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From Private Equity to Capturing Life Stories: The Career Change that Birthed a Business Innovation

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Rutger Bruining StoryTerrace

How Rutger Bruining, Founder and CEO of StoryTerrace is helping people turn their life story – or that of a loved one – into a treasured keepsake.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Rutger Bruining: Good! It is exciting that lockdown restrictions are gradually being lifted, but nonetheless, I have enjoyed spending more time with my family during the past year. Family is such a central part of my personal life, but also to StoryTerrace as a business; it has been fascinating – and often very emotional – to hear the nation’s stories and experiences of lockdown, especially as so many people took the opportunity to use the increased time at home to reflect on their lives and document them.

Tell us about you, your career and how you founded StoryTerrace.

Rutger Bruining: In 2014, I left a career in private equity to start StoryTerrace. I set up the company because I was inspired by my grandfather’s tales of adventure and adversity serving in the Dutch resistance during WWII. Since my grandparents passed, I have wondered why we don’t capture the stories of the people we love, as memories can fade quickly if we do not sufficiently document them. As a result, I started StoryTerrace, a memoir writing service that pairs people with an accredited ghostwriter to turn their life story – or that of a loved one – into a treasured keepsake. 

How does StoryTerrace innovate? 

Rutger Bruining: The pandemic and lockdown pushed us to innovate at an even faster rate. We wanted to improve the way in which our writers communicate with our clients who are sharing their stories. As StoryTerrace went ‘virtual’, online meetings replaced the face-to-face interviews that typically took place between the storyteller and their writer. We also made substantial progress on our in-house technology platform – Bookmaker – which brings the entire book making process online, making it quicker and easier for customers to track the progress of their book. 

In some ways, the challenges we’ve faced as a business during the pandemic have been balanced out by the opportunities to find new ways of tailoring the overall experience to the individual. 

I have big plans for the growth and scale of StoryTerrace in future years. By 2028 we want to have captured a million life stories in a meaningful way, and we also want to innovate the ways in which we document and share memories.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Rutger Bruining: During the lockdown, we were fortunate to witness a significant uptake in the number of people deciding to document their life stories with us. As we were able to move the service completely online, the business could continue and even flourished in the wake of so many people wanting to turn their lived experiences into books. 

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?

Rutger Bruining: We were relieved not to have to make any difficult decisions when it came to our team. In fact, we were able to grow the in-house team to over 40 people. We’ve recruited increasing numbers of professional writers from various backgrounds during the pandemic, bringing our total to 650 globally. This team expansion has helped us to address the increasing demand for our service as we continue to scale. 

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient? 

Rutger Bruining: We use Hubspot to manage our customers. We create nurturing email flows to ensure our customers have the information they need to make the initial decision with our sales representatives, and we then use this tool to know exactly what stage of our production process they are at, so we can keep them updated, provide hints and tips or gather improvement recommendations. 

Our unique Bookmaker tool has become central to our customer experience, particularly during the lockdown. To create unity between the storyteller, their writer and editor, we are bringing all customer communications into one place so that it’s easier than ever before for a client to schedule or change interviews, fill in their questionnaire, edit or approve their draft – and even design their own book cover should they wish to. 

Customer satisfaction is of utmost importance to us. That’s why we actively welcome feedback from our clients at different stages of their journey with us so that we can continue to improve our processes and packages we offer and regular feedback to the whole team so that everyone is on the same page moving forward. 

Your final thoughts?

Rutger Bruining: In my mind, we will successfully achieve our vision once it becomes the norm to capture your life story in a meaningful way, particularly when you’re aged 70 and above. But ultimately, we want to make it accessible for people from all ages and walks of life to turn their precious memories into a book so that they can leave a legacy for future generations, and we believe we’re on our way to making this happen! 

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