A quick doodle on a beer coaster. That’s the genesis of Coolblue, in 1999. The first chapter of a classic success story: three student friends sitting in a bar, unaware that they are all future millionaires.
Company: Coolblue (worth EUR 1.2 billion)
Conceived by: Pieter Zwart, Paul de Jong and Bart Kuijpers
Thought up at: Grand Café de Dijk
Conceived after: ‘a number of’ beers
Graduated yet? No
A beer coaster from Grand Café de Dijk. Table 7. A few times a week, Pieter Zwart (39) can be found sitting there with fellow students Bart Kuijpers and Paul de Jong. “It wasn’t trendy or anything, so it was nice and quiet. We’d sit there talking until they closed up. And one of our friends worked there as a barman. It was a comfy situation for us, financially speaking. And he could also talk with us from behind the bar. That’s why we always set up at that table.”
The ‘De Dijk’ Room
Nowadays, the table in question can be found at Coolblue’s headquarters on Weena. And not just the table: Zwart build a miniature version of the entire bar. It’s called the ‘De Dijk’ Room, and is located next to a reconstruction of his student room.
The ‘De Dijk’ Room houses a fake bar, pub colours and tables from the actual establishment. It’s an integral part of the Coolblue story, according to Zwart, who has also installed ball pits in a number of rooms in the office.
At Table 7, the conversation always centres on starting a new company. Every evening, the three friends – “we were basically sitting there drinking beer from a vaasje” – fill ‘piles’ of coasters with new ideas. Each coaster sets out a different business plan. They never actually make work of them. “We were basically hanging around, wasting time. The problem wasn’t a lack of ideas. It was actually doing something with them.”
That evening, the day before the establishment of Coolblue, Table 7 once again has a new stack of scribbled coasters. Zwart is fed up. He picks one up and says: tomorrow we’re going to the Chamber of Commerce and simply doing it. We left at 10 in the evening – a lot earlier than usual. And the next morning, we were standing in front of the Chamber of Commerce at 9 a.m., ready to get started.”
It’s the birth of Mp3man.nl: a specialised online shop for mp3 players. In the years that follow, this first store is followed by hundreds of other outlets. The founders earn millions. Zwart, looking back: “In hindsight, you could say that idea wasn’t half bad.”
The three build up Coolblue at ‘De Dijk’. Six days a week, you can find them sitting around Table 7. “For two years, we hardly did anything besides work and sleep. It was my ultimate sog. If an exam was coming up, I would think: “Well, I won’t be studying for this one – I’m busy building my own business.” Course books don’t pay a lot of attention to simply doing stuff. But we were doing it.”