“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Leonardo da Vinci supposedly once said. Why should you have to type the URLs for your favorite websites into the address bar every day, or search through long lists of bookmarks to find that one website you once saved ages ago? Why can’t surfing the web be simpler? Symbaloo believes it can. There’s a sophisticated logic behind symbaloo.com, which provides a personal homepage that organizes all the websites you regularly visit into an orderly “webmix” of colorful tiles.
That orderly logic was designed by then-24-year-old student Tim Has. In 2007, Has and two other students at Delft University of Technology built a company around it, rapidly attracting tens of thousands of users. Under the leadership of seasoned entrepreneur and marketing expert Klaas Lameijer, the company has grown and expanded with a second office in Costa Mesa, south of Los Angeles, where Lameijer and his family moved in 2008. The Symbaloo office in Delft still has nine employees; in Costa Mesa, there are now five.
One reason Lameijer chose Costa Mesa—and not the “Holy Grail of entrepreneurship,” Silicon Valley—was to lower expenses. “We spend half as much here on rent and staffing compared to San Francisco,” he explains. Moreover, Lameijer views Symbaloo more as an internet company than an IT startup, which are more often found in San Francisco “Nor do we need financing from venture capitalist funds in the Bay Area. Last but not least, the weather’s better here,” he laughs, referring to San Francisco’s chilly summers.
In the US, Symbaloo has continued to refine its webmix concept. Symbaloo—Greek for collecting—can not only be used as a starting point for personal internet use, but also to create a homepage for a specific theme, such as a soccer club, the local news, fashion, food or health. Those webmixes can easily be shared via computer, mobile app or tablet. “Link sharing is the most important thing people do on the internet,” Lameijer says. “People like to share things; they like to show others what they’ve seen and done.” Lameijer saw significant opportunities for webmixes to hit the big time in America. “The market here is so much larger. In the Netherlands, one percent of the population is already using Symbaloo. Just imagine if one percent of Americans started to use it.”
In both countries, Symbaloo is gaining ground in the world of education through SymbalooEDU, a special Symbaloo-website that offers more tools for teachers and students to organize their activities. “Students often read outdated textbooks. But a teacher can create a webmix for them, which can be continually updated,” Lameijer says. Teachers can also create their own homepage for a lesson and share that webmix with other teachers. The basic versions of the homepage are free; more extensive paid versions are also available for teachers. Lameijer regularly attends education fairs in the US to share the Symbaloo technology.
Symbaloo is already profitable: the company earns commissions on sales made by each user who makes a purchase through the site at eBay or Amazon, for example. Symbaloo has also received a grant from the Dutch government specifically geared toward innovation development. “We were very pleased about that,” Lameijer says. “It allowed us to hire an additional two people, among other things.”
Lameijer already knows that he wants to sell Symbaloo someday, but he first wants to let the company grow much larger. The most difficult years in the US are behind him, he notes. “It was hard to build up a network here; as a foreigner, you have to start all over again.” After the educational sector, Symbaloo plans to target the medical world. Lameijer hopes the site will ultimately attract 10 to 50 million users, and he looks forward to expanding into other countries. He is confident about reaching more Americans. “Americans love efficiency and ease-of-use,” he says, “and that’s exactly what Symbaloo is all about.”