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Interview: Company with one million turnover by second-year student Tom van der Laan

02 July 2012

Student of business economics Tom van der Laan (20) and his friend started a company at age 17. Three years later they can live comfortably from their profits. Tom says the knowledge of his studies is useful to the company, and on the other hand his practical experience is an advantage in the coursework.

How did you start your company Online X Solutions?

‘We started three years ago with giving away free prizes through the internet. People had to fill in an online survey and in return they would get a free perfume sample or sunglasses for instance. We sold the information gathered in the survey to large companies such as Vodafone and Nuon. Bas (business partner, who studies Law at the RUG) already had a company doing this and then I started one too. First we fought over this, because we were competitors. Then we decided to work together and this turned out to be a really good idea: our company is now very profitable.’

Tom (right) and his business partner Bas Krijgsman
Tom (right) and his business partner Bas Krijgsman

How did you know how to run a business?

‘We didn’t really have the knowledge to do so. We just started trying stuff. We researched how others were doing things and adjusted this knowledge to our situation. It’s basically what we still do. There is not one best way of running a business. You just take a chance and try your best to make it work. For us it worked out, because we can live comfortably from our business. When we moved to Groningen to study, we could both buy a house to live in.’

What exactly does Online X Solutions do?

‘We started as an internet marketing company that takes online surveys and sells this information to large companies through affiliates. Our customers get free gadgets in return. Now we’re branching out. We just launched our website, where we sell razor blades on a subscription basis.’

How does that work?

‘Well, we started out thinking that razor blades are really expensive in Dutch stores. You can get them a bit cheaper online, but not much. We then thought of selling them online on a subscription basis. When you sign up, you automatically receive your razor blades on a monthly basis, or every three months, whichever you prefer. You can also order them just once. We looked for the cheapest supplier, so we can offer our product for a competitive price. Our website was launched just a little over a month ago, so we’re working hard now to make it a success. We aim to be the largest online retailer of razor blades in the Netherlands, like is for condoms.’

Why did you decide to go to college if you already had a successful company?

‘I wanted to gain a broader understanding of economics, so I was interested in economics in Rotterdam and business economics in Groningen. I decided on the latter, because I thought I would gain some knowledge in economics directly related to business. But it’s much broader than this. I learned a lot about accounting and organizational theory that is useful to our company.’

Are there specific subjects that you use in your company?

‘Certainly. When we were deciding on a cost price for, I profited a lot from the course management accounting. You don’t want to sell your product for not enough money, so the theory from that course was useful.

Accounting is also something I learned a lot from. We already worked in the Accounting View software with our accountant. In school we also used this programme, so I learned a lot more about how to use it. Financial accounting was also useful, because I now understand what my accountant is talking about when we go over our financial reports.

And before I had taken the class Legal Foundations we had had a small spot of bother with a website we launched. We wanted to give away tickets to a Toppers concert, so we build a website just for that. We had used pictures from the official Toppers website, thinking it didn’t really matter if we did. Within two days we had official letters from their management and attorneys that we could not continue our website, so we had to take it offline. It cost us some money to cancel contracts we had already signed. If I had known what I know now about the judicial side of projects like this, I’d never have launched the website in the first place.’

And in your study programme, do you see a lot of what you encounter as a company owner?

‘Yes, especially when I took marketing. Since we started out as an internet marketing company, I know a lot about different forms of internet marketing. The course load of that class was very basic for me, I already knew all about it.’

Do you have any advice for people at FEB who want to start their own business?

‘If you have an idea, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk it over with as many people as possible, because they will help you evolve it. And if you’re really convinced you have a good idea, go for it. For real. Try to make something of it, go all the way. You might not succeed, you might lose a couple of hundred euros, but is that really so bad? Start with writing down your idea. Then see if there are one or two people you’d like to work with. It’s much easier to start a company together than to do it all alone, because you inspire each other. And look into what others in your sector are doing. That really helped us.’

What are your plans for the future?

‘We want to be the largest online retailer in razor blades in the Netherlands. We’re also reorganizing our company, selling the parts that are less profitable in our eyes. Our company is still something we do next to our studies, it’s not supposed to be a fulltime job. So we want to focus more on certain branches. And after college? We’re both debating that. On the one hand, we’d like to continue with Online X Solutions, expanding our business more and more. But working at a large consulting company is also very appealing to me. Guiding people in business decisions also seems really interesting to me.’

Last modified:08 February 2018 1.17 p.m.

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