The Thinkwise Legend: A Story of Innovation and Triumph
From its humble beginnings to its rise to success, the Thinkwise Legend tells the story of the innovative ideas and technologies that have propelled Thinkwise to the forefront of the industry. Discover the challenges and innovations that shaped Thinkwise into the influential company it is today.
2002 - Founding
Victor Klaren, Thinkwise’s founder, started as a core systems consultant in 1993. With his meticulous eye for detail, he saw a recurring challenge in converting programmes to their next versions. Software engineers wrote millions of lines of code for their programmes and were forced to rewrite them with every operating system change and technological update.
Victor started working with Telic – an incubator company that paved the way for Thinkwise. During the Telic years, Victor, alongside a team of 20, generated the foundational knowledge to build large software solutions using the model-driven approach inspired by the challenges he’d seen since the start of his career.
In parallel, Victor met Thinkwise’s co-founder, Robert van der Linden, in 2000. After selling his US-based SAP consultancy, Robert returned to the Netherlands with an interest to start a tech consultancy. Upon introduction to Telic as an advisor, Robert and Victor instantly clicked.
The stars had truly aligned! Robert, the business mind, had already registered a company called Thinkwise in the Netherlands; Victor, the inventor, had written a book called The Software Factory while recovering from burnout. They met in a pub one evening to chat and felt a spark that led to the Thinkwise Software Factory.
Founding Thinkwise in Apeldoorn in 2002, the duo put together a team who revolutionized the enterprise solutions software: building repeatable software models with low coding input from developers. Built on the foundation of model-driven software development, our low-code platform was made for scale and has since ensured a consistent market-technology fit.
2003 - 2005 – Courage, Collaboration & Creativity
Thinkwise expanded from a team of five to a team of 20 in 2005. Our newly expanded team stretched their minds and hearts, open to challenges and possibilities with unwavering spirit. There was a shared responsibility to get our company through as many doors as creatively possible.
Robert encouraged Thinkwisers to join a Sales training to prepare for on-site pitches. After a little theory, the team was given the assignment to sell a car brand of their choice. Among BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes pitches, there was one brand called FW1. Frank Wijnhout (the FW of FW1) wasn’t an expert in cars, so he created a brand he was an expert about. FW1 sold flying cars with an auto-navigation system and efficiency beyond the imagination. Frank’s proactive pitch resounded the ethos of Thinkwise: reimagine the normal, think outside the box!
The Sales training helped us gain confidence when pitching to clients with a demo in hand. One time in 2003, Victor carried the massive desktop PC under his arm to PGGM in Zeist to demonstrate the prototype the team had built.
In 2004, the passion and can-do attitude of our small-yet-mighty team won over our first big client, WILA. Not only were they impressed with our demo, but they also found the chemistry of our team to be an added bonus.
We felt unstoppable as we took up several ambulance systems projects throughout the Netherlands. We helped the Regional Ambulance Facilities (RAVs) figure out how efficiently the ambulance services were performing. Our team brought the software on a CD to each location for on-site implementation, ensuring our contribution to saving lives for years to come.
This was just the start of the big impact our team would make.
2006 - 2007 – Big names and bigger news
The RAV projects doubled our customer base, momentum was building, and Thinkwisers took the leap to approach Sligro, a retail giant. Sligro worked with IBM DB2 databases and Java language. We weren’t using IBM DB2 at the time, so we requested Sligro to donate an outdated AS400 system to experiment with and develop a prototype for them. For 10 months, we worked above and beyond to provide Sligro with a demo that supported IBM DB2 in our Software Factory. It was our out-of-the-box mentality that convinced Sligro to have faith in us and come on as a client in 2006.
While we built the demo for Sligro, we also furthered the development of our own Software Factory to its next version. With IBM DB2 support now integrated in our software, the realm of possible clients grew larger.
As we reminisce about the success of this landmark project, we also remember Sligro as the project that birthed a group of seasoned Thinkwise developers who took on a variety of different challenges, demands, and requests. No project was ever too big or too small for our team.
