Spotlight on Founders_006/Koen_Polarsteps

Nothing is ever average. We either have great days or bad ones; one day you get featured by Apple and the next you wonder how you’re gonna make it through the next year. ~Koen

Hi Koen! Tell us something about Polarsteps and where the idea came from?

The original idea actually came from my co-founder, Niek. A few years ago he went on a sailing trip from France to the Caribbean and he thought it would be cool to share his location with his family and friends as he progressed across the ocean. So he got a GPS device, and he would track his coordinates and text them to a server using a satellite phone, finally the server here would track the journey using these coordinates and create a virtual itinerary…long story short: it was quite a hassle. This idea kind of caught on after that trip. Then he tested it again on another one of his adventures. And the idea gained even more traction. So together we decided to create an actual product prototype out of it; and we launched our first beta version in April 2015.

How did you get involved in Polarsteps? What is your background?

Ever since I was 16, I started creating websites. I first did it as a hobby, then I started setting up websites for SMEs. It became my hobby as well as my side-job…it was a pretty nice job for a 16-year-old. Later on, I went on to university and studied international relations. This was completely different from what I ended up doing but it is one of my greater interests aside from working with websites. After my studies, I decided to go work for a corporation because I wanted to work on websites with greater traffic and with bigger budgets: this helped me move on to the next level. I went to work for TMG, one of the largest publishers in the Netherlands. There I helped create which is basically the equivalent to Buzzfeed in the Netherlands. It was at this time that I got in touch with Niek about the idea of developing Polarsteps further. TMG had a fund which invested in startups and the funding allowed us to move from an initial prototype to a first product.

About Polarsteps…How far do you think the development process is with the app and website?

Its hard to say how “far” we are. I believe in the concept of continuous improvement, which implies that our development process does not really have an end; but rather we keep improving our product over time. Polarsteps is still very early stage as we’ve only launched a bit over a year ago. However, we are all really excited because the users of the current beta app are already very satisfied with how it’s working: we are getting over 60% of our users with extremely satisfied ratings…so 9/10 or 10/10. We’ve only just started though, and have a long road ahead of us. Right now we are focused on the launch of our Android app, which is currently in public beta.

Eventually we don’t want Polarsteps to just be an app for tracking your current trip, but also for planning your next trip and remembering your previous trips. We believe that the experience for planning a trip online is utterly broken. Did you know the average traveler visits over 40 websites before booking a trip? We want to fix this.

For remembering your trip, we will add a service where users can print out albums of their trips with us. So they can also have a physical copy of their trip.

What are the biggest challenges you will be facing in the next months?

Keeping up with growth. We have some major releases coming up, including our Android app going from beta to live and the launch of a new printed photo album feature. We need to ensure that as our touch points with users increase, we are able to provide them with a quality experience everywhere.

And as an entrepreneur what are the personal challenges you face and the rewards you have?

The thing I love about being an entrepreneur is that you are building on your own vision and dream. That makes you really passionate about what you’re creating regardless of the highs and lows that inevitably occur; its not like we do it just because we need a job to keep ourselves busy. The passion also really brings out the energy in you because you’re building a product that you actually want to use yourself.

The con is essentially uncertainty. Nothing is ever average. We either have great days or bad ones; one day you get featured by Apple and you see thousands of new users coming in, the next day a potential investor says no and you wonder how you’re gonna make it through the next year. But I think that the way to counter it is by keeping in mind that as long as you work hard there will always be another opportunity.

So do you think it also takes luck to create a successful product?

You need both. You need to work hard to execute your ideas because the only way to find out whether your assumptions are right, is by validating them on real users. But you also need to be lucky to run into the right people with the right network, connections and skills.

Is there anyone you look up to and take inspiration from?

That’s a hard one…I would have to say Obama. I know this sounds very cliché but I like the fact that he is really inspirational. When he speaks he is always able to communicate his vision in a simple way, and then set a clear path towards it. This is something that has not only made him a successful politician, but it is a trait that is needed in a business. Great business leaders are able to set a clear vision and then execute upon it.

Speaking of American politics. What is your take on the primaries?

That’s a funny question. I have been really busy this period so I haven’t really gone in depth about it but American politics is really interesting to me. Let’s say I follow them with interest. It’s kind of like watching a reality TV show. I’m really interested to see what happens tonight at Super Tuesday.

What are your lessons learned? And what is your advice to other entrepreneurs?

Since we started Polarsteps we have gotten something like 10 emails telling us: “I also had the same idea!”. This has really made it clear to me that the difference is not only the idea, but it’s the execution. Don’t be afraid to execute! Ideas are worthless without execution. The next step is to really find a team that fits. You need a team that can build stuff, so people with complementary skills. So team, team, team!

What’s your next travel destination?

My next travels will be to Italy. But the destination that is on my wish list is Patagonia. I have been dreaming of going there for a while. Oh…one more downside of being an entrepreneur at Polarsteps is that I can’t travel in the summer, because that’s our busiest period haha.

What is your next step? Maybe a trip to to read more Founder’s Spotlight stories?!

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