My journey in tech entrepreneurship

Last month, we celebrated FORWARD’s 7th year anniversary.

For me, an anniversary is always a time of reflection. One of the questions I’m sometimes asked is how it all got started.  This led me to writing it all down into something you could call a short founder story.  Interested in reading how everything started and how I ended up here?  Buckle up, here goes… 

Beginnings: From geeky kid to tech enthusiast

“Exploring childhood interests in tech and creativity. Academic pursuits and early career decisions.”

With the risk of sounding old (yes I’m Gen-X, tilting towards Millennial), I was always kind of a creative and geeky kid, big fan of the Star Wars franchise, playing around with an Atari ZX Spectrum, and later on a Commodore 64.  I started programming my first lines of code at the age of 8.  Tech always played a major role in my life, as well as exploring my creative side: painting, drawing, creating stuff, …  I went to art school, and even played some guitar.  Basketball was, and still is, my favorite sport, a team endeavor that I immersed myself in for over a decade. As a devoted fan of the NBA franchise, I found immense joy in both playing and following the franchise.  Apart from the guitar playing and basketball, tech and creativity laid the foundations of my professional career.

Even now, I still like thinkering with a Raspberry Pi, programming my own home domestics system whenever I have a few minutes to spare, and like to draw or play with clay with my youngest son. 



After graduating, due to an unsuccessful endeavor to pursue a career as an F16 fighter pilot, and equipped with a foundation in mathematics and economics from my high school education, I opted to pursue and successfully completed a degree in Computer Science in 1999.  Inspired by the first Toy Story movie, combining my interest in both tech and creativity, I did an internship in 3D modeling and animation.  I created a “demo reel”, to send to major animation studios and was convinced to start a career in this field.  You can have a look at the animation video here – keep in mind it was 1999.  After submitting the demo reel, a well known Brussels based company offered me a job. All major movie studios were in London, and back then, I didn’t feel like moving.  Also attracted to tech, I had my doubts… so back to the career drawing board.

The early career years: Navigating tech's golden age

“Entry into the IT industry during the dot-com boom. Balancing career growth with personal passions and freelancing.”

The late nineties were also the “the golden age” in IT. The internet was just getting started, and we found ourselves just before the Y2K bug, when everyone thought the world was going to end when the year 2000 hit.  Big corporations were hunting for you while still at school, you applied for a tech job in a car dealer’s showroom, and were offered a job even weeks before graduating.  Tech was on the rise! EDS was the company where I started my career.  A big US, Texas based corporation, with a lot of structure, but also a lot of variety in my job, working for different industries like government, banking, manufacturing, …

So September 1999, I started my career as a web designer (again combining my interest in tech and creativity), but after a year, I slowly evolved as a hardcore Java Developer, and remained a Java developer / architect for 12 years, loyal to EDS.

Different times back then.  But also a period when all jobs in tech were only in metropole cities like Antwerp and Brussels.  Living in Hasselt, my daily commute was a minimum of 3 hours a day, while working for 8 to 10 hours, leaving home at 5:30 AM and often not returning from work before 7 or 8 PM.

Entrepreneurial endeavors: From side hustle to serious business

“Transitioning from freelance work to entrepreneurial ventures. Early successes and challenges in the startup world.”

While very happy in my daytime job, I always felt the urge to do more and explore additional challenges I did not find in my daytime job as a programmer: stepping into the entrepreneurial world. So in 2001, I started to do some freelancing work after hours. Yes, basically between 8PM and midnight and during weekends.  Fortunately, “hotel mama” had my back. With my background in web design (my creative side), and current focus on Java and HTML (my tech side), I slowly started building a portfolio of quite some customers and started growing my entrepreneurial side.  So yeah, working about 60-80 hours a week and pulling some all nighters to meet deadlines was quite normal.  I recall working 36 hours straight with barely 2 hours of a quick nap, just to meet deadlines. Work-life balance?  Limited. But boy did I learn a lot, and had fun doing so! When you’re passionate about your work, it becomes something you want to accomplish rather than a chore you have to do. I often called it “the developer satisfaction”: having an idea, building something, and seeing it come to life. So rewarding!

I also subcontracted a lot through Hands, a Hasselt based media agency.  That’s how one of my biggest “side hustle” customers came to live, “Chellomedia”.  Through Hands, we got an opportunity to implement a DAM system.  Back in those days, a DAM was quite expensive and complex.  I was like “hey, I’m a programmer, how hard can it be to build this myself”, and just went along with it.  After 2 months of building, the initial product was ready for release.  The product, called “Virtual Press Lounge, short VPL”, was a real success, and was used actively for many years. The VPL was a content portal for all major Belgian and Dutch media houses to generate their printed programming guides (both scheduling information and a rich media library).  Looking back now, I should have commercialized it for a broader adaptation, but I wasn’t that kind of entrepreneur and commercial person quite yet…

Joining Xplore Group: A new chapter begins

“Joining Xplore Group and embracing new opportunities. Exploring the e-commerce landscape and contributing to growth.”

