In the late 1990s, people said TomTom would be replaced by personal digital assistants. In 2009, the company had to diversify after the launch of Google Maps. Today, the navigation business faces a new challenge: autonomous vehicles.
“Of course you get disrupted,” TomTom co-founder Corinne Vigreux told Fortune’s MPW International conference in London on Tuesday. “But we kept investing in technology and pursuing the vision that we had.”
Vigreux said the company has survived because it took the long-term view. “Being an entrepreneur is hard,” she said. “There is a technology graveyard full of companies, especially consumer electronic companies, who could not keep up with the pace of change.”
And TomTom continues to forge ahead, even as self-driving cars—which Vigreux expects on the roads in as little as ten years—take over the task of navigation.
“Our expertise is to put a car on the road within two centimeters of accuracy,” she said of the company’s path forward, “and we can scale and do that globally.”
She emphasized that when it came to scaling, hiring, and retaining the right talent was key. TomTom grew from a $40 million company to $1.8 billion company in five years, and it was a strong management team that allowed it to grow so quickly, according to Vigreux.
“Be very careful about the people you bring into your organization,” she said.
As the competition for talent increases, Vigreux is not waiting to see what the pipeline brings her. She founded Codam, a coding school in Amsterdam that opens this fall.
The program focuses on peer-to-peer learning, which means educating 600 students only requires about 50 staff members. The school is completely free, and Codam is marketing most heavily in areas with high populations of lower-income families and refugees in Amsterdam.
“I want money to absolutely no object in this environment,” Vigreux said, though she acknowledged that even individuals from these communities who receive training for valuable skills may still face imposter syndrome or other culture shocks in the workplace. Moving forward she hopes to implement programs that begin helping underprivileged students when they are as young as six years old.
Whether or not they’re battling imposter syndrome, here’s her advice to entrepreneurs: “Keep looking at your dreams, keep listening to your customers, and keep focused on the problem you are trying to solve. If you do that you can make the world a little bit better.”
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