Meet Harold Punter, a 52-year-old residing in Amsterdam with his wife and three children. He is the CEO of Rapid Circle and one of the co-founders. Today, we take you on his journey, looking back at how it all started, the successes and challenges, and even taking off the CEO hat for a moment. Additionally, we glimpse into Harold’s vision, dreams, and goals. Are you ready to meet a born entrepreneur?
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you enter the IT industry, and what motivated you to start Rapid Circle?
“I’m not naturally very technical, as those who have worked with me for a long time can attest. However, I have always had an interest in computers and technology. It began when my father received a computer from his work around 1985. It was one of those big, traditional PCs. You couldn’t do much with it, except play games or write documents. When I started studying in Groningen and moved into a student house, I quickly realized that we could connect the computers we brought from home with a cable. Then, we would spend the whole day playing computer games on that network.”
So, you were already quite innovative for that time?
“Yes, it’s funny, isn’t it? And whenever people had questions about how it worked, I was always the one who understood how a computer functioned. In that sense, I had an early affinity for computers. During my student years, I worked not only at a café but also at the IT helpdesk of a company. I would walk around with my big floppy disks, and if someone didn’t know how something worked, I would insert my floppy disk and install various programs until it worked again. After my studies, I started working at a consultancy firm in Amsterdam and was always involved in the implementation of information systems. I did that with great pleasure and had the opportunity to travel extensively. I lived in London and Paris for a project and traveled all around the world for another assignment, from Amsterdam to New York, Miami, and Tokyo. Those were great times.”
So, you’ve always been involved in IT?
“Yes, always in IT, but as a business consultant, project manager, or program manager. However, it was always about software implementation. I worked at that consultancy firm for over 10 years, but at some point, I had a son. I was traveling a lot and very busy. Neither my wife nor I enjoyed that. I also noticed that the hierarchy within the organization no longer suited me completely. I can handle it when people tell me what to do, but when they also tell me how to do it, I become a bit rebellious. I catch myself thinking, “If you know so well, why don’t you do it yourself?”
And then you decided to start your own company?
“One of my former colleagues was Wilco Turnhout. He had started his own business much earlier, and we had remained good friends. Wilco asked if I would be interested in starting a company with him, and at some point, I thought, now is the right time. That’s when we founded Rapid Circle in 2008. I’m someone who likes to take and be given responsibility. I also want to show that I can grow as a professional and handle more responsibility. That’s important to me personally. I also need the freedom to do things the way I believe is right. It’s something I want to convey to my employees as well. I enjoy working with people who don’t need to be micromanaged, who take responsibility for themselves, and who truly have a growth mindset. They want to improve as professionals and demonstrate that they can handle growth and responsibility. I find that rewarding.”
In your opinion, what sets Rapid Circle apart from other IT companies, and what inspired you to create that company culture?
“I want my employees to experience work the way I prefer. When you look at what makes Rapid Circle unique, it’s truly a ‘freedom to grow‘ mindset. And that translates into several core values. An organization is often highly influenced by the DNA of its founders. While it naturally fades over time, it never completely disappears. So, in that regard, we are unique. We were also one of the first in Europe to see the potential of Microsoft’s cloud technology. I believe that’s a truly distinguishing factor. We are a relatively small and young organization, yet we have advanced significantly in terms of experience. Furthermore, we quickly adopted an international strategy. That’s something you don’t often find in other Microsoft partners, especially at our scale.”
In your opinion, what is the most important trait a successful leader must have, and how do you see this in yourself?
“Well, if you meet someone who excels at it, please let me know. Maybe I can learn something from them! No, I don’t know for sure. This is my first time doing it, and it’s been a journey with its ups and downs. Rapid Circle has grown tremendously over the past years. You must find a balance between staying innovative and being at the forefront of the market. You’re constantly recalibrating your strategy. Are you still doing the right things? Are you betting on the right horse? You’re constantly dealing with that. And it means you need to be highly flexible and agile. You shouldn’t panic too quickly when things change. Additionally, I’ve learned that building an organization requires hard work, and nothing comes easily. How you ultimately handle disappointments and what you do when things don’t go as expected are also crucial. Fortunately, as a person, I’m easygoing and don’t easily get stressed about things. I try to go through life with a big smile and sometimes don’t take myself or others too seriously. The rest is luck. A lot of luck.”
Occasionally, I also realize that when you need, can, and want to work hard, that’s precisely the time when you’re trying to be a family.Harold Punter, CEO of Rapid Circle
Can you see Rapid Circle as a dream you are currently fulfilling?
“If you had asked me ten years ago where I would be now, I simply couldn’t have imagined it. I have always had a lot of ambition because I’m truly a builder. I’m not one for finishing things, but I do get energy from building and creating. Achieving significant milestones is something I truly enjoy. I sometimes think that not everyone has the opportunity to try something like this. To some extent, you could say that we have already succeeded because I have only one goal, and that is to create an organization that I am truly proud of.”
Has there been a particular moment during the building of Rapid Circle that has stayed with you?
“That was years ago when an employee resigned and left the company. It was a truly emotional moment for me. It felt a bit like a girlfriend breaking up with me. I won’t say who it was, but I remember it vividly. It was a moment of great tears. You think, ‘How could this happen?’ It felt like I had failed. Because how can it be that someone wants to continue their career elsewhere? Ultimately, it’s still a 100% people business. Over the years, I have fortunately developed some resilience in that regard.”
Do you have any other short or long-term goals you want to achieve?
“I think professionally, I have my hands full with our strategy for the next three years. And of course, I try to balance that with my personal life. I have three children who go to school, and my oldest will leave home this year. I’m very aware of the time I have with them. Sometimes, I also realize that when you need, can, and want to work hard, that’s precisely the time when you’re trying to be a family. That can be challenging at times. So, I try to stay very active at home. My wife also works and often tells me that I need to take off my CEO hat at home. So, I do the dishes and take out the trash. I also try to do a lot with the children, such as sports, picking them up and dropping them off, and spending time with them during school holidays. I also enjoy cooking, so at home, I’m the chef. That means I often must work after the kids are in bed. While it can be tough at times, I can’t imagine any other job.”
And on a personal level, do you have any specific goals you want to achieve?
“Currently, I have enough challenges, and I’m still learning every day. As long as I keep learning and growing, I’m perfectly fine. However, I would like to become fluent in French at some point. We have a vacation home in France, where I don’t spend enough time. About three times a year, I commit to dusting off my French and enthusiastically start taking courses. I’ve always admired people who can speak multiple languages fluently. My children were raised bilingual because my wife is Irish, so we speak both Dutch and English at home. It would also be nice to speak English with a fluent English accent. I can say anything in English that I want, but it always comes out with a Dutch touch. I have a bit too little patience to dwell on that further. And if we’re talking about much later in life, maybe I would like to open a small restaurant or wine bar. Just for fun. Perhaps in France or even in the neighborhood, in Amsterdam. That would be a lot of fun.”