It was while airing his frustration with the modern platform economy on LinkedIn that Niels Meijssen first got the idea for Moonback. Two years, four cities and a successful investment round later, his fair alternative to conventional booking engines is an unqualified success.
“We are proving that the platform economy can also take a social and human approach”, says Niels, his enthusiasm shining through. “We’re like fair trade, but then fair tech. A lot of careful thought has gone into designing our hotel-booking concept to be as transparent and fair as possible.” For starters, Moonback presents a geographic and honest listing of all hotels, instead of commercial rankings that put the highest-paying clients at the top. “There are so many shady things going on at these kinds of platforms”, says Niels, who points out that the frustrations he voiced in his post could just as easily apply to virtually every major multinational in the modern platform economy. It just so happened that the first news to pop up in Niels’ feed after a ten-week sabbatical in Japan concerned Booking.com’s request for government relief during the first lockdown. For him, it was the last straw. “Pandering to shareholders and maximizing profit: that’s all so many of these companies care about. Years of fixating on money has led to all sorts of abuses. Privacy violations, tax evasion – you name it.”
Social and fair
Niels couldn’t let it pass quietly, and after expressing his concerns in a LinkedIn post that went viral, and the flood of reactions that elicited, he reckoned it was time to suit actions to words. There had to be a better and more sustainable way. “Within hours, people were already holding me to my idea to start a crowdfunding campaign”, Niels laughs. A promise being a promise, he got to work on Moonback. “There were a lot of legal bases to cover to assure we’ll abide by our own values.” For example, Moonback is structured on the steward-ownership model, separating profit from shareholder voting rights. “That’s so our business principles won’t be compromised. It’s basically a safeguard to protect our philosophy.” Which is not to say shareholders have no input in what the company does. They are consulted at various points along the way: for instance, about the cap on a founder’s salary. “We get loads of input and that speaks to the level of engagement in our base.”
Moonback offers hotel bookings in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Delft already, so how long before we can all book a romantic weekend getaway to Prague or Rome? There’s a whole world out there to conquer, after all. “Our plan is to progress one step at a time from four to fifty cities, and then keep expanding from there.” The company will need more human and financial resources to do that, so a fresh crowdfunding round is also in the works. “We have grand plans, but we need support to get there. Our investors are joining a movement that’s on a mission to change this system from the inside. It’s awesome to see people share our faith.”
Text: Tessa Burger
Photography: Bastiaan de Haas