They say wisdom comes with age, and Nicole Huyghe and her team, are a great example. The company is celebrating a significant milestone this year: its 20th anniversary!
When in 2002, Nicole returned to her homeland, Belgium, after living in London for a few years, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and she decided to start a business. Having a small child, Nicole wanted a flexible working environment. “I assumed that you can arrange your life a bit easier by being independent. But, when you’re independent, you also work all the time, so free time rarely happens. Nevertheless, it was a great decision to launch my own business,” she says.
Since she’s a numbers person with an experience in the research field, Nicole knew exactly what she wanted to focus on with her consultancy business. “I like working with numbers. But numbers are just numbers. My goal is to understand what’s behind the numbers, the story behind them and how to help companies bring sound business decisions,” she shares.
Boobook wasn’t boobook from the very start. The first name, “Solutions-2”, means delivering solutions to clients, and the number two is a reference to numbers and data. However, many companies started using the word “solutions” over time, so Nicole and the team decided it was time for a change. “Thinking about how we can explain we deliver insights, we also wanted to find a name that wasn’t too obvious but still had a meaning behind it. Eventually, we chose “boobook”, a small Australian owl. Owl stands for wisdom, and we get wisdom out of data, hence our tagline: wisdom that counts,” explains Nicole.
Today, boobook is a team of data scientists, customer insights consultants, analysts and researchers who work with trusted partners to deliver international projects for mid-size and enterprise-level companies. Nicole went through all the stages that a founder and a CEO can go through. Her determination and positive mindset kept the company together through thick and thin. The secret ingredient? Staying calm even when things aren’t going great. “Running a business isn’t always smooth sailing, but I always try to remind myself how, like in life, things go up and down,” she admits. Her mantra, “there’s a solution to everything”, is also reflected in how she leads her team. “Solving a problem is a critical learning process. It’s only by having problems that you can grow. When there is an obstacle, I don’t always provide solutions to the team right away because I like to challenge them to think and discuss it together as a team. I found that very important,” says Nicole.
Working in a smaller company has many advantages. Agile and a highly collaborative approach are the most vital points of teamwork, which help them deliver excellent results. “If we have an idea, we go for it. Because we don’t have too many internal discussions and stakeholders, this enables us to think and act fast,” reveals Nicole.
The wisdom gathered after 20 years of experience, and countless international projects are unparalleled. Knowing how quickly businesses can crash and burn, having the opportunity to say you’ve been successfully leading your company for two decades is a noteworthy accomplishment. And what does accomplishment mean for Nicole? “Being successful doesn’t mean only looking at double-digit growth, but rather having a healthy business with happy team members and satisfied clients. Also, what’s important for me is that people enjoy their job. If I can achieve that feeling, with my team and myself, then we are successful,” she adds.
The clients refer to the boobook as a “partner”, not just a supplier — again, something that reflects the core DNA of how Nicole and her team work. “That close collaboration we nurture amongst the team, we also have with our clients and the suppliers. I think that’s unique for us and helps us to bring better results,” says Nicole.
Clear vision comes with great focus. Nicole always stayed focused on the core values. “We strive to provide added value and high-quality work for our clients. Our mission is to deliver quality and work in an enjoyable environment. In the last 20 years, there were times when we were tempted to reduce our prices or offer less quality to win businesses. Instead, we’ve stayed devoted to our core values,” shares Nicole.
To celebrate the boobook’s anniversary, the core team gathered from three different countries (Belgium, UK and Bulgaria) and had a 2-day team building in Belgium. On Thursday, the 13th of October, with our sleepy eyes, we took the train to Brussels without knowing what our day would look like. Our HR manager, Patricia, and the Insights Director, Eva, planned exciting team-building activities they shared with the rest of the team only as we headed towards Brussels.
The first stop was Abattoir in Anderlecht, where an NGO Cultureghem introduced us to their mission to raise awareness around food waste, healthy cooking, and inclusivity. Around 40 volunteers work together to collect food from the Sunday market and cook it into delicious healthy meals for the local community. This year, the organisation is celebrating ten years. The amazing crew at Cultureghem provides different activities for children, cooking workshops, and space for cultural and artistic projects. Our guide, William, told us how this socially based ecosystem evolved through the years into a well-organised space that isn’t only focused on transforming the neighbourhood of Anderlecht. They’re also on a mission to reach out to people in other communities of Brussels.
So we rolled up our sleeves, put on our aprons, and cooked with other volunteers to prepare the daily lunch for the daily solidarity restaurant. After a delicious lunch and tour through the basement of the abattoir where a startup found an ideal place to create a high-tech circular organic mushroom substrate factory.
Filled with good energy, our team continued the day walking around Brussels. We took a tour from Kleine Zavel, Grote Zavel, Manneken Pis, and Grote Markt, to Koninklijke Galerijen and Kunstberg. Each team member had a chance to show off their tour guiding skills and tell a story about these different touristic spots. After obligatory Belgian beers and waffles with chocolate, we returned to Ghent and had a cosy dinner at Meme Gusta restaurant.
The next day, the team had a productive brainstorming session in our offices in Deinze, where they discussed the future steps and strategies for the upcoming year.
What does the future hold for boobook? “I see us becoming even better experts in pricing. We’ve built strongly over the last five years, and that’s what we want to build on further. Our goal is to make the boobook one of the first companies to come on top of the minds of companies when they think who to work with when they need to optimise their pricing strategy,” concludes Nicole.
Check out the full video from our teambuilding day here! 👇