That brought me the idea that we should do more with the data.
Isn’t it difficult to work with a lot of data you have, to extrapolate data and tell this is useful for the company and this isn’t? Because you said running through gates tells which continent people are, but is it useful?
Paul: It is the other way around. Normally, you probably have an objective you want to meet and then you start to think “How can we get more insight into this?” One of my biggest frustrations is that everybody is smart; if you study econometrics, you are smart. But, the problem is you are mostly not creative and the future needs people who are creative and smart. The combination is the key to the future.
One of my biggest frustrations is that everybody is smart; if you study econometrics, you are smart. But, the problem is you are mostly not creative and the future needs people who are creative and smart.
For example, an insurance company wants know about how the building must be used. Everybody comes with “Oh, I see, let's look at the entrance.” Then, however, you only know how many people entered the building. But that’s not the question; the question is “How to do we use the building?” Again, how do you do that? People didn’t have a clue: “Yeah, let’s put up some measurements and stuff?”
In the end, what we did was just collecting the data from coffee machines. That way we could plot on the maps how the building must be used, because you can assume everybody drinks the same, the average, in big numbers.
Another example is this smoke detector. This measures the carbon dioxide level in this room. If we sit here for one more hour the carbon dioxide level will go up, the oxygen will go down. So, if you have a conversion table, you could say how many people sat here and had a meeting for how long. I think that’s the next generation we have to look at. That’s where we are really keen in.
Starbucks makes more money by trading based on the data they collect by selling the coffee, on the loyalty program and the demographic data than that they actually earn by selling coffee. But, they need to sell coffee; otherwise they don’t get the data.
It is funny, because we saw a sentence “Counting the amounts of used coffee cups could help you not to move to a bigger building.” in your promotional movie on your website. And we were thinking “How?”.
Paul: I think the most important thing we do is pushing the people into looking at things differently. That’s why we love to hire people who have different curricula. Because, for example, (pointing at Deniz) you lived in Turkey. You grow up completely different than we did. That also determines how you look at life, differently than we do. It’s not good; it’s not bad. It’s just different. And that’s why we really love to get people who look at things differently, because then it helps you to create a different perspective and a different perspective forces you to come up with different solutions.
Peter Nijhuis (left) and Paul Rooijmans (right)
You said you are looking for smart and creative people. How do you test if someone is creative?
Paul: It’s really difficult. We have three steps. In the first step Sanneke or I have a conversation with the person who is applying to our company and we look for the DNA; is this the right person?
In the second step, we have two colleagues that are more into content, more into depth. They ask you questions and see if you fit. If you are smart enough etc.
In the third step, we ask you to work on a set of data. You have limited time. Too limited, so you are under stress. You have a deadline that you can’t meet, but that’s normal life. You have five days and then we ask you to present. During that five days, we ask you to come down here and work twice with us, just have a lunch, work here, interact with colleagues. After you present, we offer you a job if everybody is positive. That means after presentation everybody has a yellow note; minus or plus. When there are two minuses, it’s done. One minus is debate and if everything is plus then it’s perfect.
I think it is a pretty nice approach and different approach. Other companies invest a lot of time in interviews etc. but not really in trying you in the work enviroment?
Paul: We want you here. We want you to sit here and see this is a lot of nonsense. Because it’s a waste of time if you come here first day and say “Oh my god, this is crazy. I can’t work in this chaos.” Because sometimes we are a little bit chaotic.
I saw a treadmill over there, so I can imagine... (Laughter.)
Paul: Oh yeah, we went to San Francisco as the whole company two years ago. We hired Ford Mustangs. It was brilliant. One of the best trips. It was a complete anarchy. We went to all different kind of companies to visit and see how they do it.
How is your company on a demographic level? Is all young, in the middle or just starters?
Peter: I think relative to most companies, we are quite young. So, I think most are between 25 and 30. Of course, there are some people who are slightly older, but in general we have a really young team. I think it reflects how we interact and do stuff.
Paul: And all the people have quite a liberal mind. Sanneke and I are sometimes more liberal than the young people.
Do you often have trainings or educate yourself?
Paul: If you want to have the best education, you have to be here.
Peter: You can you use a budget in the sense that you can do personal development. A colleague of mine, Simon, has done a study abroad in Stanford, because he was more into machine learning, to get more theoretical background. I’m doing personal development training. So, there are a lot of options. And also some basic training is being done for everybody on how to advise as a consultant, what kind of personality you have and how you fit etc.
You talked about you clients. Do you have any big or notorious clients or projects running?
Paul: We mostly only work for public transport companies. Actually, a lot people don’t know about public transport companies. It’s not as boring as it sounds; it’s very complex. And what I love about public transport is that everybody has an opinion about it. It’s like politics. Everything you do has a direct impact on society.
What is the strangest thing you used big data for?
Paul: There are several. An example: we are looking for a project already for one year, which doesn’t go that fast: the bus. If you look at a Connexxion bus outside, it’s a very boring object, but if you turn it into a Google street car, what can you do with it? You can tell the condition of the roads. So, you can sell it to a maintenance company.
If you look at a Connexxion bus outside, it’s a very boring object, but if you turn it into a Google street car, what can you do with it?
Moreover, imagine if you do that, maybe the bus can measure itself by weight. You could calculate how many people are on the bus, what the weight is and what the average weight is. So, you can tell if a neighbourhood is fat or not. You could sell that to an insurance company.
Where do you see Lynxx in five years?
Paul: I don’t know where we see ourselves in five years. I think we can expand it to some other countries. We are now basically looking at Australia. I’d like to go to Boston. I think that’s the next step for us. To go a little bit further, more intercontinental.
Peter: I think in five years time the companies we work for will also mature in how to cope with the data they want to see and then it may progress into forecasting, prescriptive analysis. That stuff is what really needs some range to get creative and write analysis down. I think that’s a nice way to go to.
(To Paul) It’s also one of your goals I guess.
Paul: It’s not only my goal. That’s also depending on the colleagues that work here. Like Peter and Simon and others. They say “We would like to develop more in this area.” And they tell me some of the things they are developing. Then I sell it.
Peter: Yes, I say “Alright, this is interesting.” And the next day Paul tells me: “I sold your idea, now you have to do it.” I didn’t even know it was possible. “Just do it.” (Laughter) And in the end, there is always more possible then I had thought before.
Paul: I think that it is pushing boundaries in a lot of different levels.
Alright, I want to ask last questions for the people coming on the Inhouse Day on the 29th of November. The main thing they want to know if there is possibility of internship or other kind of things in Lynxx?
Paul: There is always a possibility. If somebody is good, there is always. We hire mostly related to person and the work will follow.
So, there is not an ideal study background within econometrics like logistics, marketing or finance?
Paul: No, I can’t be bothered. The person is more important. It’s more about the person and where you are and where do you want to go. Most people here don’t really have a clue why they chose their study.