Geert-Jan Bruinsma (TBK’94) founder

Geert-Jan Bruinsma (TBK’94), founder

Geert-Jan Bruinsma set up the first booking website with a server under his desk in 1996, two years after graduating from the University of Twente. Today, is the number 1 site worldwide to book a hotel room, apartment, holiday home, or resort. It is an example of disruptive innovation that has changed the global hotel industry. During the UT Alumni Day in November 2016, Bruinsma talked about the early days of

“It all started in July 1996. My first digital fax business didn't get off the ground. The Internet was something very new and I saw possibilities there. My former internship supervisor and investor Jan Willem Smeenk suggested during a dinner that I would do something with hotel reservations. He had once built a reservation system for Golden Tulip. A 'market survey' showed us that there were no sites yet where consumers could book at different accommodations. In the USA yes, but not in the Netherlands.” And so the plan was born.

‘Boekingspunt Nederland’

“We started with a ‘TOP-regeling’ in the BTC building at Kennispark opposite the UT Campus. The BTC was what we nowadays call an 'incubator', the UT incubator for startups. The ‘TOP-regeling’ (Temporary Entrepreneurs Spot, ed.) not only included a workplace but also a loan to cover our first expenses. We soon went to Amersfoort where Smeenk offered free office space. We bought a programming book and, together with intern Richard de Vries, I built the website and the underlying tooling building. As ‘Boekingspunt Nederland’ we have registered with the Chamber of Commerce, '' was not accepted as a company name.”

“We needed additional financing. So I decided to make a business plan and send it via email to everyone whose email address I had. In any case, those people knew what 'the Internet' was which was ten still referred to as the World Wide Web. In this way, I raised the starting capital, thanks to 18 investors, often friends and fellow members of the fraternity ('Yunophiat' fraternity, ed.). Because we needed fast internet, we had to go to Diemen (near Amsterdam, ed.). In the meantime we booked hotels and at the end of January 1997, I had ten hotels. At one point we heard the computer beeping behind us and guess what? The first hotel communicated its available rooms. The first booking followed not long after. That really felt like a milestone.”

“It started with one booking a week, now we have about a million a day.”

And then things happened quickly. “To increase the findability of the website, at the time still on search engine Altavista, we decided to give each hotel its own page instead of one homepage. Thus the 'landing page' was born. 'Link building' also soon made its debut at” Due to these first steps in what is now called SEO and the placement of banners, visitor numbers also slowly started to increase. Under the motto 'if you can't beat them, join them', decided to approach the two sites that they always topped in the search results for 'hotel Amsterdam' to offer hotel stays on their site on a commission basis. This turned out to be a great success. The affiliate system was born. In the years that followed, thousands of websites have registered as affiliates. Issuing licenses to go abroad with Bookings also provided an important basis for what is now a global company. All licenses were later bought back.”

It was now 2002 and Bruinsma decided to take a step back. He no longer felt like taking the risks of necessary growth. He chose for his family, children, and travel and sold most of his shares. The fact that he continued to monitor closely and also felt strongly involved is evident from his memories and the use of the 'we' form.

2003 was a key year for “Google AdWords was introduced and suddenly we could place a very targeted advertisement, and we could also see exactly how much each advertisement had generated. If an advertisement did not get the right results, we would disable it. On the other hand, if we had found the perfect advertisement, the tap would have been opened indefinitely. This led to a gigantic growth spurt and in no time we became Google's largest customer. There was even a point where Google asked us if we could slow down a bit: our system was creating new campaigns faster than Google's servers could process them. Those were special times.”

In 2005, experienced cash flow problems. They had purchased millions of advertisements from Google, but of course, they only received the income after the hotel stay had taken place. Just at that moment, was taken over by Priceline, which gave enough room to pay the bill to Google.

From to

In 2005 it was also time for an international URL. That URL was still quite complicated to get. “We hadn't registered a '.com' domain, so we used and, but people didn't understand that at all. As early as 2000, we looked up who the holder of the domain was, it was an American, and made an offer. Very cautiously, $1,000 I believe, but he didn't respond to that, so we offered half a million. But he wouldn't sell it, not even for ten million. Ultimately, we made a Korean happy who had registered (without 's', ed.) and the company name was changed. Much later, the American wanted to sell his domain, so we did so, but never changed the name again.”

In 2011, Bruinsma returned to “I applied just like everyone else, via email,” he says, laughing. “Our youngest kid also went to school and it was quite quiet at home, so I decided to apply for a job at the only company I knew. A very nice company in Amsterdam. And so I returned to, for three days a week. Not in management, but as a developer on the work floor. When I left there were 60 people working there and when I came back there were 2,300. But I discovered that the DNA of the company was still the same: young people from all over the world who worked hard in the center of Amsterdam and made sure that we were not only the largest in Europe, but also in the world. .”

As a developer, he was partly responsible for the constant improvement of the site. “That was the focus of everyone within the company. Everything we did revolved around that improvement and, in my opinion, that's what made us a successful company. At we tested everything we did. Thanks to continuous A-B testing, no user ever sees the same website. For example, one user will see a green button, the other a red button and we will determine which color it will be based on the results. We don't change anything on the website without testing it first.”

Bruinsma remained employed with until 2016. Since then he has been active with various start-ups. Clearly, entrepreneurship is in his blood.