I’m guessing you already know about The Next Web (TNW), but did you know that they are way, way more than one of the biggest international sources of news and views about the tech world? Part news site, part incubator and, now, an up-and-coming major player in the tech education scene, TNW is definitely a company that has a finger on the pulse of the startup scene.
Their latest move is the launch of The Next Web Academy, an online “school” that hosts classes with well known internet professionals. The project grew out of the founder’s realization that they were meeting badass, smart, innovative people from around the world who they knew could offer a lot to their readers. And, judging by how they run their business, I’m guessing that these are classes they probably would love to take themselves, so you can rest assured that they’re excellent.
I had the awesome opportunity to speak with Jorg Ruis, CMO for The Next Web and one of the head guys on the TNW Academy. Jorg and I chatted about what The Next Web is getting into, how TNW Academy is going to rock the socks off of internet education, tattoos, and a really interesting theory about why the startup scene in Europe may not be as strong as it is in the US.
Oh, and he sent me hilarious photos. Enjoy!
You guys are launching TNW Academy. What’s your elevator pitch? Go! Give it to me!
TNW Academy is our new online education program. We want to do awesome classes with known names in the field. It can be from design to online marketing to SEO to iOs development. We’re talking to people who are the big names in those areas.
There’s a lot of talk right now about startup founders deciding to not go to college or drop out of college to start their own projects. Do you see the TNW Academy fitting into that space?
I think what you’re describing is the area we want to be in. It’s a bit the same as General Assembly. I think we’re more in that area than, for instance, Stanford or any other big university that’s doing online courses. Our classes are usually paid and our aim is to provide a higher quality of courses in comparison to companies with similar services with the same or, actually, only well-known web professionals.
And you guys just launched last week?
Yeah, we launched last week and we did our first webinar on Tuesday. It was great. It actually sold out quite fast because we had a cap on it of 100 people.
This class was about SEO and obviously there are all different levels: you have the beginners and the intermediates and people who were quite far when it comes to SEO and it’s hard to keep everybody there and enticed and engaged. We learn quickly, though, and we do a lot of customer care on the spot. I think that’s one of the key elements to make sure people come back and want to do other classes.
What’s your role exactly with TNW Academy?
Well, we’re very pragmatic when it comes to what we with The Next Web. That’s translated really into my title, which isn’t Chief Marketing Officer, it’s Chief Monetization Officer. My role is to get more traffic to our blog and our labs and other services we create. I make sure we earn more money.
The Next Web Academy is something we played around with for quite awhile and eventually I just started it with some other people. It was like, let’s just get this thing up and go from there.
Obviously we have big plans with it. Someone recently asked me if I thought we were going to change the world of online education, but really that’s a lot! It’s healthy to have ambition and I want to say yes, but my actual answer was that I think the way we do things at The Next Web is different and so, in that sense, we can change it.
You guys also have a great reach too. I was taking a look and you have millions of page visits a month, right?
I think at the moment we have 7.5 or 8 million pages views and we’re growing very fast. We’ve been around since 2008 and we started so small and grew so fast. It’s the same with the events. I don’t know if you know the events side of the The Next Web?
Tell me about it.
Well, we started in Amsterdam and we actually recently did one in Brazil, in Sao Paulo. It was wonderful and there’s such a lively tech scene out there!
Lots of startups think that if you want to be heard, you have to move to North America. That used to be the case but I think now it’s changing. Lots of companies are opening offices in other places now. Facebook hired a big building [in Brazil], Google is moving over there, and obviously Brazil is one of the emerging markets.
Our conference there was a big success and now we’re trying to set up one in the US. We’re not sure where yet; East Coast or West Coast.
There’s actually a lot going on in the South American startup scene right now. Do you know about Startup Chile? I think what they’re doing is fascinating.
Oh yeah, definitely. I think that a lot of those places are really booming right now. It’s so cool to see all of the things that are going on there. When we did the conference in Brazil we had something called Startup Rally in other countries as well and it was really, really cool.
You mentioned that The Next Web started in Amsterdam? Were you one of the original founders?
No, unfortunately not. I started with The Next Web two years ago. There are three founders, all of them are Dutch, and they still work in the Amsterdam office. We have our own labs and when we think of something cool or something like, hey, that would be funny, we just start doing it.
What kind of projects are you working on yourself?
I mostly work on the blog but I work on other things to. With The Next Web Lab we having something called TwitterCounter.com, where you can follow your own Twitter statistics. That one has been around for over two years now and it has grown to a very big site. We’re one of the very few who is still allowed to use the brand name Twitter in the site name. That’s one of the biggest we have.
