The year 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Main Software 50 Awards, a good opportunity for a deep-dive into this renowned ranking. Why does it exist? What are the rules for participation? How has the list changed over the years? Plus: what are some of the most notable participants?
In 2012 Main Software 50 started as a joint list of the trade association NLdigital (then called ‘Nederland ICT’) and Main Capital Partners. A few years later cooperation between the investment company from The Hague and the trade association, which has a broader orientation than just software, stopped. Main continued with the list under its own steam.
Pieter van Bodegraven, who is a partner at Main Capital Partners and responsible for the Benelux, reflects on the initial period: ‘We came up with this list to put the sector in the spotlight.’ In 2012 the government introduced nine top economic sectors to be supported. Neither software nor the broader ICT sector was among them. That was disappointing, according to Van Bodegraven, because the Netherlands can be proud of the far-reaching digitalization of society – and should also see this as a unique selling point internationally.
By now, IT does play a part in the government’s top sector policy. But within the IT sector, software still merits some extra attention. Its contribution to the gross national product is large and, moreover, software is becoming increasingly important in just about all business processes – from HR to meetings and supply chains. Yet, for many, software is still regarded as something abstract and intangible.
Van Bodegraven: ‘Especially investors, strategic buyers such as other software companies, and media parties from abroad are able to find their way to Dutch software companies. It is important that we in the Netherlands recognize those companies and emphasize their importance for our economy.’
So there are a good many reasons for Main to continue to develop the Main Software 50. The list focuses entirely on B2B companies. Consumer brands like Booking.com, Justeat Takeaway and Coolblue do not participate. ‘Such companies are often better able to attract attention to themselves.’ Participating companies must also be privately owned and have their headquarters in the Netherlands.
Software companies that want to participate – a few hundred per year – apply to Main Capital Partners. At registration, the company has to fill in data, on the basis of which the list can be composed in a completely objective way. The mostly small companies that still show erratic growth – maybe 300 percent sales growth this year and shrinking next year – are not yet eligible for the top 50. Seven criteria for inclusion in the list are taken into consideration. The first three are sales, percentage sales growth and profitability. A fourth criterion is the quality of sales: what part of the sales is recurrent, for example from subscriptions?
International sales is also important: the more international sales, the more scalable a company usually is. The same applies to so-called partner sales. The more others sell your products, the more you can sell. The companies are analysed according to a fixed formula and then indexed. To avoid errors and subjectivity, the list is then checked by the independent research agency Dialogic.
Pieter van Bodegraven: ‘What I personally like to see is that the companies are becoming more and more professional. Sales are highly recurring and international expansion is being considered from the beginning. Clear calculations are made for the benefit of cost management, international expansion, and so on.’
This professionalization can also be seen in the figures. Annual sales growth is gradually increasing. The median sales growth in 2012 (a year of crisis!) was 13 percent for the 50 companies in the list. In 2020 (also a crisis year!) it was 20 percent. Often, the companies that participated in the previous list have also tightened their own business models. Van Bodegraven: ‘The companies that participate are often ambitious and focused on improving their results and operations.’
An anthology: 9 years, 9 companies
The tenth Main Software 50, which will be announced on 11 November, is a good opportunity to look back at the highlights of the past nine years. The companies in the Main 50 are what made, and still make, the list so valuable. Therefore, we will present you with an anthology of the participants of the past nine years, from Overall Champions to candidates at the bottom of the list, and everything in between.
Position: Was also #9 in the first Main Software 50, after large companies like TSS, AFAS, Raet and ORTEC.
IASO supplied advanced software for online backups long before the cloud became a widespread concept. A year after IASO was on the Main Software 50 list, in 2013, the company was acquired by the American GFI. Backup software is still an important part of its services.
Founder Johan Jongsma:
‘While we’re talking, I am holding the physical award in my hands. It took me six seconds to find it, even though I’ve moved to the United States and my house here is being renovated as we speak. This goes to show that the award has meant a great deal to us. Software is not an easy business when it comes to PR. If you call a journalist and tell them there is a new version of your software that also supports MySQL, they will say, ‘So what?’ So this was an incredibly important recognition.’
Topdesk specializes in Enterprise Service Management (ESM). Companies can use Topdesk’s software to bundle the services of HR, facilities and IT, among others, in a single platform. In 2021, Topdesk will remain an independent company with 900 employees, 15 offices worldwide and a million customers. The head office is in Delft.
