Gert-Jan van der Wel

hi@gertjanvanderwel.com

Here I share what I'm up to and working on at the moment. I aim to update it every few weeks. If you want me to send you an email whenever I wrote something new, you can sign up here.

Drenthe

other - 15 May 2019

Two weeks ago I spent a mid week with my family in the rural state of Drenthe in the east of the country. In my view you can split the Netherlands in two parts, the City in the west and the Countryside in the east. We spent a few days in a lovely cottage in the Countryside to unwind and get away from the City.

Whenever I visit the Countryside I always wonder what it would be like to live in a rural area like Drenthe. Lots of space, fresh air, pretty views and affordable (thus bigger) houses. A funny fact is that most of the City lies below sea level while most of the Countryside lies above it.

I really like our house, but with three little kids we could use a bit more space (no room anymore for my man cave 😭). Should we build it out or sell it and buy something bigger? Or should we stay put and pay off our debt first? Or maybe leave the City and move to the Countryside to live larger for the same price? All in all, I think that we are good where we are right now, and that we’ll re-evaluate our situation again in a few years down the line.

People have been leaving the Countryside for the City for a long time, and Louise Fresco argues in this podcast (Dutch) that this creates new opportunities. There is plenty of affordable space in the Countryside for startups and other technology companies to experiment and innovate.

Maybe this is the right time to take Floorplanner’s experiment of 3D printing to the next level. Maybe we should move to the Countryside after all. We could get the space we want personally and with Floorplanner we could get into 3D printing houses!

Kurt at High Point Market

work - 16 Apr 2019

High Point Market I recently changed my job at Floorplanner a bit. On the technology side I’m still running our Infrastructure and Research departments, but I’m less involved with the day-to-day development of our website, dashboard, editor and mobile apps. Instead I’m focusing more on our sales efforts these days.

As part of my new work I attended the High Point Market event last week in High Point, North Carolina, USA. It’s the biggest home furniture trade show in the world where manufacturers, retailers and interior designers meet to buy and sell home furniture. The showrooms are spread out across the centre of the town in more than 50 buildings, but it’s not a big town. It certainly doesn’t have enough people to shop for furniture the rest of the year, so when the show is over, they simply lock down all the buildings until the next show in October.

I went to Market to meet with existing customers, and to talk with potential customers, but also to see what our competition is up to. However, technology is not a big part of this event. It seems that most people in this industry either use CAD systems or pen and paper but are unaware of the fancy stuff we have to offer. There is clearly a lot of work left to do for us!

And sorry, when I said I wouldn’t visit New York City again, I lied. I stayed over in NYC for a day to meet with a customer, but unfortunately, there were still no green leaves on the trees. Who knows, maybe next time!

Cycling JZC

hobby - 31 Mar 2019

Cycling JZC Last weekend I made another long ride with my friends, but this time we were not on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea. No, we were back in the Netherlands cycling through our Dutch flatlands with the wind in our face, the grey clouds above our heads and passing by the occasionally wind mill. We were riding the 13th edition of the Joop Zoetemelk Classic (JZC).

Joop Zoetemelk is one of two Dutchmen who has ever won the Tour de France. He started and finished the Tour 16 times - which is a record in itself - he finished 2nd 6 times and he finally won it in 1980. He also won the Vuelta a Espana in 1979 and was the World Champion in 1985.

The JZC is one of the first tours of the season, and when we rode it last year it was extremely cold. It was freezing outside and the wind from the cold East only made it worse. This year the weather was a lot better and we were - obviously - much fitter due to our training camp on Mallorca a few weeks ago. The 150 km felt like a walk in the park.

Smart Products

work - 22 Mar 2019

We have a catalog of over 150,000 products on Floorplanner that people can use to furnish their floor plans or decorate their rooms with. For each product a 3D model is created by hand, which obviously is a lot of work, but luckily we didn’t have to do it all ourselves. The huge catalog of 3D models was one of the important assets of the company we acquired a few years ago. We are not standing still however, we are adding new products to our catalog every day to keep it fresh and relevant.

Most of our products are furniture items which come in more than one color or fabric, and our system didn’t handle that part well. For each ‘variant’ of a product - like a different color or fabric - we made a new model. We copied the existing one, changed the material in the model and added it to our catalog. It works, but it’s not ideal.

