dobbi

“There will come a point where we’re cheaper than our biggest competitor: your washing machine at home.”

Interview with Maurits Tiethoff — founder of dobbi.

dobbi

A few years ago, dobbi founder Maurits was working in Amsterdam’s financial district. “I couldn’t find a single place where I could get my suit dry cleaned,” he says, despite the fact that he saw a growing need for such services. And one day he was walking through Brussels and he saw a dry cleaner that was open 24/7. “The location had lockers,” he begins explaining, “and you did everything with your telephone and there weren’t any employees.” “This was an eye-opener for me. Ever since I was a kid I had wanted to start my own company and now I had found a sector where I could make a lot of impact,” he says. This is how his business, dobbi — which picks up, cleans, and gets your clothes back to you within 48 hours — got started.

“Ever since I was a kid I had wanted to start my own company and now I had found a sector where I could make a lot of impact.”

Maurits Tiethoff founder of dobbi

Dobbi founder Maurits Tiethoff presenting his washing bag

At first, Maurits tried to bring the concept he saw in Brussels of a dry cleaner with lockers to the Netherlands. He made a business plan and tried to find financial backing for the idea, but it didn’t work out and that’s when he got “the best advice of his career” from SuitSupply’s founder Fokke de Jong: Ditch making plans and just start doing something! “That’s when I opened my own dry cleaning business in Amsterdam’s Overtoom street: Bubble&Stitch.”

Maurits took the experience he’d assembled working in the retail property sector and put together a refined concept. “I learned a lot when I opened Bubble&Stitch,” he says, “For example, during the day you’re not that busy, but around 6pm people start piling in and you have a line out the door. This is when I brought back the locker idea, but not only in the store but also in the financial district,” he explains. This way, “people could come pick up their clothing whenever it suited them while I could, at the same time, pick up and drop items off when things were slow.”

Cloth hangers and tickets in the Dobbi office

Online is the solution

Maurits had reached a tipping point in his business: in order to really start growing, he’d have to open more stores, but this would make personnel costs skyrocket. Because of this, Maurits thought about taking his business online. For example, there were many companies outside the Netherlands that did dry cleaning online, like Washio in the United States, and Maurits was more than familiar with these outfits from research he had done. “They used their own vehicles to pick to and drop off clothes and I came to the conclusion that that was way too expensive, you’d have to have too many assets to do that,” he reckons, “Moreover, they were all internet entrepreneurs. They didn’t have any experience in the dry cleaning sector,” he says, “I did, though, know what a difference quality can make.” Washio has since gone bankrupt.

“I knew what a difference quality can make.”

Maurits Tiethoff founder of dobbi

Bubble&Stitch, at any rate, was doing well and this didn’t go unnoticed. The shop won, amongst others, the prize for the Netherlands’ most innovative dry cleaner. Because of this, PostNL, a major Dutch postal service, approached Maurits. “PostNL came to the conclusion that it was a shame that their vehicles were full on the way to make deliveries but came back completely empty,” he notes, “And they were curious as to which services needed things to be both delivered and picked up. That’s why they approached me and because of that, my entire transportation problem was solved in one go.”

The ordering process of Dobbi

Redeveloping the entire system

Along the way, Maurits got to know Ruben van Pelt, who would go on to co-found dobbi with him. Ruben had also found success in the dry cleaning business, owing to his approach to dry cleaning bridal wear. “We combined our knowledge,” Maurits says, “and then we started a pilot with PostNL.” They learned a lot of useful things from this project. The entrepreneurs found out that there actually was a market for their services, one that even had repeat business. Furthermore, picking up and dropping off with PostNL worked well and it turned out that the drivers enjoyed doing it.

“Using this experience as a business plan,” Maurits tells, “we approached Henkel and PostNL, both of whom wanted to invest in dobbi, and there we gained two valuable strategic partners.” But that’s not all: “On top of this, we developed a whole new system that’s future proof,” he says, clarifying, “At normal dry cleaners they still work with receipts that are attached to your clothing you want dry cleaned. We came up with a barcode system that we stick on the washing label. This way, an item is paired with the corresponding account and we can follow it throughout the entire process.”

Dobbi founder Maurits Tiethoff at his desk

“I don’t have to worry about payments.”

“When we began making a new system, we also took on payments,” Maurits says, “With our lockers, we sent a payment link via email and we kept track of it in Excel, which was too much of a hassle.” They moved on to a large payment provider: “During the pilot with PostNL we worked for a short time with a big payment provider,” he explains, “and contacting them was never possible, which isn’t very convenient if you’re trying to get things up and running. I like handing over important things to parties that are the best at them because it makes things easier and gives me peace of mind.” Next, “We asked our developers who they thought was the best company in payments, and they said it was Mollie,” he says, “And that turned out to be spot on. I don’t have to worry about payments because everything always works so well.”

“I like handing over important things to parties that are the best at them.”

Maurits Tiethoff founder of dobbi

That’s not all, “We always try to take as many barriers away as we can for our clients, but there are no roadblocks to our growth when it comes to payments,” according to Maurits. And when it comes to other barriers? “Time will tell,” he says, elaborating, “Because we work with the best dry cleaners who have the newest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly machines, I expect that within ten years we’ll reach a point where we’re cheaper than our biggest competitor: your washing machine at home.”

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