Karina Holwerda’s Ukrainian education made her self-confident and independent. As a result she dares to take risks and believes in a trial and error approach. She studied law because she had a strongly developed feeling for justice and wanted to help people. During her studies she founded The Legal Office, her own international law firm specialising in debt collection – mainly in Eastern Europe. The Miss Legal project followed soon after, offering legal advice – for women by women – and aiming to provide accessible and affordable help to women on both private and business issues. And, because this passionate businesswoman (sans 9 to 5 mindset) also sees a lot of potential in new business starters, she recently opened The Law Office, which focuses on starters and student businesses. With this company she also become a partner in the Blue Bird Network, which helps entrepreneurs with good ideas to grow their businesses. She doesn’t have much free time but this is not a problem, as she prefers to work in her spare time.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

I came to The Netherlands in 1997 with my Dutch stepfather and my Ukrainian mother.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
Since I was 14 I’ve had all sorts of jobs, to gain as much experience as possible in various industries categories. When I was 18 I commenced my studies and within the early academic years had already started my first venture – a company offering exclusive bed linen to renowned hotels and shops in The Netherlands and Belgium. I also worked as a lawyer for several legal advice offices, to gain experience. I now have my own law practice, The Legal Office, which provides Eastern European debt collection services to multinationals – using a legal team of native speakers. In addition we run workshops on doing business in Eastern Europe, and we work for charities. I am in demand as a business coach, guest lecturer and as a jury member for various pitch competitions.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Not really. I focused mainly on doing, doing, doing – and how I could improve every day. Though I was sometimes not taken seriously due to my age, so I had trouble in coming out with the fact that it was my own business. Around the age of 25 I overcame that problem once and for all. Be proud of your achievements and don’t be ashamed of your success.

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Ukraine?
The Dutch always want to mull things over for a while. Ukrainians, however, are much quicker to take action. A request is usually dealt with on a same-day basis, while here it ends up in a pile of paper and you get an appointment only after one or two weeks. And so I heard, ‘that’s not possible’ for the first time – in The Netherlands. Everything is possible in Ukraine; people are service-minded. The Dutch are much less helpful and easily say no, but maybe that’s a function of the social welfare ‘safety net’. I’m available 24/7 and it’s no problem for me to have a business meeting in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. In Ukraine a trustworthy reputation is very important. Working from 08.00 to 22.00 is quite normal there and children are brought up strictly, with the aim of making them strong, independent and confident. A lot of hard work is fine, but you have to do something that you like otherwise the effort isn’t sustainable. In The Netherlands everything is well organised, there are rules and laws and the system is just. I can therefore exercise my profession properly here, which I find very pleasant.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
The Dutch are very direct: ‘no means no’. They are also critical, especially when it comes to new things. If you do succeed in getting your product onto the market in The Netherlands that makes up for a lot. There again, the Dutch are more into bargains and sales. I think that’s a pity, because if you go for quality you know that you have something good that will last.

6. What have you taken from both the Ukrainian and Dutch cultures?
Ukraine made me self-assured and independent. I have never asked myself whether I could or couldn’t achieve something. The Netherlands has provided me with the opportunity to do what I’m now doing. People are patient and there are rules which, if you stick to them, can enable you to reach your goal. And if it doesn’t work out? Then you try again, it’s that simple.

7. Would you ever go back to Ukraine?
I travel there regularly, also for my work. I find that this is an ideal balance.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
My perseverance. And the fact that I am always contactable. I don’t have to be, but if it’s not an effort, why not?

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
Watermelon, nice and sweet!

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
Flowers. They make your day, even if it was a disaster. And they liven up a quiet space.

TIPS from Karina

1. Do your research well
2. Stick to the rules
3. A lot of good information is available, use it to your advantage
4. In The Netherlands the opportunity to study is always there: use it
5. Ensure you always have a plan B available

“Be proud of your achievements – don’t be ashamed of your success