A 24-year-old with several companies, that is already interesting. But if one of those companies is the result of an escalated project with cryptocurrency, then it is time for a talk with Mark Kooistra.
You have entrepreneurs in all shapes and sizes. And where some people act from an idealistic point of view, the so-called world improvers, others are in it purely for the thrill of the game. Nature of the beast, you could call it.
I used to have to cycle back and forth between Zernike campus and here so often. A hell, really
A textbook example from the second category stands in front of me, holding a cardboard cup in every hand. ‘Sugar, milk?’, asks Mark Kooistra, with his eyebrows raised. No, black coffee, please. We walk through the large building at the Leonard Springerlaan in a high tempo. ‘Here we are.’ Mark points to the left, while he barely prevents the hot coffee from spilling over his hand. On the glass wall it reads Studio 45, the name of Mark’s company, which develops websites and web applications. Behind it, three people look at a computer screen so focused that they do not even respond to my ‘Hi’. Well done, Mark.
‘End of the corridor on the left’, he directs. We sit opposite each other in the empty office.
‘Isn’t it? But, man, I used to have to cycle back and forth between Zernike campus and here so often. A hell, really. I work seventy hours a week on average. But finally I have handed in my thesis for Multimedia, Concepting & Design.’
Training as a side issue
The final stage towards his bachelor’s degree was a heavy task, Mark’s average dropped from eight to seven (out of ten). Not disastrous, of course, but an illustration of the turn that his life took: he had less and less time for studying. ‘I’ve had many moments when I was about to quit. Not because of my grades, but a day only has 24 hours. Together with my companion Maarten Wiersema, I already started Studio 45 during our time at the Cibap, a creative vocational school in Zwolle. While I was studying at Hanze, our company started to improve. My education became a side issue. An expensive one, if you look at my rising student debt.’
I was able to do my thesis at my own company
In the end, Mark did get his diploma after all. ‘The Hanze arrangement for student entrepreneurs certainly contributed to this. For example, I was able to do my thesis at my own company.’ Still, the regulation lacks a lot, he says. ‘Sixty percent of this kind of thesis is a waste of time. That’s a shame when your own company already swallows up every free minute of your time. There is still room for improvement there.’
Bitcoins and altcoins
Years ago, Mark and Maarten started with graphic design. ‘Later on that grew into building websites. And that evolved and…’ Mark takes a sip and puts one finger in the air to indicate that the second part of the sentence is really coming. ‘We are really good at that now!’
We strip all our ideas until only the essence remains. We apply this to all our websites
A striking example is coinranking.com, a website that Mark, Maarten and Nick Pater started in February 2017. Here you can check what bitcoins and altcoins – that’s what you call all other digital currencies – are currently worth. In addition, you can exchange one digital currency for the other. Mark told me by mail that his site attracts 1.7 million visitors per month. A week later this turns out to already be outdated. ‘Five million by now’, he chuckles. ‘I can show you the graph, it’s really insane. A really astronomical growth.’ Not surprising when you consider that blockchain technology, the system on which the bitcoin works, is becoming more and more common.
Millions, clean and simple
‘Almost a year ago we started with a test version. We shared this with certain groups on the internet and that was a success immediately.’ Because of the popularity of the so-called cryptocurrency, but also because of good entrepreneurship. ‘We strip all our ideas until only the essence remains. We apply this to all our websites: mannenrantsoen.nl, an online boxershort subscription, worldvectorlogo.com, where you can download well-known logos in high quality, and also with coin rankings.’
At the moment we have several million visitors per month, plus a few million euros that are exchanged on our site
A quick look at the site is enough to confirm this theory. Only one advertisement at the bottom of the page. ‘It is very tempting to put more advertising on it’, he admits. ‘With that, we might be able to increase our profits tenfold in the short term. But no, we stick to our own philosophy: keep it clean and simple.’
And apparently it works like crazy. ‘At the moment we have several million visitors per month, plus a few million euros that are exchanged on our site. That will probably rise to well over one hundred million soon.’
Sounds good, but what does that mean for Mark? Well, quite a bit. With his site he picks up 0.25 percent on every transaction. You do the math. And oh yes, advertising revenues can also be added to that. In short: the near future looks bright.
Brilliant and less brilliant
He was reasonably early in terms of digital currencies. ‘I’ve had them for a few years. I do not talk about amounts, but it’s going well.’ A broad smile appears on his face. But Mark quickly explains that it is not just about making big bucks. His cheerful face changes to a more serious one. ‘I believe in the projects. Now you have a few parties owning everything when it comes to software: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba. They destroy or buy the competition to preserve their monopoly.’ But in blockchain technology that is different, he explains. ‘There you have a token that is indispensable for a network. On that network, numerous companies try to innovate and integrate, with the result that the currency becomes more valuable. You have a common interest, so to speak. And this gives brilliant, and less brilliant, ideas the space to develop.’
After our hour-long talk, it’s time for a final question.
Mark is staring past me at a white wall, squeezing air out of his inflated cheeks. ‘Tips for enterprising students?’, he sighs. Ten seconds later he comes up with his three golden tips.
1 Put a point on the horizon and work towards it.
2 Strip your ideas to the point where it is just barely working. That is very powerful.
3 Test in practice as quickly as possible. This will prevent disappointments.