Polarsteps is just the latest step in Koen’s own entrepreneurial journey, and it has benefitted from some of his past experiences. At 13 years old, Koen was already running his own website management business, where he and a friend would set up websites for people and then maintain them on a subscription basis. His entrepreneurial spirit continued through university and beyond. Whilst studying International Relations at the University of Groningen he set up Companyspot.nl – a Glassdoor-esque company profiling platform that made company information accessible and transparent.
A few years later, he co-founded a publishing business, Upcoming.nl, which he describes as ‘like Buzzfeed for the Netherlands’. The goal was never to be an entrepreneur, but running a company was a natural progression for Koen, who admits that he just enjoys building things. He shrugs. ‘I like the creation process of things. That's the essence of what it boils down to, whether it's an app, or a company, or the furniture in my own house!’
The road he travelled was littered with ups and downs – Companyspot.nl was a failure, he says, but Upcoming was hugely successful, spiking from 0 to 3.5 million unique monthly visitors in just 2 years. Like all good entrepreneurs though, Koen has learnt from all his experiences – the failures and the successes. Since establishing Polarsteps in 2015, the company has become a phenomenal success story, raising millions in funding from some of the Netherlands’ most successful internet entrepreneurs and building a dedicated following of almost 3 million users.
If there’s one huge thing Koen has learned from his own businesses, it’s the importance of understanding your users. ‘We are relentlessly customer focused,’ he says. ‘If you look at startups now, everyone wants to work on trendy technology, like AI, chatbots, neural networks, things like that. For me, the true art is to create an awesome core experience that’s bug free. If you’re able to do that, users will love your product and other things will fall into place.'