From friends to business partners

Interview with two IBCoM alumni about their platform Weekends in Rotterdam
Team Weekends at Rotterdam on a boat
IBCoM alumni Lisanne van Beurden and Mathilde Simon in graduation gowns

Lisanne van Beurden and Mathilde Simon met in 2011 during Eurekaweek - the introduction week at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). They quickly formed a friendship, realising they shared numerous interests and, as they progressed through their studies, found themselves to be ideal collaborative partners. During IBCoM, they had already expressed their desire to become editors, so in their mind setting up a website or platform would be the obvious next step. In 2017, they launched Weekends in Rotterdam: a platform with tips on the best hotspots, events, hotels and routes in the city.

What gave you the idea to set up Weekends in Rotterdam?

Lisanne: "I was travelling for 1.5 years and kept a travel blog. A friend who lived in Seoul also kept a travel blog and asked for tips, as I had more visitors on my website. I advised her to focus on Seoul, because she has a lot of valuable knowledge about it and it also works well for Google (SEO). Suddenly, the thought came to mind: this is what I want to do with Rotterdam, once I get back from travelling." 
Mathilde: "I remember you texted me during your trip and asked: shall we create a blog about Rotterdam?" 
Lisanne: "During my trip, I already felt like an ambassador for the city. Everyone always talks about Amsterdam, but Rotterdam is also really nice! Especially when I got a bit older, I started to appreciate our city a lot more. When we lived in Amsterdam because of our master programme, we noticed that we missed Rotterdam. The love for Rotterdam was only strengthened by living somewhere else for a while."

Who is Weekends in Rotterdam's target audience?

Mathilde: "Initially, we wanted to target tourists with Weekends in Rotterdam. Rotterdam was very much upcoming when we started in 2017. We thought this would lead to more and more tourists coming to Rotterdam and wanted to act on this. Now, this has actually come true; Rotterdam has grown and become trendier, with all kinds of nice, new hotspots." 
Lisanne: “What is funny, though, is that eventually more "Rotterdammers" (Rotterdam citizens) rather than tourists visit our website. Locals seem to be just as curious about tips on hidden gems in their beloved city. In that respect, our target group is fairly broad: young people who want to know local tips about Rotterdam. They can be a traveller, expat, student or resident."

Which knowledge and/or skills learned in IBCoM do you apply at Weekends in Rotterdam?

Mathilde: "During the study, we had to write a lot of papers and assignments. This got easier over time, and I think this helped us a lot to deliver well-written texts in a quick manner." 
Lisanne: “In the beginning, we had to make a switch from academic language to spoken language in our articles. We sometimes see this with our guest bloggers too, who study at Erasmus University (including IBCoM graduates). The text can still be a bit looser and more personal here and there. But they pick this up quickly enough!"

How do you get inspiration for a new blog article or theme?

Mathilde: "Most inspiration comes from exploring the city by ourselves or through tips from friends. At Weekends in Rotterdam, we really try to show local tips and hidden gems, so not the well-known places. In doing so, we mainly consider whether we would go there ourselves, or whether we would recommend it to our friends." 

Lisanne: "Sometimes we also receive requests for a particular topic via direct message (DM). These requests often lead to an actual article about that topic. We also brainstorm new topics during our monthly editorial meeting with two girls who help us with our social media channels. It also happens quite often that we are invited to visit places. These spots have to fit our platform and audience though: a young, cool or unique concept."

Bring on the hidden gems: which hidden spots in Rotterdam deserve more attention?

