On February 6th, 2020, we visited the headquarters of a company called Scribbr. This organization, in a nutshell, offers you a service where they proofread and edit your thesis, check your work for plagiarism and generate your reference list. This company has become more popular over the years, focusing on helping students. We visited the office to interview Koen Driessen, CEO, and Co-founder of SCRIBBR, and talked about the formation of the company and the plans and goals of the organization.
What was your inspiration to start the company?
At the time when I was studying myself, I was looking for a particular someone, preferably an Englishman, who could proofread my thesis, but I couldn’t find anyone or any service online. Maybe there were a few options, but they cost a lot of money and I couldn’t trust if they would be of good quality. I thought it was a waste of money to ask them for help and that’s why I started thinking of starting something like this myself.
What were the initial steps for building up the company?
We started this whole project with the three of us. We had only invested 250 euros each at that time. Our customers paid in advance and we paid our freelance services afterwards, so we did not have any cash flow problems.
Furthermore, the tasks we had were divided efficiently. I was responsible for building the website and the marketing of our company, Bas was responsible for the financial part, and Richard was responsible for automating the services and products. We wanted to fulfill everything as efficiently as possible and that’s why we started to automate more and more services. In this way, there is less human interaction causing fewer errors. The three of us had great teamwork without any external help. This is why we could keep the costs so low. Later on, we hired someone for the customer service because this was the most time-consuming part (7 days a week from 9 am to 11 pm) and one marketer.
Our main tactic was to look at things that take a lot of time and to automate this step by step. This is still our way of dealing with our problems today. First, we build a very simple raw version, put this online, and use the chatbox to receive quick feedback from our customers. In this way, we can really implement their ideas and adapt to their needs.
Did the company originate in the attic or was it at this office?
We started our business in 2010 in an attic room in Tilburg with a monthly rent of only 200 euros. This was very convenient since we did not yet really have an income. After a few years, when our company became more international, we wanted to attract more international staff. To do this successfully we decided to move to a bigger city with a big startup scene. In 2016 we moved to Amsterdam to the new startup hub TQ which is operated by The Next Web.
When did you expand the company abroad?
Scribbr initially started as a small hobby project in 2010. This became unexpectedly big in the Netherlands. Later on, we tried to expand this idea abroad by first translating our website in 2014 to German and English. We met a German student who knew the German market very well and was willing to help us. The competition in Germany was already big compared to The Netherlands so it was quite a challenge, but we had a totally different mindset than the existing companies, so that was eye-opening I guess.
We are now operating worldwide, mainly because our website is available in 10 different languages. The main markets for us abroad are now Germany, France and the United States. The US is still a potential market where we think we can still grow a lot. As there is a time zone difference with the US, we are in the process of starting up a local customer service as we currently only have one central customer service department in the Netherlands. By doing this we hope to better help our customers in the US.
Which different departments do you have now within the company?
We have our Development team (8 people) who develop our website and applications, our marketing team (10 people), our customer service (30 people), and our quality management (6 people). We also have 500 freelancers who are not employed in our company but work externally and check the documents. The job of the quality management is to control the freelancers on their work using an automated quality control system. If the system detects low quality, a senior editor will check the document again before sending it back to the students.
How do you differentiate yourself in the global market today?
First of all, we distinguish ourselves by automating the services we make. In this way we keep the costs we make very low and in this way, we prevent errors from happening.
Second of all we only focus on students and their thesis. In this way, we can really dig deep and provide a more extensive feedback. Our competitors also look at business texts, application letters and CV’s. In the beginning we did this too but we realized it was better to just focus on one task only.
Looking at our other big market Germany we see there are several competitors, but these are mainly people who don’t use the Internet and make advertisements via newspapers. They have to hire people externally to build their website etc. This is why I think we can proudly say that we are unique in this market.
Do you have future plans for your company?
We want to support our students in any possible way with online tools. We now have our plagiarism checker, APA checker, citation generator and articles with tips. We still want to expand this in order to help more students over the world. We are thinking of developing another tool in which students can automatically get feedback by only pushing one button.
We also see that there is plenty of space to grow in the US by really focusing on marketing in order to end up upfront on Google. This can be achieved if more students can write positive reviews on our website. We now don’t collaborate with study associations but this is something we can think of in the future.
Do you have a considerate tip for students who want to run a business themselves?
My biggest tip would be to start now. If you have an idea, just do it. Start with building your own website, make sure to get customers and start from there. Don’t invest all your time in writing a business plan and searching for investors. It is a technique to not procrastinate after working out your plan. When you once have your business my advice would be to keep the focus. Focus on one thing you are good at and make that one big.
SCRIBBR is an interesting example of a company starting up with a unique idea. Are you interested in reading another entrepreneur’s story? Check out ZIVVER’s blog via this link.