Connecting Ambitions, an interview with the founders of OpenDairy - by Nomik2day.

May 31, 2022

A successful product often arises from the idea that something can be done better. For the founders of OpenDairy, that thing was the traditional way of trading dairy commodities – which is why they launched an innovative platform focused on butter, cheese and powders. This startup is going to transform the industry, according to Martijn and Hans.

A large white poster on the tenth floor in the World Trade Center in Arnhem displays the text: “Tuesday, 13 July 2021, 5 p.m., 50 tonnes of milk powder”. It was the very first deal on the OpenDairy trading platform and the first of its kind in the dairy industry. Now, barely a year later, the startup founded by Martijn Goedhart, Hans Caspers and two associates is ready to take the next step.

How did you come up with the idea of OpenDairy?

M: “Henk de Weijer and I previously worked as dairy traders and we were increasingly frustrated by the fact that the order processing methods were not moving with the times. We were convinced that there had to be a more transparent and efficient way of doing things. And I must admit that I’m someone who is always open to new ways of making life a little easier.”

H: “Our plans were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic because it boosted e-commerce. Consumers have become used to ordering products online, getting good service and tracking & tracing their orders. It works amazingly well, so nobody wants to go back to the old-fashioned way. What surprised me was that the B2B market was lagging behind. You’re awaiting a container of milk powder worth several hundred thousand euros, but you can’t see precisely where it is in the delivery process – that’s crazy, right? And today’s technology can solve that.”

After a 'light' version, the full platform went live worldwide in January 2022. How does it work?

H: “The platform enables buyers and sellers of dairy commodities to find and connect directly with each other. As a service, we also offer the logistics and financing to support the deal. Sometimes the goods have to be shipped to the other side of the world. And producers want to be paid quickly, of course.”

M: “The great thing is that, as a seller, you no longer have to call customers to let them know that you have some product available. Instead, you can now simply list your product on the platform – including all the specifications – and immediately reach dozens of potentially interested parties that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach so quickly. So trading in this way saves time and money, and therefore results in better deals.”

So it's a kind of Amazon or BOL.COM for commodities?

M: “There are indeed some similarities. For one thing, you know who you are doing business with. Additionally, the deal is transparent because both sides have insight into which fee is being charged, whereas that’s unclear when working with traditional traders. Another big improvement on traditional trading, which is still often done by e-mail and sometimes even by fax, is the document management. You now have a much clearer overview, plus you always have access to the very latest version.”

Is there also a benefit in terms of CSR?

M: “Definitely. The platform allows companies on both sides to save costs and it also keeps more value in the chain. There are numerous links in the chain between the cow and the end customer, and traditionally they all earn some money on the milk. Selling directly to end customers makes a big difference in terms of the margins usually paid to third parties and ultimately results in more money for farmers.”

What is the current status of the company and what is your longer-term goal?

H: “We’re seeing strong growth in the number of users and transactions. As for our goal, it’s to become the standard method. To be honest, buying large volumes of milk powder, cheese and butter should be as easy as placing an order on Amazon. Our aim is to bring the B2C level of service to B2B trading. We believe that once people have discovered how easy it is, they won’t want to work in any other way. I’m 100% convinced that this will transform the industry for the better. And the concept also works in other markets… so we have plenty of longer-term goals.”

Does that mean you're already thinking about the next step?

M: “Yes, we are! We still have a long ‘to do’ list on our roadmap and we still want to add lots of new things to the solution. For instance, we’re working on providing insight into emissions and sustainability for the end-to-end value chain so that buyers can demonstrate they are buying a carbon-neutral product. Another route we are considering – because it is lacking in the dairy market right now – is independent deal-based price information.”

H: “And we still see plenty of opportunities in terms of market potential. The majority of the deals on our platform are still European right now, but the world has four other major dairy regions, plus there are regions that are dependent on imports. So in terms of business development, the world is our oyster, and that’s why we’re looking to hire a Business Development Manager in order to focus on this.”

How much scope is there for people to contribute the own ideas?

M: “Listen, we are four entrepreneurs with a strong drive to achieve something special, so we’re always eager to hear good ideas. We offer a lot of freedom and room for your own initiative. We are also results-oriented and support a hybrid approach to working. At the same time, our company is young and the organizational structure is still evolving. There are no formal procedures or ready-made introduction programmes; we expect you to figure a lot of things out for yourself and just get on with it – but rather than finding that stressful, you should thrive on it.”

H: “Besides keeping our eye on the goal, we also make sure that we celebrate our achievements. For now we still do that by taking everyone out for lunch and drinks, but as our company grows we will organize more ‘proper’ team outings – although we don’t want to become too corporate.”

Why don't you want to become too corporate?

M: “That’s not the kind of company we are. To be honest, this location on the tenth floor of the WTC in Arnhem doesn’t really suit us either – even though the view is fantastic. That’s why we’re looking for another location locally: a building with more character, where we have the possibility to sit outside, and preferably alongside other startups in the food and tech sectors so that we all share the same kind of vibe.”

Does your company have a typical startup culture?

H: “To a large extent it does, actually. Working here means working in a small, flat organization where you have the chance to make a big impact and be part of the organization’s growth – without whispering and office politics.”

So there's never any friction?

M: “Of course there is. The evolution of a startup never runs entirely smoothly. Sometimes we have the wind at our backs and sometimes it’s against us. For example, we’re currently dealing with some tough market conditions and serious logistical challenges, but we tackle everything ourselves – so you see the immediate results of your actions, and that’s what makes it so rewarding. And those who join us early on in our growth phase have an even bigger chance to help shape the company’s future direction.”

Image: Gerard Burgers

Source: Nomilk2day

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