It all started at the end of 2008 when Nick Verbaendert (1985), Vincent Pauwels (1984) and Tom Vroemans (1984) founded Cowboys & Indians. A couple of months later, Thomas Van Sundert (1985) joined as well.
What brought them together? For starters: they were all personal friends, so they knew each other quite well already. They all proved to have a creative state of mind and a profound interest for everything related to technology.
Moreover, they shared the same vision and ambition, the selfsame business ethics and work-drive. But what really got them going into business together is that they had an amazing complementary skill-set and built-up expertise. That’s what made them feel strong and confident, and triggered them to embark on that great adventure together.
Tom had the chance of working for a few years as an executive assistant / right-hand of the CEO of a large and internationally active organization (several companies). Large, but still a family business. A family business that he knew very well. That’s where he got his ethics, drive and ambition from. The CEO actually requested and got the approval of his mom to drop out of university for that position. (Tom was studying Applied Economics at the University of Antwerp). Since he was only 19 years old at the time, his mother definitely had a say in the matter. Those who know his mother will understand why he let someone else do the dirty job.
Vincent got bitten by design virus at the age of 12, creating flyers in MS Paint. With the rise of the personal computer and connected devices, Vincent became more and more intrigued by the continuous evolution of interfaces and usability, and started experimenting on his own. At the age of 19 Vincent dropped out of college to become a self-employed freelance graphic & web designer (Vincent was studying Marketing at the time). After a few years of working on smaller projects and as a freelance Art Director, Vincent realized that what he really wanted to do was create and enhance user experiences for all things technological. Vincent (VNNR) is a signed artist active in the indie electronic music scene as a DJ and producer.
Nick got into the programming ‘business’ at the age of 13. His first website, Bundyz Warez, was a direct hit, but after some international legal complaints he unfortunately had to shut down his shop. Quickly afterwards Nick created his very own Facebook preamble, which was primarily used to post embarrassing stuff about friends. Nick succeeded in getting his Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering (electronics and ICT). While in his Master year, Nick met Tom. He had a great idea to conquer the online packaging industry. They spent hours developing their first online platform. Although it never got released, the urge to keep working together on cool and exciting technological stuff never subsided. Meeting Vincent & Thomas later on led to to the rest of the story.
Growing up during the advent of the Internet, Thomas quickly became interested in the mechanisms behind it. This resulted in multiple ugly websites fraught with gif animations, midi intro songs and changing background colors. It was back then that Thomas quickly realized that design wasn’t going to be his calling. At the age of 15, Thomas’ two major interests, rock music and the web, pushed him towards creating one of Belgium’s first websites focused on pure alternative music, reviewing the latest albums, concerts and festivals. Thomas went on to study Computer Sciences at the Leuven University. During his spare hours, he started as a freelance developer for an internet start-up. There, he bumped into some old schoolmates: Nick, Vincent and their new business partner Tom. It quickly became clear that the four of them made a great match, and after some time working together Thomas became part of the founding team.
From the day the four started working together, they envisioned themselves developing technology driven products and solutions of their own. There is nothing more exciting, more fun than developing something you invented and other people love using. Sounds cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Still, developing products and establishing new ventures takes time, expertise and, especially, money. Interesting fact: until recently, Common Companies founded and accelerated all subsidiaries without venture capital or private equity (Geaver seeding through private equity in 2012). Hence, no funding apart from their very own blood, sweat and tears. They knew that additional funding would have resulted in speeding up the company process. However, before making any commitment towards investors, they first wanted to get the most out of their own resources while getting to know their professional selves a bit better.
And how did they get to know themselves? By working for others. While working for clients, you are confronted with your weaknesses, but also get to know your strengths. Within the process, you develop skills, ideas and some kind of projection towards the future. What you want to do, and definitely don’t want to do. And, not unimportantly, working for clients generates income. Combined with a conservative way of doing business, i.e. keep the money in the cookie jar, they were able to auto-fund their companies and their growth, keep away from investors and make their own decisions.
So they took the time they needed. The first 2 years (2009 - 2010) of their existence, they put the product and solution development part on hold and focused on their role as a service provider for third parties. They did so by founding two service-oriented companies (Cowboys & Indians in 2008 and Appstrakt in 2009), driven by what they are passionate about: being creative and having fun with technology. Eventually, they created their first product / solution driven companies (Appmiral in 2011 and Geaver in 2012). Hopefully, there will be many others to come...
Common Companies was founded as a holding in 2012, to make it all manageable and to act as an incubator for its subsidiaries, making sure they would put all their efforts in what they do best. Common allows them to focus entirely on their operations. It delivers a stable environment, fundamentals to generate optimal company growth and room for dynamics between subsidiaries mutually.