Students at Startups: Ioana Nicolau from Hotelchamp

Students at Startups: Ioana Nicolau from Hotelchamp

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In this series we profile recent graduates who landed a job at a startup, either right after graduating or after a long and tough quest. This week we talk with Ioana Nicolau, who started as a Digital Marketeer at Hotelchamp this year. Hotelchamp is a SaaS-startup that helps hotels obtain more bookings directly through their respective websites.

Ioana is originally from Bucharest, but studied in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Nice, before returning back to Amsterdam for a job at Hotelchamp. “Studying abroad contributed to my personal development on a lot of levels,” she says. ‘It enlarged my network, and I learned to adapt to new environments quickly, while finding new interests and making a lot of friends in the process.’


When Ioana graduated from high school back home in Bucharest, she wanted to study at a university with an excellent international reputation. The University of Amsterdam was a perfect match. Ioana: “The UvA offers awesome opportunities for its students. As I felt a bit adventurous during my second year of studies, I decided to apply for the UvA Global Exchange programme at the Tel Aviv University to study Business Administration. I was already very interested in Jewish culture and thought Israel was the perfect exchange destination for me for a lot of other reasons. The EDHEC summer school in Nice was another interesting opportunity.”

“Was going to Nice after Amsterdam and Tel Aviv a case of proper cv building, or were you just not ready to stop learning?”

“I haven’t done anything for the sake of showing off with my resume – if I were to, I would have chosen to start my career with an internship at a big established name. I simply went to Nice because, again, I enjoy taking opportunities and I’ve always wanted to do a summer school. It contributed a lot to my general knowledge. I had to to work on socio-political issues that are vital to sustaining growth in the European community. This is something that wouldn’t have been touched upon during my degrees at the UvA, not even in Israel.”

Shifting direction

During her bachelor’s in Economics & Business, Ioana thought she was going to pursue a career in banking. A rough interview with a big American bank changed all that. ‘I didn’t think I was fit for that industry,” Ioana says. “It was then that I decided to go into online marketing, and luckily I got a position as a Digital Marketing Intern at Hotelchamp. Right now my MSc is providing me with interesting information and this inspires me to go further and learn something new. My preliminary specialisations are IoT security, Blockchain and Big Data. These are 3 domains that I have limited knowledge about, but I’ll have to master one of them for my thesis. I think it’s a bit funny that I went from banking to advertising and now am moving into tech.”

When you wanted to learn more about online marketing, you chose a startup instead of a workshop or training. What did you learn during the internship and the startup climate that  were valuable to you as a young professional?

“My first months at Hotelchamp were the best. Back then, I had a very steep learning curve and the opportunity to bring a lot of ideas to the table in the marketing team. I consider myself very lucky to have started my career at Hotelchamp. I think it’s really rare that a company offers you so much trust, freedom and responsibility as a junior. Besides acquiring some technical skills in online marketing, I believe I’ve also learnt a lot about myself as well during my time at Hotelchamp. Probably the biggest gain from working in such a dynamic environment is the ability to be an independent, out-of-the-box thinker, not rely on others – but trust my own perspective on things.”

I consider myself very lucky to have started my career at Hotelchamp. I think it’s really rare that a company offers you so much trust, freedom and responsibility as a junior.

How did you manage to get a job at Hotelchamp after your internship?

“I believe I am a fast learner and this really helped me catch up with the job. I am also very open-minded so I wasn’t afraid to challenge ideas or existing practices/procedures. They also probably hired me because I have a flexible mindset – sometimes you are told to turn a massive ship around in the blink of an eye. I guess a lot of people are resistant to change and usually wait for directions instead of initiating plans and ideas, thus being more of a fit for traditional corporations.”

Balancing work and studies

Ioana is currently doing a Masters in Digital Business with a second specialization in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Being able to balance her new job at Hotelchamp and her studies is all about great time management, she says. “It’s all about being efficient and effective. I am really into my MSc subject so studying is easy. There’s also a lot of overlap between my work and my studies, so this fuels me with the ambition to carry on both. However, this wouldn’t have been possible without my colleagues and the management supporting me in this. They allowed me to take days off with short notice and rush out from work for a few hours whenever I needed to.” 

What advice do you have for other students or graduates who are looking for jobs? What can they do to make their job hunt more effective?

“Hunt for environments where they could learn fast, like startups, especially if you are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. However, I believe that startup jobs are not for everyone, so if it’s not for you, starting at a big brand is also cool to get your resume “validated”.

Look for companies with an inspiring mission, their products are easy to work on, advertise and sell. For example, Hotelchamp has the portrait of an industry hero since it is helping hotels to regain their control over their booking channels. Working for such a company makes you think that you are doing more than driving profits, you’re actually helping at making an impact (or disrupting an industry in our case).

Look for companies with an inspiring mission, their products are easy to work on, advertise and sell.

Tailor your resume based on achievements and not responsibilities – if you can underpin your past achievements by numbers, that’s even better! Leave out stuff that’s too generic. I think it must hurt to work in HR and read that “great team player skilled in the MS Office suite” line everyday.

Lastly, dare to learn new things and don’t feel intimidated by fancy job descriptions! At first, I was afraid to pick some certain subjects for my thesis, but then somebody told me: “Whenever a concept seems complicated, don’t fear to approach it! Just think that it was invented by other human beings so, in the end, it’s something natural that your mind will for sure understand. Always trust that something is, in the end, simple.” This advice really inspired me and I hope it will inspire you too!”

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