Like I said, being a loyal employee at EDS, I never felt the urge to start my own business full time, and never felt quite “ready”, always thinking I needed to learn more before taking a next step.  That came to change shortly after EDS was acquired by HP.  Combining their forces, EDS being in the software business, and HP being in the hardware business, they tried to compete with IBM who was already in both businesses. That’s when the restructuring started, and I no longer felt I was in the same company any more.  So late 2011, with my baggage of knowledge, I put myself in the job market on LinkedIn.  It only took a few days before being approached by Xplore Group.

Logo Xplore Group


Back then, Xplore Group was a small cluster of companies focussed on Java technology within the De Cronos Groep, with a growing focus on e-commerce, which was on the rise.  I remember my first interviews.  Rather than going through heavy interview processes, it was more like passionate talks about a shared and common interest in technology.  I also had a chat with Jef De Wit, founder of the Cronos Group, explaining the possibilities of once starting my own company within the group.  I got the chance and freedom to first explore the group a bit, and see for myself where I wanted to land.  Remembering my first chat with Xplore Group, I was quite enthusiastic about being an Enterprise Architect within one of the (back then) smaller e-commerce companies based in Hasselt (also being attracted to a small daily commute I must admit).  So for the next 6 years, I took upon the task of helping drive the direction of an e-commerce company from a technical perspective, which grew from 7 to 50+ people.

Pioneering innovation: Automating E-commerce infrastructure

“Identifying market needs and innovating solutions. Adapting to changing technologies and competition.”

I believe the best way to generate successful startup ideas is to start by identifying a problem and pinpointing a solution.  Back in 2016, the e-commerce platform we worked with, Intershop, only offered hosting “on premise” or “in the cloud”.  Saas was quite new in the e-commerce world. When a new project started, the first weeks needed to be spent in setting up servers on AWS, configuring Linux, installing applications and Oracle databases, setting up proxy servers, configuring SSH keys, … on multiple environments (Development, Test, Acceptance, Production).  This often required about 3 weeks of error prone DevOps, before development could even start.  Having a background in development, I felt the need to improve. As developers are (and should be) lazy by nature, and dislike repetition, I had a concept of automating the process, and branding / packaging this offering to have a competitive edge in the market.  The result was successful, and I was able to bring down 3 weeks of manual setup into 15 minutes of config work and let the Ansible scripts do the job in a mere 2 hours.  Ready to conquer the market, we felt really confident… until we came across Demandware.

Logo Demandware


Demandware was doing something no other e-commerce product was doing back then, and offered a first-of-its kind scalable Saas solution.  No need to worry about setting up servers, being able to start development from day one, no need to worry about infrastructure, monitoring disks and memory usage, auto-scaling, and even the first to offer AI based product recommendations.  A real game-changer in the e-commerce space, rendering our custom solution obsolete.  Hence, we shifted our focus, and took a training class on Demandware.

Good to know, Stephan Schambach, founder of Intershop, was also the founder of Demandware, taking his idea (and code base) of Intershop to the cloud.  Basically the same idea we started, but on a slightly bigger scale, and way ahead of us. 😀

I remember sitting in the training class, and the teacher opening his mailbox during a break, suddenly saying “hey, appears we’ve been acquired by Salesforce”. That was around 2016.  I must honestly admit, I never heard about the name Salesforce before, and didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I was mainly focussed on, and attracted by, the product and the possibilities.

Evolution into FORWARD: A transformative journey

“Founding Planet of Commerce within the Cronos group. Early successes and building a reputation in the retail market.”

During that period, as a colleague, I was also working closely together with Kevin Box on several projects, as well as on the commercialisation of the Intershop automation mentioned above.  Kevin had a business and marketing background, I was a real techie, but both with an entrepreneur mindset.  We got talking, and the idea was born to found our own company within the Cronos group. As the story goes within Cronos, you come up with an idea, create a business plan, convince the founders to co-invest, and you get a go to prove yourself.  This is a great way to found a company, with the support of a large group, serving as an incubator.  The real strength, is you can really focus on what matters: your customers and their business. The Cronos cluster, Xplore Group we are part of, takes away the burden of having to look for office space, setup payroll administration, car policies, IT infrastructure etc.  So from day one, you can put your focus on your business. So once we had the green light, dating March 2017, our company “Planet Of Commerce” was born!


