Our mission is to use consumer power to catalyse change. In the West, we have a lot of purchasing power, why can’t we use that power to make the world a better place?
Thom has a natural gift for talking. Story-telling is more than a passion for him, it is an art. He masters it so well that it could convince you to buy pretty much anything. Are you considering selling ice to an Eskimo, or hay to a farmer? Then, Thom is the man for the job. Maybe that’s why he has already launched two ventures?
Thom is currently finishing up his International Business Administration degree at Rotterdam School of Management. He has won many awards from the best Pitcher of the Netherlands to the very famous I Will Award. On top of that, he also the co-founder of Boxrs4ALL and is working on his new venture Moja which will be officially launched by the end of the summer. Last but not least, Thom was able to do all that before being able to have a legal drink in the US.
But that is only one part of the story.
At Venture Insider, we strive to undress the ups-and-down, the late nights, early morning, the failures and the victories.
In a few words; we want to share the real stories.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was the trigger that made you start your first company?
Since I was a kid, I have always wanted to build stuff. I was not really interested in the final result but more into the process of going from 0 to1. It started super small, and at first, it wasn’t more than an Instagram account, but it was always in the back of my mind.
My real entrepreneurial journey began in 2015, when I visited Tanzania as a high school student. During that trip, we got in touch with the local population and discovered that many local students did not wear underwear. In those locals communities, status is very important. Therefore, parents preferred to purchase two t-shirts instead of one t-shirt and underwear, as underwear is not visible. So, I got back from that trip quite shocked and I decided to do something to make a change.
This was my new 0 to 1, and together with my co-founder Spijk, we decided to create Boxrs4ALL where, for every purchase, we donated a pair of underwear in Tanzania.
That brings us to Moja, why another company?
We discovered that, although we were selling men underwear, 48% of our customers were women, which is crazy. So based on that figure, we stopped Boxrs4ALL in December and we decided to create another company focusing on women underwear solely. Again, the same rule stands, and for every underwear sold, we donate one in Tanzania as well as a sanitary pad.
The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you can learn along the process. We gathered the lessons from this 5-year adventure, and are now putting them into perfecting Moja, which, we hope, will be a great success. The goal is to be available everywhere in Europe within a year.
What are your plans for the launch of Moja?
New company means new communication, and that was important for us, as we did not like how we were perceived in the media with Boxrs4ALL. Therefore, we went once again to Tanzania last September, where we shot a documentary that exemplifies the problem we are tackling, but most importantly, will help others to relate to the locals. We plan to screen that movie during the launch and, if the circumstances allow it, throw a big party! Knowing Thom, this is quite unsurprising…
The interesting part about this documentary is that it is not about Moja, but rather about the problems we are trying to solve. In my humble opinion, focusing on the problem is what pushes to keep going in every phase of our journey.
With Moja, our mission is to use consumer power to catalyze change.
In the West, we have a lot of buying power, why can’t we use that power to make the world a better place?
What is a crucial skill that every entrepreneur should have?
I can’t stress enough the importance of storytelling. An absurd amount of companies I have seen, meet and listened to are completely ignoring its favours power. In fact, having a cool product doesn’t matter if you cannot build a story around it. The most successful entrepreneur (aka Steve Jobs) acknowledges that storytelling is a tool to inspire people to partner, work and buy from you.
A successful entrepreneur is able to communicate about his product in a way that inspire others to join him.
What is the biggest challenge as a student entrepreneur?
Well, let me first list all the reasons why you SHOULD start your own business while still being a student. First, you have zero responsibility. It’s just you and yourself. You don’t need to sustain a family or someone that might be dependent on you. Secondly, you have so much to learn. During universities, you have plenty of outside opportunities to expand your knowledge, be it associations or communities, and start-ups are one of them. Finally, because you are young, nobody criticizes what you are trying to start.
You would be surprised how supportive people are towards students who want to change the world.
Now that I have mentioned the advantages, I believe that there is still some sense of arrogance from older people in specific industries. They don’t like young kids trying to disrupt the way things work. I know that I just said the opposite in the advantages above, but that small group of old-fashioned people can make your life harder, especially when you are really young. But, this goes by with time, and you get used to it.
Any regret in your young career?
In 2018, we won the I Will Award as well as other prices, which, in the end, turned to be quite a bit of money for the small start-up that we were back then. We also got exposure and media attention, and to be fair, we were not expecting that. I wish we could have used that momentum to scale the company into something bigger.
In hindsight, the problem was that we did not anticipate what we would do with the money. So, when we finally had it, we didn’t have any specific plan, and that was a problem. Reflecting on that, we have made one hell of a plan on how to scale Moja, trust me that won’t happen again! Laughing*.
Where on planet earth will we see Thom in 5 years?
I genuinely hope that, in five years, we will have built Moja in such a way that I don’t need to be involved anymore. I like going from 0 to 1 but not from 1 to 10. By then, I will probably have had two or three impact first ideas that I will be working on.
The coolest start-up of the moment?
I wouldn’t call them a start-up anymore, but I like Tony’s Chocolonely. I love the way they market their transparency, it’s awe-inspiring, and I strongly encourage every reader to look up what they are doing and learn from them. I firmly believe that this way of doing business will become even crucial in the future.
On the same vibes, the Girlfriend Collective is another super sustainably-oriented company with an incredible story-telling. I truly value this mentality of transparency, I hope to see more companies embracing that path.
An inspiring figure?
Without hesitation, Richard Branson. Although he’s quite a controversial person, whatever he’s doing, he’s always making sure he’s having fun. I really respect that, and I wish to do the same.
If you had to give us one book?
Start Something That Matters from Blake Mycoskie. I disagree with the company’s business model, but it’s a good book.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to create something meaningful?
It is quite simple, here is the billion-dollar speech we all need, Just do it, fu*k it. Whatever that idea is, start talking to people about it, and please don’t be that guy who wants their NDA to be signed before sharing, that is not what entrepreneurship is about. A more concrete piece of advice is to write down what you want this company to look like in 10 years, and from then move backwards.
I challenge your reader to come up with three problems you encounter each day for three months. At the end of that, you will have 270 potential business ideas, which leaves you with a pretty big chunk of already solved problems but I’m sure you will be able to find a viable idea. The rest is up to you, and good luck!
Inspiring story Thom, thank you very much.
The last few words
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