2007 marked Thinkwise’s 5th year anniversary! And it was extremely special!
Little did we know at the start of the year, the Sligro project marked our success in more ways than one. In February 2007, Sligro won the ‘IBM Innovation Award’ thanks to Thinkwise technology, and we were awarded the ‘Best new IBM partner’. These awards provided new visibility and put us on the IBM market’s map. Victor even made it onto the cover of a magazine! No, it’s not what you’re thinking – it’s better! He is breaking an AS400 with an axe – a lyrical representation of our offering to the world: we modernize systems to eliminate the need for core systems that become legacy software!
2008 – Economic Equilibrium
The economic crisis and global recession kept us committed to continuous improvement. Despite a slower pace than the last six years, we took this time to elevate our platform to the next level.
Consider it an incubation period to master our craft and expand on our product – a crucial time in Thinkwise history! It was during this time that we started providing workshops for clients (and later partners) on how to use the platform. There was a tangible shift: customers started engaging with us and our software. This was an important insight into the partner licensing model that would become our core business model.
The most powerful feedback for Thinkwisers is seeing clients and partners in action, using the platform every day with little to no problem, like they know our platform as well as we do. Henk Nicolai witnessed this first-hand when he visited Zeelandia. When he saw the people at Zeelandia use the platform with such ease, he knew Thinkwise was making a much bigger impact than he had imagined. For him, it was the embodiment of how enhancing quality does not need extensive re-coding with Thinkwise.
That’s Thinkwise! Our natural problem solvers are often working with utmost humility to make the front end seamless. Thinkwisers have a can-do mentality even when the constraints are many and the pressure is high. We tackle challenges with gusto, nerve, and courage, creating limitless possibilities for IT to step into its next generation.
2009 – 2011 – Levelling up for a grander vision
Thinkwisers are known to nerd hard and innovate harder!
It’s safe to say that we embody the stereotype of programmers and developers who always do something with code. But at Thinkwise, there is nuance! We have our technical geniuses, but they are ones who think and build freely.
We understand that thinking is invaluable for true innovation. We take the time to investigate the bigger picture, understand the WHY of the customer, and ensure that everyone involved aligns with the vision. That way, when we start a project, the synergy is already there!
It is this very attitude that has forged strong relationships within the community and has kept us growing. Our efforts were recognized yet again in 2009 when Thinkwise won the Fast50 Award as one of the fastest-growing companies in BeNeLux.
In 2010, we pitched to VDL who we had met at one of the Sligro presentations. VDL is a large enterprise with international reach, and though they were intrigued by our offering, they thought it was too good to be true for such a small company (we were only 35 people at the time). To prove our abilities, we started with a small project to replace their Quality Management System over the next 4 years.
As we enhanced quality systems for other organizations, we were busy enriching our own offering and presence! We added new features and functionalities, such as our Intelligent Application Manager, to our product the Software Factory. We also realised it was important that more people understood how to work with our software. With the ambition to involve the next generation of engineers, we made our way to colleges and universities to teach our philosophy and style of development.
2012 – 2013 – Celebrating Innovation
Our pace of growth doubled in 2012. By then, we were almost 60 people strong and in our 10th year! To keep up the spirit of innovation within this larger family, we decided to celebrate what we do best – radical innovation!
Victor implemented Innovation Days: a full-day event where normal operations were put on hold, and Thinkwisers were invited to brainstorm and share our ideas about improving the company. There was a contagious energy in the room and inspiration at every corner. This was a huge step forward in establishing a culture of cherishing employees and making them feel aligned with the bigger picture: creating something beautiful, together.
In 2013, after a presentation at Foresight in the UK, Victor introduced 23-year-old Mark van den Berg as the project’s leader. The client confided in Victor their hesitation as they knew Mark didn’t have much experience with large projects. Victor, ever the advocate for his people, reassured the client of Mark’s calibre and capabilities. Six months into the project, Mark was needed to lead another Thinkwise project. This time, the client insisted on keeping Mark on their project, having seen him put his best foot forward to execute their complex project.
