'I'm not worried about brexit at all. I'm just going against it.'
The Dopper water bottle came to be in part thanks to some clever crowdfunding, although when Dopper founder Merijn Everaarts invented his bottle in 2010, the term ‘crowdfunding’ had yet to be thought of. For the first few months, the water bottle only existed in Everaarts’ head, although he still managed to sell 20,000. And that was only the beginning. The story behind Dopper’s double-digit growth: ‘There were moments when I thought: this is the end.’
It’s 2010. Event organiser Merijn Everaarts sits on a Dutch beach. The tidemark is covered in plastic. He knows that the tide will take this waste back into the sea, where it will float around for ever. Once back at home, Everaarts can’t stop thinking about what can be done. He finally realises that the answer is a sustainable alternative to the familiar PET mineral water bottle. ‘In the Netherlands, the tap water’s really good quality, just as it is in 132 other countries around the globe’, skypes Everaarts, reminiscing from a New York café. ‘So why on earth are people buying bottles of water again and again?’
After a brainstorming session with the Harlem Legacy, a club of creative Dutch entrepreneurs, Everaarts develops a campaign with a design contest, flashmob and social media campaign. The flashmob video was viewed 70,000 times. ‘Today that’s a good result, but six years ago it was great’, says Everaarts. ‘The funny thing is that 95 percent of the people who were involved in the flashmob didn’t know why they were there. But they were there, and were open to the message I was trying to convey: let’s get rid of all PET bottles.’
Everaarts would have left it with the design contest. Through his campaign, his message had already reached a lot of people. However, he liked the winning design so much he decided to have a prototype made. He also had the initial capital. Because, although he hadn’t produced a single bottle, he had already sold 20,000 in pre-orders.
But not everything was that easy. Although the campaign had gone smoothly, developing the prototype was really challenging. Having initially taken on the task, the manufacturer gave Everaarts some bad news. He couldn’t make the design into the practical, watertight and beautiful water bottle that Everaarts had in mind. ‘They tried to help by coming up with a different design, but it was a completely different bottle. Which was of course unacceptable. We had the design contest for a reason. I held my ground and the manufacturer had to work through quite a few nights, but in the end we succeeded. I held my ground because I wanted to use the festival season as momentum. And I was determined not to lose that momentum.’
In the autumn of 2010, still three months later, the Dopper was launched. Things progressed rapidly. After the first 20,000 pre-orders, more sales followed, many more. Last year the company sold 1.3 million Doppers. Everaarts: ‘Growth is good, because the more Doppers we sell, the more money there is for events through which we can communicate our message. In addition, 5 percent of our net revenue goes to the Dopper Foundation which supports charities which focus on water.’
Such rapid growth was a bit of a shock for the social entrepreneur in the early years. ‘Business is a journey with many adventures. It comes with highs and lows’, says Everaarts, ‘There were moments when I thought: this is the end. But the next day, even an hour later, I was able to put it all in perspective again.’ The deepest low was in 2014 when Everaarts was making his move into the US and Asia. He had set up teams in San Francisco and Hong Kong. ‘One morning I was in the shower and asked myself whether we’d be able to finance it. Together with the finance director, I hit the books and we realised we were two hundred thousand short for the project. Together we flew out to the US to shut it all down. I was heartbroken, but I had to. I didn’t want external investors for Dopper; one of our core tenets is that we’re only going to do this with our own funds.’
After the moment in the shower when he realised the American launch would have to be put on hold, Everaarts made a radical change. He chose the growth programmes Fast Forward and Rockefeller Habits to help with the rapid growth and management of Dopper. ‘Initially the growth overtook me, and doing business sort of happened to me. Now I know how to prioritise, and how important both data and a routine are. I’ve gotten a grip on the company by keeping informed. Dopper has a fixed structure, to which the entire company adheres. We have daily, weekly, monthly and annual meetings, and we have a buffer in case sales are disappointing. I make decisions based on extensive data: historic sales, weekly reports and future cash flow.’
Fast Forward and Rockefeller Habits provided Everaarts with more than just a grip on the business. ‘They also provided a broad network of people which occasionally advise each other. And they’re mainly social entrepreneurs. I’ve noticed that all entrepreneurs face the same challenges, but social entrepreneurs feel a special connection. We seek each other out because we have a common purpose: to do some good for the world.’
Early in 2014, Everaarts received some valuable advice from his brother. At that time, Dopper had 15 employees. Everaarts’ brother had noticed Everaarts becoming distracted from his mission because of the daily flow of double-digit growth. ‘He warned that if I didn’t hire an HR person soon, I would spend 2016 doing nothing more than recruiting people. It was a wake-up call, because that’s the part of doing business that least appeals to me. I much prefer communicating our mission. I hired someone immediately. Now Dopper has 30 employees.’
By 2016, Everaarts was ready to try again, relaunching Dopper in the US. So he’s staying in New York for ten months where he’s organising the distribution for Dopper and also an event to support the launch. ‘At the moment we’re recreating the Brooklyn Bridge in waste plastic.’
2017 will be another important year for Everaarts. It will be the year in which impact measurements and systems will provide real-time insight into the impact of Dopper. And after the US, it will be time for the UK. ‘Basically going against Brexit’, says Everaarts. ‘I’m not worried about Brexit at all. Dopper’s already in Norway and Switzerland, countries that are also outside the European Union, and there we just have to fill in two additional forms. I don’t expect it to be any different in the UK.’
However, endless growth isn’t Everaarts’ overriding ambition. ‘The main thing is to keep having fun at Dopper. And that fun all needs to be linked to meeting my objective: a world free from plastic. And when that goal is achieved, I will stop with Dopper because it will no longer be necessary. But that’s all theoretical, because that mission won’t be achieved in my lifetime.’