‘The conventional path is already well-trodden’
Wouter Twisk (34) has business in his blood. At the age of 16, he registered with the Chamber of Commerce and set up an internet company with a range of website concepts. But it was while he was studying at TU/e that Wouter’s plans really started to take off. He and his business partner and former fellow student have now been running their companies JouwWeb and Webador for over twelve years. From an attic room to student accommodation to a successful business. And still plenty of dreams for the future.
“I’ve always been into science, so it was only to be expected that I’d end up at a university of technology. Even when young, I was already becoming involved in internet-related businesses: programming and creating websites, for example. But I was eager to get more seriously involved and gain a better understanding of things. That’s why I opted for Computer Science for my degree program.”
Young lad from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen
Wouter was 18 when he started at TU/e, back in 2006. “A young lad from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, living in student rooms in Eindhoven. It was an enriching experience. I really enjoyed my time as a student and was determined to make the most of it. Although I was eager to start a business as soon as I began my degree program, I decided to wait for a while.”
This was until he did the minor in Entrepreneurship. Together with his fellow student and friend Roel van Duijnhoven, Wouter wrote a business plan for a company that was their joint brainchild. It won them the prize for the best plan and also led to the birth of the company that Wouter and Roel are still running now, over twelve years later.
“The idea behind JouwWeb came from our own experiences as Computer Science students. When you study that, you get a name for yourself among friends and family as the person who ‘knows lots about computers’ and can probably build a website. So, we were regularly asked whether we’d be willing to make websites. That actually didn’t interest us at all, because everyone has roughly the same requirements when it comes to a website. So, then we thought, why not come up with a concept that enables people to do it for themselves? That’s how JouwWeb started life: a tool that allows people to build their own website, with a result that both they and we can be proud of.”
Didn’t that kind of tool exist at that time? “There wasn’t really anything that we felt we could recommend to people. What was available at the time was mainly in English or technically complicated or it delivered a result that we were not too impressed by. In our case too, it took a while to get to the level we’re at now. We now offer small-scale entrepreneurs an accessible environment in which they can create an attractive website for themselves. By doing so, we’re helping to resolve something that can often be a major headache for entrepreneurs, creating your own website.”
The business is proving successful: JouwWeb now has around 70,000 customers who can make use of the service in different languages. In the Dutch-speaking market (the Netherlands and Belgium), the brand name is JouwWeb, but the name for the international market is Webador. “We’ve grown into an international business with an international team. We’ve come a long way since we started running it from our student rooms. Do I feel proud of it? Sure I do. We could never have imagined that we’d get this far based on that initial business plan we did during the minor. The prize we won for the plan gave us an additional incentive to really get the business started. I have the degree program to thank for that, along with all the other things I learned during my degree.”
“Now, in business life, I notice that I have a certain analytical mindset that I developed during my degree. Our business is data-driven at its core and taking a critical approach to the data you have is really important. Using that perspective to identify opportunities and solve problems is something I learned to do at university and it’s that aspect that characterizes much of the work I do now. Certainly more than the subject-related knowledge I acquired. Ultimately, I don’t think it really matters so much which degree program you opt for, the main thing is that a university degree teaches you to think and see things in a certain way. You develop academic skills that you carry with you for the rest of your life.”
These skills have taken Wouter far. He talks about his entrepreneurship with real enthusiasm. In the last twelve or so years, were there any difficult steps he had to take? “Entrepreneurship is a journey that teaches you a lot. We started out with just the two of us. As things progressed, we were joined by others and had to figure out how to operate in that kind of team and how your organization looks as you grow. There are now 35 people in the company, the teams are independent so we can focus more on the bigger picture. When a company grows like that, it means that in a relatively short time you're doing completely different work. I’m now more a manager and entrepreneur, which is not what I did when we started this. After your degree, there’s still a huge amount to learn if you want your own company to continue to grow.”
Wouter is eager to encourage entrepreneurship, because it can achieve so many great things. “If you have an idea, try it out. Many people get bogged down in a phase when they have an idea but want to fully develop it first. But you can often start with something really small and find out along the way if you’re on the right path or whether an idea has potential. Seize opportunities, just go for it. You can always abandon it later and try something else. The conventional path is already well-trodden.”
Wouter serves as an excellent example to students and others who have plans for a business. Did he himself also have role models or sources of inspiration? “In our industry, I’m always on the lookout for ‘who are the trailblazers, what can we learn from them?’. Obviously, I could mention the major American entrepreneurs, but we don’t have the ambition to become as big as they are. We want to achieve healthy growth in a no-nonsense way. In doing so, we’re learning lessons shared by other entrepreneurs. NLgroeit is an excellent initiative – a growth program with mentors for entrepreneurs. I can also see myself doing that in the future: helping others to start a business by sharing my knowledge and possibly providing financial support.”
Involved with TU/e
With their business, Wouter and Roel also continue to be involved with TU/e in a similar way. “We’re based in Strijp S and are proud to have offices in Eindhoven. We’re dependent on talent from the local area. If someone has studied at TU/e, it gives us some idea of the qualities that person has, so we like to work with people who come from there. We also sponsor the Gewis study association and occasionally give lectures. In other words, we’re still very involved with our alma mater.”
So, how does Wouter envisage the future? He is determined to see the company continue to grow. “We have a dream target: 250,000 customers by 2026. In internet terms, that’s looking quite far ahead. But we can expect some major challenges before we get there. As far as I’m concerned: business is in my blood and as soon as this gets boring or too much of the same thing, I’ll probably come up with some other idea.”