From thereon, things went smoothly.  We onboarded our first customers, JBC, Brantano and Torfs, and soon, more started following… We were getting a lot of traction in the retail market in both Belgium and the Netherlands, and started to be recognised as a true retail expert. I remember our “Friday evening parking lot meetings” like yesterday, reflecting on the great week that just passed.  So cheers to you Kevin, being an awesome co-pilot kick starting this amazing journey with me.

Expanding horizons: Embracing the Salesforce Ecosystem


“Diversifying services and embracing Marketing Cloud and CRM. Challenges and successes in integrating new technologies.”

Initially, because of our experience and background, our focus was solely on omnichannel e-commerce. Demandware was renamed to Salesforce Commerce Cloud (as we still know it today), and fully embedded into the Salesforce platform ecosystem.  It did take about 2 years when our Commerce customers started asking questions like “how can I attract new customers, how can I activate sleeping customers, what are the options to send promotional emails in Commerce Cloud”, ….  Being a Salesforce SI partner, we of course knew Salesforce had a great offering, but this was new terrain for us.  Sure, the step towards Demandware was an easy one because we already had extensive enterprise e-commerce experience for more than 6 years prior to dipping our toes into Demandware, but Marketing Automation was a whole new game. 

Salesforce logo

Salesforce is always looking into ways to grow the partner landscape as demand rises.  So with a little push from our Salesforce Partner manager, Robin de Leeuw, we decided to take on the challenge and answer the calling from our customers and Salesforce itself.  We hired our first employee, Nikki Münch , in our new Marketing Automation “division”.  A Salesforce AE reached out to us, and we had the opportunity to start a Marketing Automation project for a major electronics brand in Belgium. Because we had little experience with Marketing Cloud back then, and we didn’t really know which talent to attract, I made the decision to invest and commit all my time into the first project myself, and tackle our first challenge together with Nikki.  At FORWARD, we have a “whatever it takes” mentality.  So whatever is needed to get things going, we just dive into it.  Having successfully delivered the first project, the first steps were made to become the trusted Salesforce Marketing Cloud partner we are today, and grew our knowledge in the entire Salesforce Marketing portfolio like MC Personalisation, Loyalty Cloud, Data Cloud and so on…

The same story goes for our CRM offering.  CRM is the missing link between a great e-commerce solution, and a marketing automation engine.  A CRM holds your “golden record” of the customer, synching to both systems, having actionable data to drive growth (promotions, insights etc).  On top, Service Cloud offers more than a golden record, but also has great customer service capabilities, allowing your customer service team to offer a personalised and defiant way to communicate to their customers, making them happy and loyal to the brand.  We soon saw the potential for this too, being able to offer a real customer 360 solution for the amazing brands we work with.

I remember Elke Laeremans, former COO/CIO at Schoenen Torfs asking us if we had experience in Service Cloud.  Being open and transparent (also one of our core values written in our Manifesto), I said no, but expressed we were really eager and committed to make this a success.  With the trust of Torfs and a great and proven partnership, the dedication of a great team, and the support of Salesforce, we implemented our first Service Cloud solution.  After 6+ great years of partnership with Schoenen Torfs , we are still expanding the capabilities today with additional products like the Salesforce OMS, using Mulesoft to weave it all together.



So after 3 years in the game, dating 2020, FORWARD was recognised as one of the first Salesforce multi-cloud solution providers.  Because of the Multi-cloud focus, we also rebranded and changed our name from “Planet Of Commerce” into “FORWARD”.  Fun fact: the new name FORWARD was conceived in one of the daily walks Kevin Box and I had, walking from the hotel to the Dreamforce. San Francisco, being the home to Salesforce, as well as Dreamforce is a really inspiring place!

Navigating challenges: Resilience amidst adversity


“Overcoming obstacles like customer bankruptcies and leadership transitions. Reinventing the company culture and strategy for growth.”

I must admit, the road to where we are today wasn’t an easy one, and we surely faced some challenges.

  • Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) and Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget) were 2 products acquired by Salesforce, CRM being the core product of Salesforce.  So this means we had to learn how to work with, but also how to integrate 3 different technology stacks, and hire talent that could work in 3 different domains.  Being strong in the tech game however, we soon started building our own integration packages on top of Salesforce, making sure a seamless integration existed.  Nowadays, Data Cloud and Mulesoft fill in that gap, but we still rely on our custom solutions today for customers looking for alternatives.

  • In 2020 we were hit with the bankruptcy of our largest customer, FNG.  We were running about 8 branded webshops, with Brantano being the biggest one.  So from one day to another, we suddenly suffered from a large bench.

