Firstly, how were your student years?
Hahaha! I was expelled from school when I was fifteen, so I don't think I was a very good student. I then started working for a construction firm when I was sixteen, where I had to perform all kinds of jobs. I worked for the assistant foreman, and was 'his bitch'. But I got to work with a lot of different people and felt happier than ever before. When I was eighteen, I moved from Scotland to London, where I worked for a developer at a construction firm. It again involved a lot of hard work. But I was able to build my own portfolio, which was actually the first step in this whole process.
Later down the line, I also helped my father to construct housing for students. In the United Kingdom, student accommodation is big business. I think the success of student accommodation is also a no brainer in the Netherlands.
Is there not a major difference between student housing and a student hotel?
My biggest challenge was the points-based system for renting in the Netherlands. No one understands it and everyone says it does not work; so I had to find a solution. And we managed to do this by not going for student accommodation, but for a student hotel. This helped us to overcome the points-based system. And when I realised the domain name (thestudenthotel.com) was also available, I knew I had to do it. The only thing I needed to do was convince my investor that we were not creating student accommodation, but a genuine hotel concept. In the end, we decided to buy three buildings at the same time (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague). All this took place during the economic crisis. And we used these years to continuously improve our business model.
Our investor is British. Dutch investors already have too many preconceptions about the points-based system. Foreign investors are not put off by such things; they look at the strength of the concept and recognise its potential.