Lisanne: "There are many cool places in Rotterdam-West, such as ROAST, a cosy breakfast spot, the Mexican restaurant Sabor Sabor, and the second location of Arzu, where you can eat delicious pancakes. Rotterdam-South is a neighbourhood I don't visit very often, but it has plenty of hidden gems to discover. You can find, for example, the Van Brienenoord island, where you can swim and have a drink at the cute little place: Buitenplaats Brienenoord. Another place I always like to visit is Tensai Ramen, opposite the Maritime Museum. While it is not really a hidden spot, I still notice that not everyone knows about it. It's a good option if you want to eat a bit cheap, and they also make the ramen in the restaurant itself."
Mathilde: "I love going to Rotterdamse Oogst on Noordplein, a fun small-scale farmers' market. You can also see me wandering around the Groene Passage for hours. Here, you can go shopping at Gimsel or enjoy a healthy lunch at Spirit. Another great tip is Studio Unfolded on Nieuwe Binnenweg. Besides ordering a delicious breakfast or brunch meal, you can buy some beautiful ceramics, natural perfume, scented candles or the owner's photographs. As I live in Kralingen myself, I often drop by Il Capo. They have delicious Italian sandwiches: highly recommended!"

To what extent does Weekends in Rotterdam distinguish itself from websites like 'Indebuurt' or 'De Buik van Rotterdam'?

Lisanne: "Our website is also available in English, which makes it more accessible to internationals. Next to this, we try to stay up to date with current trends. The team helping us is young and we try to listen to the younger generation to see what is going on. Furthermore, we are pretty critical about what we do and do not share: our team has to actually like it themselves. For example, the world's biggest Zara recently opened in Rotterdam. News about such a big chain just doesn't fit on Weekends, as we would rather post about that one small local shop on the corner of the street. Eventually, we mainly look at the other platforms as "there is space for everyone". This way, we see our competitors as inspiration, rather than a threat." 
Mathilde: "We also help the platform Rotterdam Centrum with articles. You can see them as a competitor, but we prefer to look for great collaborations with other platforms to strengthen each other." 

You have written a number of articles about vintage, vegan and fairtrade shops and plastic free shopping in Rotterdam. How important is sustainability to you?

Lisanne: "We find it a very important theme. From the beginning we already had a focus on sustainability, but nowadays, as a platform like ours, it’s also something you can’t avoid. It is mostly keeping up with the times, because almost everyone, especially the younger generations, is concerned with sustainability in one way or another, whether it is more conscious shopping or eating vegan (more often). Personally, we also find it important that a restaurant has vegetarian or vegan options on the menu. So you wouldn't find a recommendation for a meat-focused restaurant on our platform any time soon." 

Mathilde: "On the one hand, we want to help people who are specifically looking for places to shop plastic free and on the other hand, we want to inspire people who have never thought about sustainability and plastic free shopping before. By writing articles around sustainability, more people become familiar with the theme."

Many new (international) students came to Erasmus University in September. What should a newcomer in Rotterdam know or do first? 

Mathilde: "Get the real tourist experience! Rotterdam is fairly compact, so you can pretty quickly admire all well-known sights in the city centre. Do you want to see the more unique highlights of the city? Then go to Rotterdam-West or Rotterdam-South."  

A selection of our tips for students:  

  • Enjoy a free panoramic view of the city and watch the sunset on the roof of Depot Boijmans van Beuningen (only possible when the restaurant is open).  

  • If you live in Kralingen: go supping on the Kralingse Plas. 

  • Grab a bite at Bazar: not a hidden gem, but affordable and cosy. 

  • Cycle alongside the Maasboulevard and enjoy a picnic at ‘Ons Park’ on the Noordereiland, overlooking the Willemsbrug. 

  • Have a drink at Keilecafé in the Merwehaven in Rotterdam-West. A lovely neighbourhood to explore! 

  • Go for a picnic at Dakpark (roof park) in Rotterdam-West. 

Lisanne: "The best things you discover when you cycle or walk down a street you don't know yet. Go out and be surprised." 

What does the future hold for Weekends in Rotterdam?

Mathilde: "We want to publish a guide to help internationals a bit more. This can be either in book form or digitally. We also want to further grow our brand awareness; that Weekends in Rotterdam is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a getaway in or tips about Rotterdam." 

Lisanne: "That's why we also want to work more on our branding, especially on TikTok and Instagram. And we hope for many more great collaborations with interesting partners in the city!" 

To Weekends in Rotterdam (platform)

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