Founder Wolter Smit:
‘The Dutch software sector could use some more attention. The sector is very dynamic: a lot is happening and there are big successes to celebrate. And not all of this is seen by the media and society. The more the successes become visible, the more this commotion will attract people. That is why the Main Software 50 is a good initiative.’
Company: Real Enterprise Solutions (RES)
Position: #2 (also #1 in 2013)
RES focused on identity management and also on digital workplace management: how do I ensure that my new employees have an immediate login, the right software and all relevant documents? In 2017, RES was acquired by the American company Ivanti. Within Ivanti, the Den Bosch-based company continues to play an important role.
Founder Bob Janssen:
‘The award we received from Main Capital Partners felt to us like a recognition of all the work done in the years before. It was extremely important! And for other reasons as well. For our investors, it was a reconfirmation that they had made the right choice. It helped us to attract new people. And it helped us to find the courage to keep going. A beautiful gift.’
Six years ago Fortes did very well in the Main Software 50, but in 2021 it still captures the imagination. Because, speaking of hot topics, the company from Enschede creates software for change management. Fortes’ platform helps – often very large – companies with equally large changes. This includes getting a grip on change projects or the transition to agile working.
Founder Sander Nijenhuis:
‘For me it was… with the award came the realization that we were in rather unique company. The listing in the Main Software 50 really made me realize that we had something beautiful in our hands. Let’s use that well and strategically.’
Position: Came in at the bottom of the list at #49 in 2016 and has been working its way up steadily ever since, being at #32 in 2019 and #24 in 2020.
At this juncture there are many trip registration providers, but FleetGO was, and still is, pushing the envelope in its own special way. Using a combination of software and a bit of hardware – built into trucks, for example – the company from Hattem supplies high-end software with which companies know the location of all their cars or trucks in real time, as well as other telematics solutions.
Founder Ronald van Tiel:
‘We participated for a number of years. We did so to enhance external visibility and also because we wanted to measure ourselves against others. Are we really doing it right, that question. It’s not easy to find that out from the company’s own accounts, certainly not in the early years because fluctuations were big then. From 10 to 20 employees is 100 per cent growth. If you then grow a little larger, the relative growth usually slows down. Even then we chose to participate in the Main Software 50 because it looks at more than just percentage sales growth, which means that participation remains interesting.’
Position: Was at #48 in 2017, but climbed to #3 the following year. Dropped back to #27 again the following year due to intense competition.
Onguard developed a platform that allows companies to streamline their financial administration – from order to money in the bank account. In 2020 Onguard was acquired by Norway’s Visma, which has built up an extensive yet specialized portfolio of accounting-related businesses. Onguard’s head office is in Amsterdam.
CEO Marieke Saeij:
‘Before we were acquired by the Norwegian company Visma, we participated in the Main Software 50 every year. We did that for the purposes of traction and marketing. For customers, a nomination is a confirmation that you are an established party. It also helps with respect to prospects. The award radiates authority.’
OBI4wan provides companies with software to engage with their customers. Whether that customer comes to us via Twitter, via their own website or via WhatsApp, OBI4wan’s platform makes engagement possible. OBI4wan is based in Zaandam, the Netherlands. Main Capital acquired the company in 2016.
CEO Alexander de Ruiter:
‘I think it’s cool that the Main Software 50 is there. It gives publicity to the Dutch software industry. People often look at the United States and India. But there are many successful and fast-growing companies in the Netherlands too. For OBI4wan specifically, the list meant a great deal for our visibility and branding.’
Inergy enables companies to unlock and analyse their data to improve the performance of companies in a data-driven way. Based in Woerden, and with Main Capital Partners as investor since 2017, Inergy pursues a buy-and-build strategy.
CEO Mathijs van Houweninge:
‘I’m not much of an awards guy myself. I don’t like to shout it from the roof tops. But this award is a ranking of companies that are all doing well. I like that. The award is nice towards our customers and our employees.’
Based in Cappelle aan den IJssel, Enovation plays an important role in the Dutch healthcare system. The company supplies software that allows healthcare providers to securely connect databases and exchange patient data. Together with Main Capital Partners the company devised an ambitious growth strategy and now operates in 19 countries.
CEO Jeroen van Rijswijk:
‘The Main Software 50 contains a very good mix of companies every year. It’s interesting to be included in the awards and to see what they’ve done. What I think is important for the quality is that Main Capital Partners admits both investee companies and other companies.’
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