Getting to know you: Patrick van der Vorst

What do you currently do?
I run, which is a website I set up in September 2009 to provide art and antique valuations online. We currently have over 50 experts all of whom have worked for Sotheby’s or Christie’s, so the quality of our expertise matches that of the large auction houses.
On a day-to-day basis, I run the experts, source new experts, check some of the outgoing valuations and mainly concentrate on expanding the business. As I used to run the furniture department at Sotheby’s, I also do some of the furniture valuations myself.
My passion and drive is to make the art market as open and transparent as possible. This desire inspires me to continually push the boundaries and for the coming year we have some very exciting prospects in store which will further boost the website. 
What is your inspiration in Business?
What inspired me to set up the website was the fact that often the art market can be seen as being un-transparent, unaccessible and even intimidating. I think a lot of people have got something at home they would like to know the value of, but they feel intimidated to pick the phone up to an auction house, let alone go there physically with the object.
The website has basically answered this basic need, as people can now check the value of their items from the comfort of their own home.
A common question we are asked is: Can we value items based solely on photos? The answer is yes we can. In a handful of cases we may need to go back to the client and ask them for additional info or some extra photos, perhaps another close up or a different angle, but if good photos are submitted we can give a good assessment of the object.
As most of our experts have had over 20-30 years experience, they know exactly what they are looking at.
So the inspiration of my business model came from a basic need for people to know the value of their assets. It has proved to be successful indeed, as currently we do an average of 200 valuations per day, and growing by 10% a month.
Other businesses that have always inspired me are companies that have filled similar gaps in markets or created a whole new inventive approach towards a traditional market.
Who do you admire?
There are many people and business people I do admire, and two of these would certainly be the two Dragons that have invested in Value My Stuff; Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis. Whilst admiring them in previous years being on Dragons’ Den, it has been a true experience to work with them up close. I am in almost daily contact with either one of them or their senior team.
I think a number of people may have misconceptions about how much time and resource they dedicate to the businesses they invest in in Dragon’s Den, but I can say from my experience that they have been very hands-on and a pleasure to work with.  
The very nature of Value My Stuff means that every day we value some interesting items. Yesterday we valued a Tudor coin at £30,000 and today our Pop Memorabilia expert valued a Beatles photograph at £5,000. I think the two dragons enjoy being involved in a business where every day there are new stories, new discoveries or exciting artwork uncovered.
I feel we complement each other very well and there is a great synergy and drive to turn Value My Stuff into one of the most dominant players in the art world. 
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
Yes there are things I would have done differently. Initially I designed the website myself at home. Looking back on it, it was a fairly amateurish version of what can be seen now.
The design and functionality were poor, but yet it worked and on day one of our website, we valued 24 items, which immediately proved we were tapping into something.
I waited six months to upgrade the website and re-design it. I should have made that decision faster. Whilst it was good to start in a modest fashion and with the seed of what the website is now, I should have taken the plunge quicker to upgrade the website. 
What defines your way of doing business?
For the website the way of doing business is; fast (valuations within 48 hours); professional (top experts); good value (£5.99 per item).
For myself I would say the key way to do business would be: keep your head down, work hard, be professional, be friendly and above all be creative, innovative and inventive.
As online businesses are very competitive, the only way to stand out is for your site to exude more professionalism that anyone else on the net. That combined with attractive pricing and a great product should be a recipe for success. 
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
It is hard to give advice, as every business will be very different in the way it starts out. The starting point should of course be a good and solid business plan.
There are no rights or wrongs in how to make a business plan, but it is important to have one to see and know for oneself how much money you will need to start up, when you will become profitable, etc…
Secondly, I would say: be different! A new business shouldn’t always be trying to come up with the greatest invention ever, but a good new business could just simply take something that is already out there but do it cheaper, faster and better.
This can apply to almost any segment of the market. And then thirdly i would say to have great passion, drive and belief for what you will do. It is very tough starting a new business and only the love for what you do will help you through in certain moments.
I did find the whole experience at the beginning quite a lonesome experience, as I did find myself making decisions on my own. Hence, i thought of trying to get a dragon onboard or any other mentor, who i could bounce ideas off and felt supported throughout the process of building the business. Now that I have Deborah and Theo, I do feel that i have exactly that support.
To me, that is my key asset of having the dragons aboard; someone to talk to and bounce ideas off, which spark of other ideas, etc… Of course the money aspect was important too, but I would say that to have that support behind you is key.
Whilst it might not suit all, why not apply for Dragons’ Den, it was a great experience for me… Our turnover has quadrupled since I went into the Den and the week of the show being aired, we attracted over 1,5 million hits on our site, got over 5,000 emails and got good media coverage… Good business!