Nixon Digital

Three years of Nixon Digital: An Interview with Co-Founder and CTO, Marcel van Rijn 

Date: June 18th 2024 

Interviewer: Tuana Serter (Digital Marketing Intern)   

Interviewee: Marcel Van Rijn (Co-Founder and CTO of Nixon Digital)  

Discovering a Need in the Market  

Tuana: What were you doing right before you founded Nixon Digital, Marcel?  

Marcel: Nice question! So I’m already a bit older, I have grey hair, as you can see. I was around when the internet was being set up and then when it was just evolving. My journey started working for CompuServe (taken over by AOL). After that I worked for one of the Internet pioneers in the Netherlands, MyWeb. I found it really interesting. From there, I moved on to global roles at multinationals like Philips and Heineken. My main role always involved managing the consistency and compliance with company standards of company websites across many different countries. 

Because you have to ensure all your websites look the same, have the same styling, the same wording, same voice. That has always been a part of my challenge while working in global, so-called, Web Teams supporting the local markets.   

While working for HEINEKEN, cloud-based services like Microsoft Azure emerged. That’s when I realized the importance of control in the digital space. Before, IT was providing infrastructures for websites (Philips had their own datacenters), but when the cloud services became more popular, suddenly anyone could create a website by paying for the needed services with nothing more than a credit card. Simply purchase the required service online, and you will have a website within just a few seconds. Shadow IT was a fact; everyone could launch a website out of the vision of IT.  

This was the moment that I realized, okay, the main problem will be staying in control of our numerous websites while upholding the company standards across all of them.  The challenge is going to be the lack of control, because anybody can just launch a website out of your vision. 

How do we make sure that we remain in control? I started drawing some wireframes (like a clickable mockup) of a platform. It would be used to ensure that the central team (we) would always have insight into which websites were being launched on behalf of HEINEKEN.  

Back then no one really understood why we would need this, but once European legislation, such as GDPR was launched, it became much more obvious why you would need this control.  A global company with numerous websites needs to have a good grip on their worldwide portfolio of websites not only to make sure that they meet the company standards (as defined in a company’s Brand-book) but also comply with regulations such as GDPR. It took me 10 years (until March 2021) of using pictures for these wireframes until the idea was perfected and Nixon Digital was launched. 

Founding Nixon Digital  

Tuana: So, Nixon Digital was born out of your personal experiences and the market needs you identified? 

Marcel: Basically yes. I felt the problem firsthand. I was responsible in my role for these standards, and it became increasingly more difficult to stay in control. For example, as companies grow, they launch websites for every new market they enter, so the number of websites just grows and grows. And for companies owning different brands, this multiplies even faster. If you check out how many domains are registered yearly now, it’s an insane amount. Daily over 30.000! With every domain being registered, there is also the possibly of new websites being created.  

So, for larger companies, losing control over your websites is more likely than ever, and with strict regulations like GDPR, controlling these sites becomes even more crucial. 

Not only because of the risk of a fine, but reputational damage is much more likely. If a website launched by a marketer is no longer used and therefore not maintained, various risks arise ranging from abuse of Dangling DNS, Subdomain Hijacking, to data breaches (because the website is no longer properly updated with patches). You can imagine what happens when something like this occurs. Unfortunately, I have experienced this many times, and it is astonishing how much energy and money is then spent to resolve it, while prevention is better and significantly cheaper. That is, of course, the reason why I recommend everyone to use the Nixon Platform. 

Building the Team and Overcoming Challenges  

Tuana: How did Nixon Digital start? Was it just you initially, or did you have a team from the beginning? 

Marcel: In early 2020, I used the wireframes that i drafted 10 years ago and started talking to some people which I believed were the right choice to make this platform a reality. I reached out to my good friend and business partner, Marco van Veen, to convert the idea into a plan. After working with some developers, we realized that we would need more than the initial funding of €100,000. We started looking for a partner and in October 2020 I spoke to another good friend of mine, Schalk Stalman, CEO of Triple. After some good meetings it was clear that we were all excited, believed in the vision and were ready to go for it. 

We officially launched Nixon Digital around March  2021, right when COVID-19 began actually. Despite the pandemic, we managed to start building the platform and a strong team where all disciplines are present. It was a startup setup with corporate ruling. 

