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Victor Knaap

Founder and CEO / MediaMonks

 

Victor is Partner, Managing Director (aka Main Monk) of MediaMonks. After sailing round Europe for a living, former skipper Victor dropped his anchor in the choppy waters of Hilversum (just outside of Amsterdam) in 2003. Since then, he has developed an increasingly low tolerance for bad sailing metaphors. Being the only Monk with a driving license, he initially became the one to handle clients and accounts.

Today, Victor is the Monk that takes the stage to talk about business and the way digital works. At any talk he gives, one person will leave the room offended, but another 10 will be inspired to see digital in a completely new light. For the last nine years, he directed the company’s growth by sticking to the golden rule: Buy, barter or die.

MediaMonks is the biggest creative digital production agency on the planet, with offices in Amsterdam, London or New York. With a staff of over 160 talented monks, MM combines full in-house services – including film, game development and mobile – with a personal approach. The trophies and recognition from the FWA, Cannes Lions, BIMA, the Webbies and the Lovies, amongst others, are a nice indication of the love, dedication and eye for detail brought to the projects. 

 

Q: How did you get into the business? What convinced you this is the thing to do? What did you know about this industry when you started?

My adventure with MediaMonks began in 2003 when I ran into Wesley ter Haar at the train station in Amsterdam. It was a very casual encounter, with a lot of beer involved that changed the course of my life. I knew Wesley from University but we didn’t really hang out together. He was returning from another day behind the computer screen; I was on my way back from a sailing trip. I’m a certified skipper and used to sail around the world before founding MediaMonks.

That day, Wesley told me about MediaMonks, the internet company he started in 2001 with two other partners. His enthusiasm was contagious and I saw a wealth of potential. They needed a partner to run the commercial department and I jumped into that role, despite my digital illiteracy. Back then, the only thing I knew about the digital world involved my email address, navigation systems and my ability to operate boat radars... Not a bad start, but I had a lot to learn. Fast.

Our crazy ride took off from the get-go with some major brands (Jaguar, Heineken, Nintendo) trusting us with their work. Ten years on and a lot has changed. We exclusively work for agencies and have grown by a factor of 30, but that early excitement of working on great projects for amazing brands still exists.

 

Q: Is there a connection / similarity between sailing and digital? How has your prior experience helped you? Is there a thing that works just as well on sea and in the digital world?

After sailing round Europe for a living I finally dropped my anchor in Hilversum. Being the skipper is similar to managing a company: you’ve got to motivate the crew; sail safely through choppy waters; and make sure there’s never a chance of mutiny. That’s probably all the sailing metaphors anyone can handle…

 

Q: As understood, the name MediaMonks comes from the Chinese Kung Fu movies and the dedication and discipline of Shaolin Monks. Is there something in particular that you’re looking for when hiring new people?

We believe in talent, but dedication and practice are the elements that make the difference. Our hiring policy reflects that: we either hire extremely talented youngsters, or very senior people with a wealth of experience and expertise. There is no middle ground.

While it’s the talent that gets you through the door, its drive and passion that qualifies you as a Monk. And it pays off. Once a Monk has taken their vows, they tend to stick around. We have a churn rate of less than 5%, which is pretty unprecedented within an industry like ours.

For example, some of our very first interns are now central leads in the company. This sharp talent policy has made us the company we are today. 

 

Q: Do you have a set of rules / a principle that guides you?

For the last ten years I have directed the company’s growth by sticking to one golden rule: Buy, barter or die.

 

Q: Why would anyone want to be part of the MediaMonks team?

Short answer, awesomeness. Long answer, you’ll get to work in a team and company that stimulates you to do the best work you’ve ever done. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because there’s no cutting of corners, or being satisfied with safe. We want to be the best creative digital production agency in the world – that takes commitment from everyone.

 

Q: What’s the one MediaMonks project that you’re most proud of? Why?

Our best work is where we combine smart creative with new tech. We’ve had an amazing year so far - we’ve scooped eight FWAs and counting in 2012. Some of our highlights include Stella Artois ‘Chalice Factory’ with Mother New York, KLM’s ‘Be My Guest’ campaign with Tribal DDB Amsterdam, and working with Dufresne Corrigan Scarlett on ‘The Desperados Experience’ YouTube campaign.

 

Q: What was the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in the past 9 years? What did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge is making sure that what defines us, our culture, is recreated in our newer offices in London and New York. Our company is a perfect mix of Dutch directness and international inspiration, topped off with some MediaMonks magic. It’s unique and we want to spread that further on a global scale.

 

Q: What do you do for inspiration?  

To get inspired I put the hours in. In other words, I work hard. I don’t meditate, I don’t do yoga, I don’t paint and I’ve stopped sailing. Hard work allows me to keep up, catch new trends and translate them into our company and our projects. It’s not glamorous, and I don’t play hard to balance it out.

And with that, it’s back to work.

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