We have several ideas like that which start from the idea of, wouldn’t that be fun? And then someone just starts coding. A lot of them implode in the sense that they stop serving people because there are too many startups in that same field but some other startups are growing into successful services and I think TwitterCounter is the best example of that. We’re actually tracking 64 million Twitter users now.
So TNW is not only providing information through the blog. You’re also an incubator?
Yeah, and I think that’s one of the strongest points. We’re not only reporting the news and talking about stuff that’s going on. We actually like to see ourselves as a guide.
I think you have two types of guides. You have the guide that’s walking through the city with a big group behind him or her and saying “Here on the left you have this, and here on the right you have this.” That is a kind guide but I think if you walk through the jungle with a couple of people behind you and you have a big machete in your hand and you hack through the path as you go along, that’s a very different kind of guide and that’s how we like to see ourselves.
In the university I attended, the professors had to be active in their field in order to teach. I think that’s a really great way to make sure you have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on.
Yeah, you’re inventing stuff for yourself as well. Instead of only reporting that others are successful, you try to be there and be successful as well.
It’s the same with Next Web Academy. Obviously it’s not new, when it comes to online education, but we have a certain view and we have some sort of strategy behind it. Through our blog and conferences we connect with so many people who push the bar when it comes to innovation. We really want to give people a more intimate podium to share that with our readers.
What’s the startup scene like in Amsterdam? You’re the first founder I’ve spoken to over there.
It’s a very small scene. One of the founders of the The Next Web always says that Europe has a difficult ecosystem for startups. In America it’s quite common that when startups get bigger and have a certain success, usually a big company comes along and buys them but in Europe, that’s not the case.
A lot of companies are very old here, in the sense that they’re a hundred years or older. They can become that age because they try to defend the status quo. I don’t think a lot of startups are bought in Europe, and especially not in the Netherlands. We have one of the biggest telecom companies here that would never buy a small startup that was doing something they couldn’t because they’re too big or they’re too slow. They would just try to make sure they don’t succeed.
Is there any movement to fight against that?
Obviously people are trying. Another thing that’s really hard here is the rights of employees. When you hire someone and your company isn’t doing that well after awhile, you can’t fire them very easily, at least compared with the US. That’s a good thing for employees but it’s also a bad thing for you as a company. A lot of people, especially investors, think would I invest a million dollars in a company in Europe or in a company in the US, with a company where they can fire and hire people much more easily?
I never thought about the fact that there might still be an old world/new world dichotomy existing. That’s fascinating to me.
It is. I’m not saying it’s terrible here; there are startups here, but a friend of mine has actually recently moved to Berlin because the scene there is a bit better. The city is a bit cheaper and there are more people, compared to Amsterdam.
Have you always worked in the tech world or were you doing something else before this?
I’ve done a lot of things but I was always interested in tech and gaming. I’m a bit of geek but I’m also doing lots of different stuff on the side. I think that’s the most important part of my job: doing lots of different things.
A personal thing is that I’m very interested in tattooing. I also do modeling for the fun of it, which started as a big joke but eventually it got more serious. It’s interesting to do all these different kinds of things.
Is that something you do yourself or do you just like tattoos?
I did it when I was 16, on myself, but that definitely was not professionally. I kept it because it’s such a good story. My mom didn’t like it that much…
I don’t do it myself but I really love the art of tattooing. Obviously it’s become a lot more mainstream but I think it’s really interesting as an art and where it comes from. In the era before, everyone thought that you could only get tattoos in prison but there are all the different islands in New Zealand and other cultures that have used tattooing for generations. I think that’s fascinating.
Do you think living the startup life effects your personal life?
It does. I’m Skyping now, from home, at 6:30 PM. My girlfriend is making dinner. In my life, business and personal is mixed, in a good way. I think you have to guard it to make sure that it stays good. I think if you combine it well, it works out for the best.
Would your girlfriend agree with you?
(At this point, Jorg turns to his girlfriend in the background and asks her my question in Dutch.)
She’s laughing. Do you hear her laughing? Would you agree that I do a good job combining business with my personal life? Does that work out well? Sometimes? Good.
So that’s a straight up, honest answer. Sometimes it works out. That may be because she has to cook right now and I should do that.
Thanks so much for your time, Jorg! Now get off the computer and go eat your dinner.
Jorg Ruis | TNW