Interview with Joyce Brouwer of Hostel Ani&Haakien in Rotterdam.
Before starting their studies at the art academy, Daniëlle Linscheer (33) and Joyce Brouwer (29) first spent a year travelling around the world together in 2005. To hold onto the holiday feeling, they decided to set up a hostel in Rotterdam after they had finished their studies.
How did Ani & Haakien start?
‘When we got back to the Netherlands, we realised that we had had the best time of our lives’, says Joyce. That understanding was the key to the unusual career path that lay ahead of them.
‘The hostels that we stayed in always gave us a great feeling of being at home. When we got back, we wanted to hold onto that holiday feeling, and that is how we came up with the idea to start our own hostel.’
Daniëlle and Joyce did not like the idea of working for a boss, so they decided to describe their dream in a dissertation. After graduation, they set up a studio in an old school where they worked as freelance spatial designers. They also spent time every day working on their plan.
‘The idea initially was to create mobile interiors, making use of the empty buildings in Rotterdam. However, that plan had to be rewritten. After looking into fire safety regulations, we thought we would need about €40 000. We went to a bank to ask what they thought was possible. The bank said that they would consider it if we came back with a business plan. In the meantime, we found a place that met the safety requirements; it had a fire escape and was close to the train station.’
Did you receive any help in drawing up your plan?
‘Yes. Friends and colleagues helped us make an inventory of what we needed for the hostel. How many beds, who our competitors were, possible occupancy levels, and so on.
The advantage of the place we had found was the low rent, but a lot needed to be done. A friend with an economy background helped us with the financial plan, because that was all mumbo-jumbo to us.
My father helped with things like making a detailed list of all the costs, up to and including the toilet rolls. He has also got his own company and can do pretty much everything! It turned out that we needed €175 000 rather than the €40 000 we had originally estimated.’
What did you do to earn money?
‘We both worked at restaurant Villa Kakelbont for 14 hours a week. With that, plus the assignments we received as interior architects, we were able to keep things going for two years, from when we had the idea until we opened the hostel. We were poor students and didn’t need very much.’
How did you manage to raise the money?
‘The zoning plan needed to be changed from office building to hotel, which took six months. We are both interior architects, so we could draw. We also asked other people for feedback, including an architect and a structural engineer. At a certain point, everything was ready – the rental contract, the zoning plan, the licenses. Then it was like, “Okay bank we’re ready for the money!”
Of course, we didn’t get it. We sat opposite a man in a suit and he said, “If it was a bakery I could look at your annual turnover, but a hostel? You are too young, too inexperienced and the hotel business is too high a risk at the moment.” We were so cross. Did that mean we had to stop? We had been to five banks, but did not have the impression that they took us seriously.
At some point one of the banks said they would be ready to talk if we came back with €100 000. “Who can we ask for that?”, we thought.
It was time to find a coach – someone in the business world who could provide us with support and advice through the Chamber of Commerce. Despite our resolution not to spend anything, we paid him €70. The man was so enthusiastic about our plans that he wanted to invest in us himself. Plus, he would ask around in his own network. To our great surprise, we were invited to see everyone in his network, and within four weeks we had €100 000! These were business people with plenty of money, and I mean plenty. The Hampshire Hotel, for example, was one of the investors. The deal was that we would pay the investors back in 5 years’ time at 5% interest. It was scary asking for money, but somehow we managed.’
Did you find all your investors through the Chamber of Commerce coach?
‘No, 50% through the coach and 50% through our own network. One of these was literally in the building on the other side of the street from us – a very smart man in a suit who used to be a punk. He lent us two times €10 000. We had also applied for a loan with Microkrediet – established by Queen Maxima – for €50 000 paid back with 9% interest. He said, “You can’t do that, borrow it from me.”’
And then you went back to the bank?
‘Yes. We then had €100 000, so still needed another €75 000, but the bank still backed out. “Okay, then we’ll do it ourselves”, we thought.
Once we had collected €150 000 we started with the renovations. In fact, each time someone said no, we were like, “Oh yes!” We were determined not to let them get us down.’
Is your perseverance your driving force?
‘Yes. You definitely need perseverance. But what we learnt at the art academy is also important: to form your own opinion and develop your own style. The people we presented our plan to were all impressed by our strong vision and I realised that what we learnt at the academy could be applied to everything.’
Were the tasks clearly defined between you and Danielle before the opening?
‘No, we really did everything together. There were also things that we didn’t dare to do, such as return a call to a possible investor. Then it would be like, “Are you going to call? Me? No, not me! Okay, then we won’t. Yes, but I called last time”, and so on. After an hour of this we realised that we wouldn’t get anything if we didn’t call back. So then finally one of us would take the initiative. We really supported each other as far as that was concerned.’
Were there other things that you found difficult?
‘Definitely. For example, everyone said, “You have to network.” We didn’t agree, we had tried, but we just stood there, two shy girls in the corner. It really was useless.
It was also difficult to be in debt to investors. At one point we had loaned two times €30 000; I actually cried – I had never had a debt before, I wasn’t going to be able to pay it back – what had we done?
But then we realised that this was what we really wanted, and that we had already invested so much time in it that we had to carry on.’
How has it gone with the hostel so far?
‘We opened in July 2013 and from then until the end of October we were fully booked. Things then quietened down, but it will soon be summer again, and then we’ll be busier again.’
How do you make sure that travellers find you?
‘We are on the hostelworld.com booking website and have got some very positive reviews. Travellers appreciate the home atmosphere, the kitchen, the fact that it’s not a party hostel, the garden and, just as important, the fact that we are here ourselves.’
What does your day look like?
‘I usually get up at 9 a.m. and work at home on the administration. I start at the hostel at 8 p.m.: checking people in, doing the washing, cleaning the kitchen. I go to sleep at 12.30 a.m.
As far as a division of tasks is concerned, Daniëlle is more concerned with the administration and I do the web content for websites like tripadvisor and hostelworld.’
Who are the Ani&Haakien partners?
‘Various artists. The artists collective Bier&Brood, for example, made a wall painting upstairs. Els, a friend, has got her vintage shop here, there are yoga lessons and bands perform in the garden – it’s all very relaxed. We like to work together with the city, as for example during the Rotterdam Film Festival.’
What makes Ani&Haakien different from other hostels in Rotterdam?
‘The side of Rotterdam that people see here. We want people to see not just the Speedo and the Euromast, but to take the time to see all the art and culture that the city has to offer. Our cultural network consists mainly of people we know from the academy. We would like to carry out projects with art academy students in the future, to offer them a global podium.
Together with two other hostels we are planning city tours that include Heiplaat, Kinderdijk and the cheese market. The idea is to just drive around in a van, because Rotterdam can be just that bit too big to see everything walking. We are also different because we do not have a bar.’
What are your ambitions for five years’ time?
‘To no longer be dependent on the internet! We want to be a place that is only found by word-of-mouth advertising, for the real adventurer who comes on the spur of the moment and takes his best friends with him. Haha!’
What advice would you have for starting creative entrepreneurs?
‘I believe that you can create your own world. When I returned from my travels I realised that the rules governing the way we do things are different all over the world. There is no one way of doing anything. If you have a dream, go for it!’