  • During the course in 2022, my co-founder Kevin Box left the company.  This had quite some impact on the morale of the organisation, and some restructuring needed to happen.  This is the time when gradually Kevin Van der Straeten entered the scene as co-CEO. Kevin had been a client at first, working for the FNG group.  Kevin was familiar with the organisation, already made a move from FNG to FORWARD, and was alignmed on a lot of things in terms of vision and strategy for the company. So this was a no-brainer.
  • Another challenge was the rapid growth of our organisation (from 2 to 100+ people in 5 years), spanning multiple countries, managed centrally. Moving from start-up to scale-up required reinventing ourselves, year after year.  In fact, this is, and should be, a continuous process for every company.  You always need to challenge yourself every year when setting your goals: are the tools we use today still the right tools tomorrow, which cost savings do we need to apply to stay competitive, is the market changing and do we need to adapt our service offering, which Salesforce products and Industries to expand into, how to mature our sales & marketing processes, grow our brand, mature our delivery and PMO organisation, introduce “middle management” while maintaining our startup culture etc.  Personally, I believe this is “the fun stuff”.

Building expertise: Cultivating a knowledge-driven culture


“Investing in employee training and development. Establishing credibility through certifications and partnerships.”

As the case with Torfs, you always need your first client to trust you as a partner when starting in a new product field.  This isn’t always easy, and mostly it’s not only about the product, but also about the cultural fit with a customer, paired with the business knowledge and expertise and passion you present. But it’s also about knowledge.  Salesforce has a great way to not only build knowledge, but also to display your knowledge to the outside world.  Salesforce offers a vast library of freely available training material on Trailhead.  This really works great, and I must admit, the gamification of earning badges is quite addictive.  Of course, the main focus is on Salesforce, but Trailhead also offers a vast catalog of generic learning like AI, project management, sales, the Atlassian stack etc.  Overall, Salesforce Trailhead is an invaluable resource for individuals looking to upskill in Salesforce technologies and advance their careers in the Salesforce ecosystem.


Fun fact: at FORWARD, every Tribe member earning the highest Ranger rank at FORWARD is gifted a Trailhead Hoodie, and wears it with pride at our office.

Next to this, Salesforce also has Salesforce+, a Netflix-like library of on-demand videos and content to get inspired, but also to learn from industry peers and customers.   I often get inspired here to bring these stories to our customers, and in turn bring the Salesforce passion to them and inspire them in the same way Salesforce inspires me.

There’s also the AppExchange where you can find and review SI partners.  FORWARD has a solid track record of great customer reviews, and has an average customer satisfaction scoreof 4.8/5 on over 170+ projects delivered.  On the AppExchange, you can also have a view on the Certifications earned by the FORWARD Tribe members.  Certifications and Accreditations are a great way to showcase your knowledge and product expertise within your company.

And finally, with initiatives like FORWARD Academy, where we partner with Universities like PXL, we educate students, and make Salesforce part of the official scolar curriculum.  This way, students also get to know Salesforce and the huge potential to boost their careers with the great opportunities in the Salesforce Job ecosystem.

Recognition and future outlook: Ambitions for growth


“Achieving milestones like Summit partnership and global recognition. Reflecting on accomplishments and looking towards the future.”

A great recognition happened 2 years ago, back in 2021, I was invited to apply for the Partner Advisory Board for Commerce Cloud.  The Partner Advisory Board brings together an exclusive group of about 12 of the top global partners to solicit feedback and guidance to Salesforce leadership on programs, product, and industry solutions to better meet customer demands. An honor to be sitting at the table amongst big global companies and represent FORWARD, and also a very nice and humbled to get this kind of recognition for our company (back then only 4 years present in the Salesforce scene).

Partner Advisory Board

Our ambitions are strong with FORWARD, and we’re just getting started.  In as little as 4 years in time, FORWARD became a Summit partner (highest level), and we grow talent at a rapid pace. Earlier this year, FORWARD won the “Implementation Partner of the year” award.

I often say “geeks are the new rockstars”.  A known rockstar amongst our midst is Thomas Theunenawarded a golden hoodie in 2022, and named Salesforce MVP in 2023, and 2024.

Today we have over 90+ people strong in our Tribe, and active in 3 countries (BE, NL, ES) in these 4 cities: Hasselt (HQ), Antwerp, Amsterdam, Valencia.

Looking back, just passed halfway at my professional career, I still have a lot to learn, and am really looking forward to the future.

In the journey from a curious kid tinkering with technology to a founder co-leading a thriving company, one thing remains constant: the spirit of innovation and the courage to embrace change. As I reflect on the chapters of my story, from humble beginnings to the heights of success, I’m reminded that every challenge was an opportunity, every setback a lesson, and every triumph a testament to the collective effort of our entire Tribe.

With each passing year, we continue to evolve, adapt, and grow, guided by a relentless pursuit of innovation and a dedication to our customers’ success.

Eager to write the next chapters of our story! The best is yet to come. Forward, together.

Thanks for reading, Bruno

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