Kasper Brandi Petersen is startup royalty. He’s the name behind the online personal shopping service for men, The Cloakroom — a company which in 2015, according to Petersen, had the highest average basket value of any European online retailer at 250 euros per box. After selling the company to his German competitors, the entrepreneur pursued new adventures. Namely, setting up a new company with his partner, Lotte Vink, LABFRESH. His latest business venture offers self-cleaning shirts made from fabrics “treated at a molecular level” which “help fight perspiration, avoid unpleasant odors, and repel liquids of any sort.” According to LABFRESH, in January 2017, the company became the most backed Dutch fashion project in the history of crowdfunding.
How did you come up with LABFRESH?
After we sold The Cloakroom, we moved to Berlin. After a few months of being in Berlin, I wasn’t that busy so we started looking into what kind of new technology there was in fashion — personally, I love buying things on Kickstarter and I saw all this nice sportswear there but I didn’t see any innovation on the fashion side of things.
Then I took my girlfriend (who’s also my co-founder) on some romantic trips to Paris, Portugal and Dusseldorf. We checked out a lot of fabrics and met very smart scientists and we thought, wow, there’s a lot of great ideas that never made it out of the labs, but which are totally applicable. But their ideas were just expensive and annoying to produce. These ideas were also bad for business because they led to less repurchasing. If people buy stuff with our technology, they can wear the same shirt for ten years and it still looks good, which means you sell less shirts per customer. We thought it was perverse that there’s this industry which doesn’t give customers the best products because it’s bad for business. But we also understand it because a lot of brands and retailers are having a tough time at the moment, so why would you make it harder for yourself? But luckily we didn’t have a brand so we thought we might as well put some of this stuff out there in the world.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone hoping to come up with a truly original product?
Realise that everything around you, everything you wear, everything in the office and on your phone is made by people who aren’t geniuses but normal people. I always say don’t focus on coming up with the most brilliant idea in the world. Focus on an opportunity in the market where you see the big players are acting slowly when it comes to new technology. Then realise your biggest advantage is that you’re not big, you don’t have a ton of stakeholders to align with so you can just handle things however you want.
What’s the one trend dominating e-commerce in 2018?
I really think 2018 is the year where you’ve got to start offering as good and personal a service online as you do in brick and mortar. We’re really seeing a lot of innovative retailers moving on this, I’ve seen a lot of startups that are offering showroom experiences and integrating meeting people physically with their online and telephone service.
You can also see messenger and chatbots and all this machine learning kicking in when it comes to the next level of personalization. It’s really easy to build your own chatbot that helps people with sizing, for example. If you use standard systems, FB Messenger and Shopify, it’s really not that hard. You know how people have always said that email provides the highest ever conversion rate for customers? That was until Facebook Messenger took off for this, which provides a conversion rate several times higher than email has ever been when it comes to getting replies.
The standard thing is retargeting people who have been on our website. When you add a product from our website to your basket, it automatically ticks the product to say add to Facebook Messenger, too. This means if you don’t end up buying the product we can message you after two weeks. The message will come from a person in the customer service team that says “Hey, I saw you didn’t check out in the end, did you find the right size, can I help you?” Admittedly, it’s kind of invasive but when you send messages like that the response rate for us is about 50%. And some of them will just reply “No thanks,” which is also fine. No one replies when they get an automated email!
What do you do to relax in a time of high stress?
My best trick is to relax in the morning before work. So I get up around 6, I read, I go to the gym and I take my time, drinking coffee slowly and enjoying the beautiful building I have outside my window. I think those three hours in the morning before everything starts beeping and going crazy is really amazing, then I really calm down. Until today, I lived 300 metres from the office so I’d walk there with my girlfriend’s chihuahua, Chloe and I’d only have to leave the house at 8:50 to be there at 9. Plus I go to bed really early, like an old man.
I changed my attitude a lot when it comes to this company compared to my first one because I’ve learned a lot about quality of life. My career had three phases, initially I took a very corporate job and I was very serious because I was transitioning from student to professional so I wanted something that felt very professional. With The Cloakroom it was about growing fast, raising a lot of money, hiring a lot of people because I wanted to be a real entrepreneur.
After we sold that, I’m much more relaxed, so now I’m designing the perfect life: running the company with my girlfriend, bringing our dog to work if I want. We have investors in Copenhagen and Dubai, so we always go to Copenhagen to visit them then sleep at my parents’ house and have board meetings the next day. We work hard but it’s designed in a way where we only have independent people in the team that we don’t have to manage. As such, it’s on a whole other level, it’s very nice.
What are you afraid of?
I guess I’m sometimes scared of standing still. Of not evolving or of life becoming boring. I’ve now been in Amsterdam for four years and almost every day I think, am I wasting my youth because I’m staying in the same place? We’ve got to move to Bali, we’ve got to do something. And that can be very annoying for my girlfriend. She’s like, OK, we can go to Bali for three months but then we’re coming back. I’ve noticed that about people from Amsterdam — they can go abroad for a couple of years but they want to settle down here and have their kids and grow old here.
Which city’s fashion week is your favourite?
It will always be Copenhagen Fashion Week because that’s where you also get the best stuff from Sweden and Norway. I’m really obsessed with Scandinavian fashion because it’s so clean and simple. At the same time I love that there’s a lot of people there who I don’t get to see so often and I’m really proud that such a small country can have such a big fashion week with people from all over the world.
What are you most looking forward to about Savant eCommerce Amsterdam?
I’m most looking forward to learnings from the biggest players in the industry. Especially how to roll out a successful click & mortar strategy. We have had a store in The Nine Streets of Amsterdam [in the canal district of the city] for a month now, and we have quickly realised that it’s a whole other ball game.
Petersen will be speaking on the “Learning from the new kids on the block: Leveraging the startup ecosystem around you, to develop your business goals” panel along with Picnic CTO Daniel Gebler and Startupbootcamp Managing Director of Commerce, Ernst Hoestra at Savant ECommerce Amsterdam on 24th-25th April. To buy tickets for the event, head here.