In conversation with Tim van der Wiel, founder of GoSpooky

In 2016, Tim van der Wiel (Hilversum, 1998), together with his partner Liam Tjoa, founded social marketing agency GoSpooky. After their first campaign, for Lowlands, it was all over. Tim was still in school when he was included in the 30 Under 30 media list by Forbes. GoSpooky primarily serves FORTUNE Global 500 companies and opened an office in New York last February. “Completely new economies will emerge on virtual platforms.”
Rahi Rezvani

Text & production Bart-Jan Brouwer | Photography: Rahi Rezvani | Make-up & hair: Chantal van 't Hoff

This interview is part 1 of the triptych: “pioneers”. Three young entrepreneurs look through the darkness of the current era to the future in their industry. In this triptych, museum director Merel van Helsdingen shines a light on the art of the future, while GO Sharing CEO Raymon Pouwels and GoSpooky founder Tim van der Wiel (both Forbes 30 Under 30) discuss the development of mobility and social media respectively. , advertising and social tech. “There has never been a better time to have a good idea.” 

Who gave you your talent for entrepreneurship?

“I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father has an automotive company and my grandfather was a contractor. From an early age, I was always very interested in everything that had to do with innovation and technology. I used to want to be an astronaut or an inventor, make new things. Whenever I got a LEGO set, it was never the model on the box but always something else. When I went to high school, I came into contact with the Internet for the first time. In my class I was one of the last with a smartphone and therefore also social media accounts. At the time, Hyves was a thing and especially Twitter. At that time, Twitter was not yet the domain of venture capitalists and journalists, but was mainly used by young people. They tweeted everything that came to their mind. I saw that there were a lot of accounts in the US that tweeted messages aimed at the younger target group: jokes, one-liners, quotes. Why don't we have something like that in the Netherlands? I wondered. After the first school year, I set up an account during the summer holidays and started tweeting. Half of the messages came from America and I translated them. At first I had zero followers, but after a few months there were a thousand. I started collaborations with other accounts, the growth was organic. At one point things went fast and I had 400.000 followers in the Netherlands. I bought a few more smaller accounts and eventually I had a Twitter network of accounts with more than a million followers. That was in 2013, 2014, when the word 'influencer marketing' didn't even exist yet. My email address was listed in the bio on those accounts. The first requests came in from brands that wanted to advertise on my accounts, including big boys like Red Bull and McDonald's. I was also contacted by telephone by parties who probably expected to get a large media company on the line. Did they hear the voice of a fourteen-year-old brat: 'Advertising? Just explain to me how it works.' I had no idea. My first deal was fifty euros for one tweet to a million people. Then you should think of something along the lines of 'Retweet if you ever go to McDonald's'. For me, fifty euros was a huge amount of money, especially compared to the three euros per hour that my friends at Appie earned. In retrospect, with what I know now, I could of course have asked for much more. The most important thing was that I came to understand that eyeballs online, views and reach represent a value.”

How did you develop further as an influencer? before la lettre?

“What I enjoyed most was building and growing the accounts. I had fun seeing what worked and what didn't work every day, and getting smarter about it. It was a hobby, it wasn't so much about the money for me. At some point I got bored and had enough of it. I never sold my Twitter accounts, I literally still have them. One of the companies that advertised with me was Spinnin' Records, the largest independent dance music record label in the world. It was located in Hilversum, where I went to school. They invited me to the office and asked if I wanted to work in their social media department. That was in 2015. Every time I got out of school early, I went there. I was the one responsible for building all the new platforms. I set up Snapchat there, I was at the cradle of Instagram, I built Twitch there, just like many Chinese platforms. The company entered a growth spurt and eventually had more than 400 million followers on all channels combined. For that reason in particular, that enormous reach, Warner Music bought the record label in 2017 for more than 100 million. That gave me a second insight: online reach is worth money, but you can also literally build a company on these platforms. Through my work in the social media department of Spinnin' Records, I saw that the largest companies in the world, from Coca-Cola and Unilever to Procter & Gambler, were lagging behind in the field of social media, while reach also contributed to the value of such a company decides.”

You saw opportunities!

“At that time I met my current partner, Liam Tjoa, on a Facebook forum. He worked at the NOS on the predecessor of NOSstories on Instagram. After having a few coffees, we decided to start a social marketing agency in 2016, initially focusing on Snapchat – which was a new kid on the block and in our view the future of social media. Within one afternoon we had a name, logo and website. And that was the start of GoSpooky. The name is based on the Snapchat logo, the ghost. The literal translation of GoSpooky is 'go on Snapchat'. The name is particularly popular in the US. 'So cool! Of course we will do business with you!' I'm glad we didn't call our agency Snapchat Advies BV or something like that, because we now do much more than just Snapchat.”