Imagine this, you are designing a room and just placed a sofa in the living room. You like the sofa but want to see how it looks in another color, yet you can’t click on the sofa and simply select another color. Nope, you have to search for the same sofa in the sidebar and browse through the results to find the one you like.

Not any more! I am happy to tell you that we now support Smart Products; furniture items of which the material can be changed in real-time. If you want to see a product in different color or fabric, simple click it, select one of the available material options and you’ll immediately see the result.

From now on, all the new product that we create will be smart by default and over the coming months we will upgrade the models in our existing catalog to become smart as well.

Cycling Mallorca (again!)

hobby - 11 Mar 2019

Cycling Mallorca Each year in February or March my friends from university and I go on a trip for a long weekend to cycle, have a few drinks and tune out of our busy daily lives. Last weekend was our 18th year in a row and although we usually go to the Belgian Ardennes we decided to go to Mallorca this year. I really enjoyed our recent trip to Mallorca in October, and surprisingly, it’s not even more expensive to fly and stay on an island in the Mediterranean Sea than to drive to the south of Belgium and rent a house there. It helps of course that we could stay in the apartment of one of my friends. So instead of cold, clouds, rain and perhaps even snow, we had a lovely temperature, sun and a blue sky.

We made two rides in our three days on the island. The first one was 93km with 1590 altimeters. We cycled from Palma to Puigpunyent in the North West - had to take a little detour as the road was closed for a mud run - to the photogenic mountain village of Deia and via the long climb at Sóller in the North back to Palma. The second day the ride was 94km with 1800 altimeters, going more to the North West of the island. Unfortunately the road was closed near Estellenes - this time due to a car rally (much noise!) - which meant we had to cycle back 22km to the previous exit. But we made up for it with a delicious Mallorcan lunch in the beautiful village of Galilea after 66km. It didn’t matter at all that the last climb back to Palma didn’t go so well.

I’m still recovering from the weekend, but I had an amazing time!

Fiddling in VR

hobby - 21 Feb 2019

Fiddling in VR The promise of virtual reality (VR) has been around for a long time and over the years I’ve done quite a few experiments with it. For the first one you needed a mobile phone that you had to put in a holder and then on your face. In 2015 we made it possible to render an interior panorama of any room on our site Roomstyler and watch on your phone on your head. This didn’t give you an immersive 3D experience as it was just a single panorama image, but it was nice to be able to stand inside a room and look around by simply turning your head.

When the Oculus Rift came out in 2016 we bought one for the office. This was quite the opposite of a phone. You needed a powerful computer to run it and had to connect the headset to the computer with a number of cables. Through sensors you could move around in virtual realty and with the two controllers in your hands you could interact with it. This made all the difference! No longer were you on the outside looking in, you could now grab things, move and shape them.

This got me very enthusiastic about VR but we had so many other things on our plate that we didn’t set out to build anything ourselves. We did talk to the talented Johan Hanegraaf who was (and is!) building a way to be an architect in VR on the Vive platform. We tried to work together for awhile, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.

Last Christmas we gave all our Floorplanner coworkers an Oculus Go as a present. It’s a dedicated device for VR that comes with a controller but doesn’t need a computer and it has no cables. So you can interact in VR, but it doesn’t track your movements (that’s coming in the next version). It’s a gift for fun and entertainment but we also want our coworkers to spend some time in virtual reality to experience what it is like.

The same goes for my kids, although that wasn’t very difficult as they are obsessed with anything that has a screen. My oldest daughter gave the Anne Frank House VR a try where you can walk around the house and the room where Anna hid out. She has recently read Anne Frank’s book and the VR experience made the book really come to life for her.

Unfortunately there aren’t many great games or apps for VR available yet and that’s probably because a lot of people simply don’t have a VR device. I don’t know how and even if VR will really catch on, but I recently started working on my own little VR app anyway. I’m experimenting with an app that enables you to create something inside VR on the web. More on that in a later post.

Auto Office Layout

work - 06 Feb 2019

At Floorplanner we recently made it possible to automatically furnish the rooms of a house in our editor app. Simply select a bedroom, living, bathroom or kitchen, then pick your preferred style, click a button and BAM! your room is fully decorated. You got flooring and rugs on the floor, paint and painting on the walls and furniture placed in a way that makes sense. It may not be everything you ever wanted, but it’s a very good starting point.