Tuana: Did COVID-19 impact your development process negatively, like many other businesses? Or did it perhaps give you time for a stronger and even more prepared launch?   

Marcel: Surprisingly, it had a positive impact. It pushed us to work remotely and because of that, we were able to attract talent who did not live close to our headquarters in Alkmaar. Before COVID, we wouldn’t have wanted to work with people remotely, but that means missing out on opportunities and people who can be very valuable to you from abroad like Robert, our front-end developer. And yeah, I’m grateful. I think it’s also good for me, not having to drive every day, two hours, back and forth. It’s a lot of time, right? Now I can use that time to do more valuable stuff than listing to radio538. 

COVID taught us the value of flexibility, allowing people to work where they are most productive, be it at home or the office. It really opened our eyes to new ways of organizing work operations.   

Key Milestones and Achievements  

Tuana: Who was the first person you recruited for Nixon Digital from the current team? 

Marcel: My first hire was Richard. He supported me to establish the foundation of the company and the platform. In November 2022 I met Sjoerd Heddema again. I know Sjoerd from my time working for HEINKEN and after a few dinners and drinks it was obvious that he would be our Managing Director, the person who handles our day-to-day operations.  He manages everything and that’s quite important.  I’m not so good at managing. I’m more of a thinker, I oversee things and give input to our company strategy. Sjoerd’s management skills complement my strategic vision very well.    

Then Ruud was also hired as our Customer Success Manager, he fulfils a very important role. It’s great that we have someone always available to speak frequently with our customers.  Because I really believe good and direct communication with our customers is a big part of our success. If you communicate, you hear about the good things they have to say about us, but also the challenges that our customers face. It’s all valuable feedback that helps us get better and make sure that we can make a difference. The compliments we get from our existing customers give us energy to keep going and do even better.  

Another important person who played a crucial role in our company are Linda, our UX specialist. She really helped us professionalize the tool. Both have been crucial in shaping the company.   

Tuana: What were some of the significant milestones Nixon Digital achieved so far?   

Marcel: In the last three years, Nixon Digital has had significant achievements. We began by securing our first launching customers, including Friesland Campina, who trusted our vision from day one, even when our product was still in its MVP phase. Another major milestone was partnering with AkzoNobel’s global support team, Mindtree, which processes all findings reported by the Nixon Platform.  

The Nixon Platform not only provides companies with insights into their global portfolio of websites but also scans these websites for over 35 known privacy and security issues. When issues are detected, the platform can identify whether they occur on a single website or across multiple sites, enabling more efficient resolution.  

Our partnership allowed us to demonstrate the extensive value of our platform on a large scale, simplifying the management of complex digital portfolios. By automating tasks that would otherwise be time-consuming, our platform effortlessly reveals crucial insights. The satisfaction of our existing customers who give us a multiple-year commitment is another significant achievement. 

The Future of Nixon Digital  

Tuana: What does the future hold for Nixon Digital?   

Marcel: Firstly, we are transitioning from a startup to a scale-up, refining our proposition to clearly communicate our vast capabilities to potential customers.   

We plan to work with more partners globally, allowing us to remain agile while they handle large-scale implementations. With this strategy, we can expand without losing our core agility.    

Personally, I envision Nixon Digital as a place where people love to work, driven by passion rather than the size of our office, so I would be happy to keep a small core team that is quick and effective.   

Tuana: Do you have any long-term goals for Nixon Digital?   

Marcel: My dream is for Nixon Digital to be recognized globally as the solution that any company would need. I value creating an enjoyable workplace over having a large headquarters. I think it would be very cool to have satellite offices worldwide, allowing our team to work wherever they want and experience diverse environments.    

Europe has currently a very clear vision of regulations. However, we just did an assignment in Thailand, and they also have their own set of regulations, The PDPA. Which is almost identical to GDPR. New regulations are also coming up in the United States, and the US is a very big market. So, expanding beyond Europe, tapping into markets like the USA, Brazil, and Asia, is also on our roadmap.   

Tuana: Thank you, Marcel, for sharing your journey with Nixon Digital.   

Marcel: My pleasure!