Running in search for creativity with Christoph Vandewiele

Christoph Vandewiele at the Marathon des Sables.

Christoph Vandewiele takes us on a tour along his favorite running spots and immerses us in his busy life. A man with many passions who is switching topics between ultra running, marketing innovation, business and life and talking about each of them with equal enthusiasm.

Tell us about your experience at the Marathon des Sables

It was insanely beautiful! But hard. There were lots of sandstorms. Also the distance was longer than the previous years, which made this one of the toughest editions ever. Some people were completely overdoing it. For example, on the second day I already saw someone receiving intravenous infusions. The guy didn’t even remember his own name. That was my first reality-check and I asked myself the question: how far do I want to go? Is it worth to take such a toll on my body?

From then on, I tried to enjoy more, I started taking more pictures and I saved my energy for day 4 and 6, for the long stage (80 km) and the fast marathon day. The problem is, when you train for months, that once the race starts, you would do anything to finish and you tend to forget the consequences of your actions. I’m always trying to avoid such ‘tunnel vision’ by setting hard limits in advance. For example, when I climbed Matterhorn with a friend, we agreed upon strict rules about the timing and weather conditions in which we would continue or turn back. Similarly, when I started my business, I decided for myself that my finances had to be healthy for 3 years in a row otherwise I would stop. Luckily, I made it.

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Christoph Vandewiele and EntrepreRunners interviewer Karen at ParkBos.

Can you tell us somewhat more about your business?

I’m doing a lot of things, but all are related to marketing strategy. With my company Private Consulting, I’m doing marketing and business innovation consulting. I also help startups to find investors, or investors to find interesting projects. Next to that, I’m teaching marketing innovation at Thomas More Media and Business School in Mechelen.

On the second day I already saw someone receiving intravenous infusions. The guy didn’t even remember his own name. That was my first reality-check.

How did you decide to start your own company?

I was previously employed by different large advertising agencies, working for multinationals like Unilever, PlayStation,… These were interesting places to gain experience, but after a while I was tired of working for another boss. The switch to my own company actually went really smooth because of the network that I had acquired. Many knew me already and when you’re good at something, people will find you anyway.

Didn’t you find it hard to switch from a context of multinationals to SMEs?

No, not at all. I found it liberating. When you’re working with a third generation family business, you can really work on long-term strategy. Compared to managers in a multinational who only care about the financial results in 2 to 5 years, they have a much longer vision of how they can take their grandfather’s project to the next level. They are also much more passionate about their project, and it is this passion that really makes the difference.

How do you find time for all these different projects?

I love them all so much that I wouldn’t be able to give up one of them. In addition, they’re also complementing each other. When I’m teaching, I’m often referring to real cases coming from a consulting project I’m working on. Sometimes students come up with a really great idea, in which case I might invite them to present it in front of the client.

Our running tour through ParkBos, just a few kilometers South from Ghent.

Our running tour through ParkBos, just a few kilometers South from Ghent.

People also ask me where I find the time to go running for 3 or 4 hours but I don’t have the impression that I’m losing time with it. On the contrary, running helps me to clear my busy mind and focus on one single project. Instead of sitting in front of my desk, I’m working on the case while on the tracks.

Artists have always used artificial forms of drugs in search of creativity. Well, if you respect your body, you should be grateful for the endorphins that it produces. Most people know them from the runners high, but they also help me to find new solutions, to think out of the box and be creative.

One of the things you do is screening startup projects for investors. What are the most common mistakes you encounter?

I see a lot of ambitious people, but I have the impression that young people are not so hard on themselves anymore. When you’re working on a project, you always have to deconstruct it till the bottom. Ask yourself all the hard questions and don’t wait till the investors do. Also very important is to extract the very essence of your idea. Which part of the market isn’t currently served and what is your solution to it? Make that your lighthouse to guide you and don’t get tempted by all the other lights that you’ll start seeing anywhere down the road. These might become little projects once you’re started, but at first you need to focus on your lighthouse.

And finally, one last advice: it’s the idea that counts, not the packaging. It doesn’t make sense to start working on a fancy website if your idea isn’t ready yet. A good investor will see through this kind of superficial tricks. On the other hand, a bright idea that is quickly sketched on the back of a beer card is still a good idea.

To finalize, do you have anything to add?

Young people should really think hard about what they want from their life and not so much what they think society expects from them. But above all: Dive in, get your hands dirty, try stuff and make mistakes!

Want to work with Christoph Vandewiele?
Go to www.privateconsulting.be
Got an elevator pitch you desperately want to present?
Put on your running shoes and go for a run with Christoph. He promised us the first 10 miles are pro bono 😉


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