The next thing we focused on was automatically furnishing home-offices, which in turn got us thinking about real offices. Why not use the same approach to furnish an actual office space? So we gave it a shot and here are our first results, pretty cool huh?

It’s available in our editor app as we speak, and if you have any tips and/or remarks please let me know!

Fine dining in NYC

hobby - 03 Feb 2019

Fine dining in New York City On the last day of our NYC trip we treated ourselves and our sales partners to an exclusive dinner at The Office from the famous duo Nick Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz. It’s located at the 35th floor of the luxurious Mandarin hotel, but don’t expect an amazing view as this restaurant does not have a single window.

“The Office NYC is an intimate speakeasy serving classically inspired food and cocktails, a collection of vintage spirits, and other eclectic delicacies.”

The food and cocktails were exquisite and delicious, and together with the beautiful interior it made for a perfect experience. After being a week in New York City I can confess that it truly is an incredible city!

But I won’t be back.

At least not in the winter. This was my third visit to the city but always in January because of the real estate event Inman Connect. Next time I’d like to not freeze to death outside, to see some green leaves on the trees and perhaps to bring my cycle gear to make a ride outside of the city.

However, traveling doesn’t come easy to me. Most of the nights I sleep poorly as I wake up at 4:00 am due to a massive jetlag. And although I really enjoy being away from my daily routine at home, I get home sick after a few days, and I just want to be back home with my family.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful that I can travel the world as I do and I’m blessed to have a wife that supports me and takes care of everything while I’m gone. So even though I return home exhausted, it also gives me a lot of energy and I wouldn’t want to miss it for a thing in the world.

Kurt & Jerry in New York City

work - 28 Jan 2019

New York City I am in New York City this week together with my partner-in-crime Jeroen Bekkers. Since we both have typical Dutch names that are difficult to pronounce in English we are calling ourselves Kurt & Jerry here…

We are going to visit some of our US customers of Floorplanner — including a new one I’ll tell you about soon in another post — and we’ll meet with a couple potential new ones. Our customers are mainly active in fields of real estate and/or interior design and we offer them an easy way to create floor plans and interior designs.

We took an early flight on Sunday to be able to see a basketball game of the New York Knicks. I played basketball myself for over a decade when I was (a lot) younger and it’s a dream come through to have been at the Madison Square Garden to see a match. I’m not following the NBA at all — or any other sports for that matter — but being there was a truly amazing experience. And although the Knicks lost their 9th game in a row, it was completely sold out and the atmosphere was incredible.

Another reason why we are here is because we are meeting with our new sales partners for the US. We have had a few sales partners in the US before, and unfortunately it has never really worked out. However, this time it looks extremely promising with some early impressive results and we want to support them as much as possible.

I’m in NYC for another couple of days. If you have any tips for things to do or want to meet for a coffee - or a beer - please let me know.

We changed our editor app (again!)

work - 22 Jan 2019

Editor UI update At the end of 2018 we put a completely new website online with a lot of new possibilities. From your existing floor plans you can now render stunning interior stills, interactive VR panoramas and beautiful photo-realistic interior visuals. Last week we rolled out another big update, this time of our editor app.

Back in the early days of Floorplanner we built the very first version of our editor app on top of a browser plugin called the Flash Player. At that time it simply wasn’t possible to build an app for the web using Javascript only. In 2010 Steve Jobs single handedly killed the future of Flash (then owned by Adobe) by not allowing the Flash Player on the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Which meant we had to re-build our editor app from the ground up, using another technology: Javascript (aka HTML5).

As Javascript - and the supporting frameworks - weren’t very mature at that time, it was quite a struggle to build anything decent. But we kept trying and in late 2010 we demoed a first version at the Googleplex in Mountain View as part of their new HTML5 Rocks initiative. Since then we’ve came a long way to where we are now. We’ve tried a lot of different things, made many mistakes, ended up at plenty of dead ends but finally found a way through the maze.

We care a lot about our products and we want to make an editor app that is simple and intuitive to use, but on the other hand very powerful. We are very happy with the state of the Floorplanner platform now, after recently rolling out our new website and the latest editor update, but we think there are a lot more wonderful new things to create. So keep an eye our for our future updates!