Did you and Liam set goals when you started?

“No, we just saw that opportunity and didn't understand why brands didn't manifest themselves on social media. Later we started writing down what our vision, mission and strategy is. I also quickly expressed that it was my dream to go to the US. I was always very intrigued by Silicon Valley. Big thinking, innovation: I wanted to be closer to that. Our ultimate goal is to become a leading player in the field of social media and social tech worldwide.”

How did the Coca-Colas of this world react when you knocked on their door?

“Everyone showed interest and we had a lot of meetings. But going from a first meeting to a deal closing was not possible. Especially in the beginning, we made every mistake we could make. Although we had the knowledge and the passion, we had no idea how a large company worked or what we were worth. We didn't sell anything in the first six months. It took about thirty meetings before we were able to actually implement a campaign for the first time. That was for Lowlands, our first customer. We are heavily focused on that campaign overdelivered: we wanted to show what we can do. It was a time when people started sharing short videos they made on their mobile phones – Instagram Stories, for example, was new. We made it possible for everyone at the festival to submit their videos and with those submissions - based on those thousands of perspectives - we composed a story on the spot, told through the eyes of the visitors. That was really new then. It was a huge hit, everyone was enthusiastic. Also all marketers who habitually visit Lowlands. From then on things started going well. At the time, Liam and I did everything ourselves, from sales to design, while I was still at school and Liam was busy with his studies.”

Have you completed your school?

“I first did HAVO, then VWO, at the A. Roland Holst College. I started GoSpooky in the 5th year of pre-university education and in the sixth year it was so busy that during English and Mathematics I had contact with customers via my laptop and was managing freelancers. It literally happened that I took a taxi during a break to go to a customer meeting and then returned to Dutch on time. I had submitted a request to the school management if I could miss a few hours a week. That was very difficult to do. The school became more accommodating when Liam and I were invited to attend The world goes on to sit at the table following Snapchat's IPO. The next day my principal called and said he gave permission to focus on my company.”

Tim van der Wiel, Merel van Helsdingen Raymon Pouwels

Have you considered going to college?

“After much deliberation, I decided to focus entirely on the company for a year. After the final exams, we rented an office in Amsterdam and hired staff. What a huge relief that was and a total game changer! I would encourage any aspiring entrepreneur to hire people as soon as you can. The past four or five years have been one big rollercoaster. We now employ more than a hundred people and have created campaigns for major companies such as Amazon, Dior, Coca-Cola, KLM, Samsung and Snap Inc. In fact, we mainly serve Fortune 500 companies.”

Weren't you afraid of losing control?

"No. I am a perfectionist, but not necessarily a control freak. We know very well what we are good at, but also what we are not good at. In the field of accounting and legal, we simply needed people. One of the hardest things in a growing business is constantly replacing yourself. More and more is expected of you as a founder and it is very easy to go along with it. But you have to look carefully at where you add the most value and where it would be better to appoint someone else. So stick to your expertise and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in a different field. I benefit a lot from this and I also enjoy working with people who come from a completely different domain. If you don't replace yourself, as a founder you run the risk of blocking the growth of your own company.”

Where lies your strength?

“I can spar well with both the developer on the one hand and the non-technical customer on the other, and thus build a bridge between technology and commerce. What is the market doing, how can a brand respond to it and what about the technical side? I am not necessarily a specialist, but above all a generalist. I get the most pleasure from building a product, and especially figuring out what the opportunities are that new technologies offer and how to optimally use them on the various platforms. The creative interpretation in itself, making the product yourself, others can do better. And I also think it's great to bring that product, that idea, to the stage. Building and selling is where my heart lies.”

MASTERS Magazine

Want to read the rest of the interview with Tim van der Wiel? In the spring edition of MASTERS, three entrepreneurs shed light on the future: Raymon Pouwels (GO Sharing), Merel van Helsdingen (Nxt Museum) and Tim van der Wiel (GoSpooky). According to the latter, ever-accelerating technological progress offers enormous opportunities. “There has never been a better time to have a good idea. The technology is in your pocket!” Sports journalist Jaap de Groot outlines the contours of the new playing field of international sport after the resounding success of the World Cup in Qatar. And futurist Adjiedj Bakas also sheds light on the future. According to him, next year will be all about the search for the economy of happiness. “We are not just going to look at what makes us money, but at what makes us happy.” Perhaps this edition will contribute to this, with a look back at MASTERS EXPO, a road trip with the new Range Rover and interviews with horse pope Jan Tops, Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner, chef Margot Janse and visual artist Spencer Tunick. Luck!