This was a time in our history when progress was becoming palpable. We formed departments, hired our first Human Resources employee, continued to value Thinkwisers' intersectional identities, embraced remote work, and onboarded clients with unique requirements, among other things. A shift was happening, and we were fully open to it!
2014 – 2016 – Influential and Exponential
Our team and workflow were thriving and new opportunities were unfolding! We were really feeling the power our product could bring to people and their organizations.
The VDL project was really the epitome of how fast we moved. Pleased with the speed and delivery of their QMS, VDL expanded their scope with us to replace their software system in over 32 factories across the Netherlands. Guided by a young team lead, Luuk Schouten, we made this possible in record time – 1 year to build VDL’s systems and 6 weeks per factory for implementation.
This period also saw an earnest effort to launch new add-ons to our product, such as the Upcycler and Adaptive User Interfaces. Thinkwisers proved, time after time, the ability to dive headfirst into a challenge, demonstrating that it is not about what you know but how quickly you can learn. With every challenge, we always stayed true to our spirit: enabling others to shine, grow, and break barriers – whether it be a person, team, or client.
This period also brought a time of introspection. To maintain and continue our growth, we needed to invest time and resources into training our team. With existing and new colleagues having different levels of experience with our software, it was important to refine our onboarding and training processes. And just like that, Thinkwise Academy was born!
2017 – 2019 – Booming and Blooming in new places
2017 marked both the 15th year of Thinkwise and a new vision for the future.
As our product and clientele grew, so did our team. We went through large-scale hiring and Academy training to ensure our ability to provide the support needed for this new scale. Still, we knew that our international ambition would require even more scaling.
This was a new era for Thinkwise. We realised that our platform is our biggest strength, so we shifted to a business model. We decided to license the usage of the product and implement an e-learning extension to the Academy. Now called University, the program allowed us to train license holders’ developers. This meant that license holders would have the in-house knowledge to cater to their clients, and our team could focus on optimising the platform.
To support this endeavour came the launch of Thinkwise initiatives, such as the Community for our partners in development and deployment and Support to help partners report bugs and issues.
This decentralisation freed us to realise our international ambitions. Did you know that we have users in over 30 countries?
With this era of change in full motion by 2019, we moved to the office we now know as Thinkwise HQ in Apeldoorn.
2020 – 2021 – Resilience & Connection
When the world came to a halt during the COVID pandemic, we managed to remain a closely-knit team of 150, despite being physically apart. The transition to working from home was smooth but a small distance remained since we weren’t running into each other at the office anymore. This was especially hard for building connections with new Thinkwisers.
Harold Soepenberg took it upon himself to call one person each week with whom he hadn’t spoken recently (or at all) in order to stay in contact. It was a positive experience on both sides, with people receiving calls from Harold appreciating his effort and feeling like part of the Thinkwise family.
When Harold’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, he was honoured that people put in the same effort. Thinkwisers reached out to Harold to see how his wife was doing, to check in on him, and to offer their best wishes via phone calls and flower deliveries. Harold felt supported by his colleagues through fighting cancer with his wife.
In 2021, Roland van Aggele realized that there was an incredible amount of knowledge and success stories within the Thinkwise community about the platform. But he wondered how to spread the knowledge shared in one-on-one conversations to more Thinkwisers and Thinkwise partners.
Roland organized several knowledge sessions to create opportunities for knowledge transfer. To combat the lingering after-effect of pandemic isolation, Roland started ending the sessions with pizza, borrel style, to make space for connecting face-to-face. Who wouldn’t like knowledge with a side of pizza?!
2021 ended two decades of Robert’s leadership at Thinkwise. Closing on a high note, with investments from Hoge Dennen and Arches, a new visionary CEO was ushered in: the one and only Pieter-Paul van Beek.