How practical it is for many people to have products delivered to their homes was not just displayed by the corona pandemic. Still, it has once more given a huge boost to many e-commerce platforms and delivery services. One such example is Germany's first instant beverage delivery service "flaschenpost". The company was founded by a team surrounding the WHU graduates Christopher Huesmann (MiM 2017) and Niklas Plath (BSc 2012 & MiM 2017). In just four years, they led flaschenpost, which delivers all types of beverages individually to people's homes in a very short amount of time, to the top of the market. Now both alumni have made their exit after Dr. Oetker bought the company. However, as CMO and COO, the two young entrepreneurs will remain on board with further plans for expansion.
1. Christopher and Niklas, the most exciting question for such a successful startup is: what makes flaschenpost so different? As the market for delivery services is fiercely contested, don’t you have to fear tremendous competition?
Christopher Huesmann: First of all, the main feature is the business idea: When flaschenpost was launched in 2016, we were the first in the market to offer an online instant beverage delivery service, combined with the promise to deliver heavy beverage crates, which nobody likes to carry themselves, to the respective customer’s house. Delivery is guaranteed within 120 minutes and without charge. That is appealing to many customers, and there were no comparable competitors at that time.
In addition to the necessary innovative spirit in the whole company and the right dynamics and vision, we also have an excellent unique software solution. It is the heart of our business and enables us to keep the promise we have given to our customers. Our software components map the core processes for all central business areas. The system compares the orders with our stock, coordinates and prioritizes the picking of the goods, and plans ideal delivery routes for as many customers as possible to be supplied by our drivers in the shortest possible time. This is not only cost-efficient but, above all, environmentally friendly, because one delivery tour can save six to ten individual trips to the supermarket.
Niklas Plath (NP): Another special feature of flaschenpost is that, unlike many other delivery services, we maintain our own logistics completely in-house – with 23 hubs or locations and up to 150 trucks per location. The space of our warehouses currently equals more than 25 soccer pitches, each of which offers space for more than 1,500 different products. By operating our warehouses ourselves, we have vertically integrated the value chain all the way from the manufacturer to the customer. We avoid intermediaries that lower margins and obtain the majority of our goods directly from the producers. This is quite relevant because we move a volume of more than 100,000 crates of beverages every day.
2. In just four years you have turned your idea and your startup into a multi-million euro company. Sources say, Dr. Oetker was willing to pay one billion euros for your enterprise. How were you able to achieve this in such a short amount of time? How did you convince the public and investors of your business model?
Plath: The success of flaschenpost is certainly based on a number of parameters. One important aspect is the self-developed software solution mentioned by Christopher as well as our own logistics expertise and infrastructure, which allow us to continuously optimize our core processes and make them more efficient. We have decided on "making" and not on "buying", which obviously has paid off. This is how flaschenpost became a pioneer in last-mile logistics with reliable deliveries within 120 minutes.
Huesmann: Our direct customer access and precise knowledge of the customers’ wishes and their behavior plays an important role as well, though. That is a great advantage compared to the stationary retailers and offers great potential in terms of marketing. One good example is the successful marketing of our own brands, for example, in the water or beer segments. It can be done a lot better through our own webstore and app than through classic advertising or retail. As we have developed our own systems, we can access all essential data centrally at flaschenpost. This enables us to take a 360 degrees perspective and offer our customers the best possible experience with the highest standards in data protection. All these were certainly essential elements for our rapid growth and made us even more attractive for investors.
3. Now you have decided to exit your startup. What does your future in the company look like and how is flaschenpost supposed to evolve in the years to come?
Huesmann: We will still remain in the company. In just four years, we have built up flaschenpost together with a great team. We are delighted that this journey will continue and that we will further develop the company together with a strong partner who has known the industry for decades. Today, we are already active in numerous cities, but we also have a lot of white spots on the map where we want to offer our services in the future.
Plath: Yet, we will not only expand in geographic terms, we will also enlarge our product portfolio where it makes sense. At our headquarter in Muenster, for example, we are currently testing the delivery of fresh and frozen groceries as this kind of service could also be an option for other cities. And in the future, too, it will be essential for us to cooperate in order to ensure an ideal customer service and a high level of customer satisfaction.
4. The emerging corona pandemic has certainly played a role over the last months. In which way has it affected your business? Do you think that delivery services and e-commerce will soon replace traditional retailing? And at what pace could this happen?
Huesmann: The corona crisis has had a major impact on the everyday life of most people and will certainly also change purchasing behavior in the long term. Studies show that e-commerce offerings are by far better accepted in Germany today than they were before the pandemic. This has also had an impact on our business in recent months and has led to an even greater increase in demand. Time and again, it has shown that customers who have ordered from flaschenpost appreciate the convenience aspect and remain loyal to us. Moreover, they do not limit themselves to buying just drinks but are increasingly showing more interest in groceries and other items.
Plath: Corona has also led to a number of adjustments in our daily business. We quickly established hygiene standards and rules to keep the distance as well as mask and glove requirements in our warehouses. We also introduced contactless delivery so that physically close customer contact is no longer necessary. This was highly appreciated by our customers and colleagues.
5. How did your studies at WHU encourage you to found the company? Were there any key moments which awakened your founding spirit?
Plath: WHU provides a broad insight into the different areas of economy, not only by internships from the first term on but also by giving students ample opportunities to meet practitioners, for instance, during company presentations. As a student, you realize very quickly which professional fields inspire you and where you can best realize your potential as a person. Of all the possibilities, entrepreneurship definitely offers the greatest freedom of action, but it also involves a lot of responsibility and entrepreneurial opportunities and risks. The highly developed startup environment and network within the WHU community continues to be a strong catalyst for me as an entrepreneur.
Huesmann: It is the special WHU spirit which first comes to my mind. It is difficult to put into words. After all, WHU's reputation as a fertile ground for entrepreneurship attracts many students with an affinity for startups. This creates a dynamic in which ideas are continuously discussed, and in some cases also tried out in a controlled environment. It is these experiences that nurture the hunger for more independence. Practical lessons with numerous business partners and case studies support this process, so that, in the end, you feel well prepared for unconventional endeavors.