Zeeland, on the Dutch North Sea coast, is not the first province you think of when it comes to innovation. All the more reason for Innovation Origins to adjust that image. In six episodes we show a cross-section of the organisations in Zeeland that give innovation a face.
Kees Koopman had been a mailman for 20 years to his satisfaction when the realisation suddenly began to dawn on him that this might not be the future for him – and many of his colleagues. Because he didn’t want to wait patiently for that moment, he made a drastic decision 12 years ago: he started his own online parcel service: MijnPakketDienst (‘My Parcel Service‘).
In and around his logistics centre on the outskirts of the city of Goes, there are now about 6 men to help the more than 700 customers. Two vans take care of the immediate surroundings, the rest is done via bulk contracts with parties such as DHL, TNT, UPS, PostNL and DPD. But the success of MijnPakketDienst was no reason for Koopman to sit back and relax. Just like when he left as a postman, he kept on looking for adventure.
“In fact, it was thanks to my customers, who put me on the trail of something new: although they were very satisfied with what we had already offered, some wondered whether our service could not also work for containers on board of ships. Of course, these are also packages, but they are of a completely different order. And a service that – at least, combined with the ease that we had also devised with MijnPakketDienst – did not yet exist.”
At the time, Koopman was already in regular contact with Jos de Jonge, who was the CEO of a container transport company in Antwerp, Belgium. He wanted to take on the adventure with him. “So that was the beginning of MijnContainerDienst (My Container Service’). Jos and I spent a year visiting IT companies in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to discover what was possible in the ICT field. During that trip, we found out more and more that we had to develop it ourselves, and that’s how Ron de Wit arrived. The three of us formed the ideal team: Ron as an ICT expert, Jos as a sea freight expert, and me with my network.”
What was clear to Koopman from the start was that the “extremely customer-oriented way of working” that he had built up with MijnPakketDienst, should also apply here. For this reason, outsiders often make the comparison with booking.com, but Koopman himself hesitates to use the comparison. “Of course there are similarities, especially if you look at it from the point of view of the customer’s convenience. But at the same time, the process behind it is so much more complex than Booking’s, that the comparison is no longer really valid.”
When Koopman first presented his ideas to De Jonge, he was not convinced immediately. “He said: they’ve been working on that in Silicon Valley for a long time, how do you want to defeat those kinds of companies? An understandable reaction, because you already had Flexport and iContainers and, in the Netherlands, Shypple had already succeeded in mobilising millions of Euros in investments. But I think there are some essential differences.”
The most important one: Mijncontainerdienst opts for full containers and only for export. Koopman: “The competition often offers everything: import, export, sub-containers, air freight, and so on. In order to automate that properly, you have a long way to go and what you see is that these parties hire a lot of people to retype all the documents – the so-called Chinese links – which is something that we do not do.” Koopman convinced his partners after which they could start at the beginning of 2019.
With the expertise of the three partners, the production process, the sales process and the logistics process were in the right hands. Thanks in part to the help of the data science department at Hogeschool Zeeland, the online system became even smarter: nowadays, the data of all shipowners in the world, the current rates, the performance of all suppliers, the sailing schedules and so on can be used to sketch out a reliable picture for the customer.
Koopman: “In 20 seconds, we can make a calculation based on all the variables and even if it concerns a cargo that will be shipped in a few months’ time, we will only deviate by a maximum of 5% from our initial estimate. As far as we know, no one does that as we do.” Laughing: “The more often I was told ‘Kees, you shouldn’t do this, you can’t do that at all’, the more I was convinced that I had something unique in my hands.”
Koopman is now ready to take the next step. “The online program is completely ready for the agrifood sector, the next customers are welcome. In addition, an investment could help us to really grow.” A recently obtained InnoGo loan from Impuls Zeeland is a good start as far as he is concerned, “especially because it shows that the relevant people have faith in our concept and could, therefore, convince other investors as well”.
Koopman does not dare to offer an expectation for next year. “That depends mainly on how quickly the next customer will arrive. How quickly we can switch from a few dozen containers per week to a multiple of that. With our first customer, we are still fine-tuning the system – especially when it comes to the reliability of our data – but already I can say that scalability will be our strength.”
Meanwhile, Koopman’s wife has seen him change in recent years. “And to be honest, that’s not only positive,” he admits directly. “The railcar I got on 12 years ago has become an express train over the years and that really does something to a human being. With MijnContainerDienst we are now at the wheel of a High-Speed TGV, I can’t say it any other way. But at the same time, I’m still that same postman from the past: I connect people, that’s is my strength and that is what makes me happy. After all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”