What once started in a student dorm room, has since become an international research agency. WUA is market leader in online customer experience benchmarking. To Klaas Kroezen (34), founder and CEO, his employees are always the core of the company. An interview with one of the men behind WUA on T-Mobile Founders.
“My workplace is a duffel bag filled with, aside from workout gear, my laptop and smartphone. That’s all I need for a working day,” says Klaas Kroezen, founder and CEO of WUA (Web Usability Advice). WUA helps companies increase their online sales by conducting customer research into their websites.
“I’m mostly active outside of the office. Consciously. It’s fantastic. Because I’m on the go a lot, 4G is incredibly important to me. No matter where in the world I may be. So I’m glad 4G now works well all over the world; I get reception everywhere. I make a lot of phone calls, and I’m in contact with colleagues through email and WhatsApp as well. If you’re at the office every day, everyone comes to you for every little thing that pops up. You risk losing room for creation and energy, and thereby, losing fun.”
WUA was established eleven years ago in a tiny student room in the back of the fourth floor. Of a house at the fancy Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, though, there is that. Klaas and his brother Henk wanted to start a company together. Something digital, because they liked that. And whatever they’d decide upon, they’d want to be able to become world champions. They just didn’t know exactly what that ‘whatever’ was going to be. It wasn’t immediately important anyway: to the brothers, employees were and still are the core. Who do we want to start a company with? Who will contribute to a positive working culture?
Klaas: “We threw the sofa out of my student room, and turned the living room into an office with three workstations. A few months later, we were able to rent a housemate’s room as well – during the day, at least. He still spent his nights there. It wasn’t long until we had around seven people working for us.”
At that point, the work mostly consisted of writing a book on customer reviews (2009). The company Klaas en Henk started also sold hyperlinks on daughter pages of Startpagina.nl. “This gave us the room to think about what we wanted to do. We didn’t have any financial stress.” That free thinking eventually resulted in WUA as it exists now.
Guiding principle in starting the company was the book Good To Great. Klaas: “It’s one of the most successful business books ever. It’s about how successful companies manage to stay successful in the long run.”
Important lessons WUA learned from the book included: first choose who, then what; don’t occupy yourself with an exit strategy; and make sure the numbers are available every single day. “Always base your choices on the numbers, and as little as possible on emotion. That’ll help you make more stable choices. That’s how we work, too. We aim to meet these conditions every day.”
In principle, Klaas is always available for work. His schedule is relatively empty. “Even if someone calls or emails late at night, I’ll respond. I email, WhatsApp and call an enormous amount, but it doesn’t feel incredibly busy. It’s just a lifestyle. Although I do try to be offline as much as possible when I’m on vacation.”
“Although… if something important is going on, colleagues can always send me a text, or call me. On vacation, I check my email every couple of days, and I respond only to those messages that are really important. We have five app groups that I’m a part of at WUA. On vacation, I archive them, so I can’t immediately see them.”
LinkedIn is incredibly important to Klaas. With more than 11,000 connections, he uses the network to attract clients, inspire them, and – in his own words – ‘take them along on our journey’. Klaas: “WUA has a fantastic marketing department with content marketers who create content for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Content marketing is extremely important in attracting leads.” He himself follows people like Richard Branson and mental coach Anthony Robbins.“Incredibly inspirational people, who match our philosophy perfectly.”
One of the methods WUA uses to help companies increase their online sales, is letting a large group of people – four hundred, for example – perform an hour-long search for the client’s product. They can do this from home, or from wherever they wish. Which competitors do they encounter? What’s the experience like at both the competitors and the client? Which party would they choose, and why? What needs improvement? All these things are included in the study.
The questions are answered online. Respondents often use their smartphones in their searches, too, to experience the way the websites work on smartphone. And how they experience apps, because that’s another thing WUA studies. Klaas: “The results of these studies are entered into the WUA database, and then we perform in-depth analyses. We present the results in an ActionWorkshop, to ensure organizations will immediately link the study to real action.”
Today, WUA operates in nineteen countries, and has five offices worldwide. The company employs 35 people, with a flexible non-core workforce of both freelancers and agencies. The company has tested over 26,000 websites. The customers? T-Mobile, ING, and Samsung, to name a few. Klaas:“Our goal is to have thirty offices. In the meantime, our business culture remains our priority. Because what is true growth, really? It’s growth of your people. Customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and fun all increase when your people grow.”