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30 Digital Champions: The Dutch twin sisters building a British beverage business

Dutch twin sisters Raissa and Joyce de Haas are the founders of beverage business Double Dutch, the latest company in our Microsoft Digital Champions campaign. Raissa sat down with us to discuss growing the startup by embracing LinkedIn for “stalking” and how Richard Branson opened a very lucrative door.
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As part of our ongoing partnership with Microsoft, Real Business is searching for small UK businesses that understand just how technology can be incredibly powerful for a company’s growth, customer service and more – even if the business itself isn’t a digital operation.

Dutch entrepreneur Raissa de Haas spoke with us about how she and twin sister Joyce moved to London to study at University College London in order to go on and start their own beverage business.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Double Dutch is a new brand of all natural soft drinks, created by my sister Joyce and I. We offer an innovative range of premium soft drinks that are specifically developed to drink with higher quality gins, vodkas and tequilas.

Double Dutch currently offers four carefully crafted flavour combinations including watermelon and cucumber, pomegranate and basil, as well as Indian tonic water and slimline tonic water – both of which come with a subtle twist of juniper and grapefruit.
The drinks are 100 per cent natural, low in calories and entirely made in the UK.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last fewyears?

With a strong belief that quality spirits deserve to have a complementary and unique mixer, we decided to take it upon ourselves to create the necessary change.
We moved to London to study for MSc. In technology entrepreneurship at UCL (University College London), and decided to devote our dissertation to finding a solution for our frustrations.

After graduating in September 2014, we won the UCL Bright Ideas Award for most promising startup. This was our first recognition and this award gave us a financial investment we put forward into our first production lines and a year of free London office space.

We then produced our first batch about a year ago in February 2015. Since then we have experienced great success in the higher end on-trade in London, with more than 100 listings going from Le Meridien Hotel, InterContinental Hotels, China Tang, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and many more. After less than a year of trading, we are now also available in six countries.

Our biggest achievement up so far is definitely being awarded the 2015 Foodpreneur Award by Richard Branson for most innovative and disruptive food and beverage product in the UK. Alongside mentorship and advice from the Virgin team, Branson took us to the US to pitch to retail giant Target.

This was an amazing opportunity through which we also secured a deal with Target, which will result in our products being sold in 300 stores before summer 2016 – after that we enter 2,000 stores around the US.

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(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come acrosswith your company?

To have the ability to build something, to have the opportunity to make somehow, somewhere, an impact – and the knowledge that you were responsible for that impact. The most amazing thing about having our own company for us is that, whatever we do, it is because of our own frustrations and passion for the beverage industry. There is something that triggered us to overcome these frustrations by looking further and searching for a solution.

Every day we are on a mission to make delicious drinks and cocktails more accessible for people at home – creating that restaurant experience in your living room. We want to make a difference by creating more excitement in a market that hasn’t been changed a lot since the invention of tonic water.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow yourenterprise?

As a first-time entrepreneur, every step is a new step – every problem is new for us so each time we need to come up with a new solution. We can’t really use any benchmarks or former experiences, so with every decision there is always that little hint of doubt, thinking we didn’t make the right decision.

As with all new companies, you have to make so many decisions in such a short period of time, so we often don’t have the time reflect on all our decisions that much – which is a good thing.

If I had to say one particular problem that comes back often is that having a physical product, rather than a tech-based company or app, means we are very dependent on our suppliers – going from ingredients, to labellers to our glassware.

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(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

Whenever we try to reason this question, a lot of people would laugh or not believe think we just want the keep the secret ourselves but the best thing that happened to us is LinkedIn. When we started the company, we were quite new in this city and didn’t have any network in the food and beverage industry.

For the first months we almost didn’t leave our house, in fact we were literally stalking every bartender, hotelier or person that has ever worked in a bar in London on LinkedIn. I think we wrote to over 1,000 people, trying to get someone interested in talking with us.

Our philosophy was that we can only try to contact as many people as possible and statistically there have to be some who want to talk to us. By having some very upscale venues as our first customers, this got the ball rolling and from one introduction, another three came along.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

The first and biggest challenge we had was to find the right flavours that are spot on and resonated with the customers we were targeting. We wanted to make a soft drink that is not too overpowering and makes the flavour of the spirit comes through a lot.

We looked at methods that were more in line with how distilleries are making their spirits. After talking with loads of bartenders and mixologists, we got introduced to the technique of food-pairing, which opened a whole new world for us. Double Dutch recipes are inspired by food pairing, which offers a technique to find the chemical components that specific spirits have in common with certain ingredients.

This technique really enabled us to create much more innovative, delicate and refined flavour combinations of which we knew we would find the perfectly balanced drink. Because of this method, our flavours are also double-flavoured as well.

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(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

The advantage of being your own boss is that you can choose your own hours to your own priorities, to the place you work from. As we are so passionate in our business we literally take our work everywhere, so it is not an exception for us to work at home with Netflix on in the background and computer on our lap. We kind of start working whenever we wake up until we go to sleep.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Our accounting tools. It just made our life so much easier because accounting is something I truly hate doing. Firstly, Xero – it is the most amazing accounting software. With Xero so many things are more automated which makes it quicker to work, such as invoicing.

Receipt Bank, similar to Xero, it makes accounting so much more time-efficient. Receipt Bank basically converts key information from your receipts, which means we only have to take a picture of the receipts and that’s it, you can throw it away right afterwards.

Without these two tools, I would be keeping thousands of receipts and spend a full day per week on keeping accountancy up to date.

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(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

A platform that would connect all food and beverage managers in a specific region so that suppliers are able to pitch their product to these potential customers at once.

The biggest challenge for a company like us is that, compared to bigger companies, we need to tell and educate our customers about Double Dutch. A lot of potential customers just don’t know about us, which makes them buy other bigger brands just for convenience.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

Where we see ourselves in the far future is that we will be the house brand of every bar, hotel and household that cares about the quality of spirits they are drinking, as well as what they are mixing it with. What differentiates us from our competitors is that we always strive to be innovative in everything we do, starting with our flavours and method of production.

Every time you would taste a Double Dutch it should be a small party in your glass! Our mission is to open a market for more innovative and unique mixers, making cocktails more accessible for people around the world, embracing everyone going from students to families to real foodies.

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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