Quinten Selhorst: ‘Nowhere do you learn as much as in a fast-growing scale-up’

Ebbinge talks to the leaders of today and tomorrow and asks the questions that really matter. This time: Quinten Selhorst, CEO of Felyx.


What was your first job?
Ever since I was a child, I helped my father in ‘the family business’: a wholesale business in textiles. When I was about fourteen, I started washing dishes at a little theatre in Almelo and worked my way up to serving drinks and greeting the guests. As a student in Groningen, I worked as a driver for executives from big companies like BAM and Suikerunie. While I was driving them to their meetings, I could chat with them about their work, which was great fun.

How would you explain your job in language that a child can understand?
I put electric mopeds all over the city, which people can find with an app and then switch on and off, so they have a cheap, fast and clean way to get around.

What is your big dream?
We started Felyx in the Netherlands in 2017. Our dream is to offer sustainable mobility in every major city in the world. We’ve already expanded to our first city outside the Netherlands, which is Brussels. And we’ve just raised €24 million in a new round of funding, so we can keep growing in the Netherlands and speed up our expansion into other countries, especially Germany and France.

‘Setting up a new venture successfully can consume you completely. You have to watch out for yourself’

Have you paid a price for your success?
Yes. There are only so many hours in a day and most of mine are spent at Felyx. I’ve had to scale back my social life. My friends and my family have felt that. And when I do have time for something else, sometimes I don’t really have that much energy. Setting up a new venture successfully can consume you completely. You have to watch out for yourself. But there’s nowhere else where you can learn as much as in a fast-growing scale-up. Our company completely transforms itself every six months. At the beginning of 2020, we had 30 employees; at the beginning of this year, we had more than 100.

If people living in cities are interested in sustainable transportation, wouldn’t they rather go by bike or public transport?
In large cities in the Netherlands, we see that more than 30% of all transport still takes place by car. That’s where we need to find an alternative. I also believe that we all need to use more public transport to get around in the future. But what about the last six or seven kilometres of your trip? Our users mainly use Felyx for longer distances that they would otherwise have driven by car or taxi; from Amsterdam Central Station to the hockey fields in Amstelveen, a nearby suburb, for example.

What do you say to people who think all those shared mopeds, bikes and scooters are ruining the streetscape?
Because shared bicycles and scooters are so cheap, new providers immediately put large numbers of them into public spaces. And since they’re so light, people walking by often chuck them into places where they don’t belong. The good thing about mopeds is that they’re too heavy to just be moved around like that. When someone parks a Felyx, it’s going to stay put right there. And we can check to make sure of it.

If you could trade jobs for one day with anyone, who would it be?
I would like to trade jobs with the CEO of either booking.com or Uber. Just to see what the future holds. How does it feel to be a CEO when your company has grown to that size?

What’s the best advice you ever received about leadership?
In a start-up, you do an awful lot yourself. You make sure everything gets off the ground. You hire people and set up processes. But once your company really starts to take off, you have to force yourself to work less and less ‘in’ your company and more and more ‘on’ your company. As a founder, you have to make a psychological shift in how you look at your job and your responsibilities. I can’t remember where I learned that or from whom. But, especially lately, now that we’re getting so big, I notice how important it is to maintain a helicopter view.

Which of your personality traits would you like to get rid of if you could?
Sometimes I would like to be less competitive. When I play games with my in-laws, we usually end up on the verge of a fight.

‘People underestimate what a big step it is to leave your comfortable job for an idea with a very low chance of success’

What is one moment where you really had to show your courage?
When I left my job as a consultant to start a start-up. People underestimate what a big step it is to leave your comfortable job for an idea with a very low chance of success. There aren’t that many people who are willing to take that chance, as far as I can tell. And it’s a shame, really, because you can learn so much that will help you in your career. It’s also so nice to be able to make such an impact. Being in the thick of it, being flexible, shifting gears quickly. These are all really relevant skills, especially for big companies, because it’s often exactly what they are lacking. In job interviews at Felyx, we’re looking for people who are self-starters. Can they take initiative? We want people who have an entrepreneurial mindset and know how to solve problems for themselves.

If we made a film about your life, what is one scene that absolutely must be included?
Three weeks before we founded Felyx, my co-founder and I went on a climbing trip in the Alps. We had met years before that during a night out when we were both students in Stockholm. After days of off-the-grid ski touring, we reached the first peak above 4,000 metres: the Gran Paradiso. Finally getting to the top of that peak after working so hard was an amazing feeling. After we’d achieved that, we were really ready for our new adventure with Felyx.

What is one mistake that you’ve learned a lot from?
When we started in Amsterdam, we received a delivery of 108 mopeds, but the location to charge them wasn’t ready yet. We had to charge hundreds of batteries at the office and even in my own flat. There were cables everywhere. You can imagine how chaotic that was. But it taught me a good lesson: In your planning, always know what the critical path is and what the bottlenecks might be, because any delay will have a ripple effect.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
A while back, I participated in the Young Executive Course, a two-day training from McKinsey aimed at young leaders. During the course, they asked me to write an imaginary farewell letter. That forces you to think about the big questions in life. What I would like to leave behind is impact, with something bigger than my own importance. In my case, that means making the world a little better through cleaner transport.

Photography: Pieter Bas Bouwman