Interview with Marijn van de Ven & Bram Ellens
When Bram Ellens and fellow co-founder Marijn van de Ven brainstormed over cold beers one night, they came up with the idea to develop an app for the global home gas market. They spent the next year honing their idea and successfully secured a major €50-100 million investment. The app was launched in November 2016 to a very enthusiastic response. Today, Chama is further developing the app and enlarging the team to reach 10 million customers in the next two years and expand into South America, Africa and the Far East. Bram and Marijn share their thoughts on the growing team and the culture that makes Chama a unique and wild ride.
What does Chama mean?
Marijn: “Chama is Portuguese for ‘little flame’ as well as ‘call me.’ It’s the perfect name. Everyone in Brazil immediately gets the concept and no matter who we talk to, everyone is excited. It’s so simple to grasp and people are very enthusiastic and can’t wait to start using it.”
Chama will be the biggest disruptor on the market.
Bram: “For 50 years, every part of the home gas chain was owned by fat cats and locked in with the big players. Consumers have paid too much for far too little and too long. We are improving their quality of service and offer a safe, clean product, professionally delivered, at a better price. It’s been a real adventure. The dealers we work with are in good and not-so-good areas. Taxis won’t take us to some of them, so what we do is rent a car and drive ourselves to the neighbourhoods they won’t go to. It’s a unique adventure!”
And the home gas market is embracing Chama?
Bram: “In countries where people rely on gas delivery, the vast majority keep one bottle of gas in their homes – the one that’s hooked up – and don’t have a spare one. But they often run out of gas for cooking or heating. We have sales data and know that on average, consumers run out of gas every 42 days. Our data scientist can predict with 90% certainty when they will need more. With this goldmine of data, we let drivers in the area know which consumers are about to run out so they can deliver the gas in time. It provides a far better level of service and peace of mind for consumers.”
What is the sweet sound of success?
Marijn: “When we launched the app in November, we set up a bell to ring for every order that came in. We waited and waited and the time stretched all day just like in movies. When it finally rang the first time, we got super excited. After all the hard work that led to that moment, it was a sound we’ll never forget. After two hours, it rang again. And again. By the end of the week, we had more than 100 orders.”
What’s Chama’s family dynamic like?
Bram: “We are not building a company, we’re building a family. It is more personal and we challenge each other like family around the dinner table. Unlike a business, the idea is to find people who all get along and share the same values. Our team is super flat, so it’s natural to have a very personal culture.”
Are you a pirate?
Bram: “Our team is made of analytical cowboys. In terms of age, we’re quite a mixed bunch. Some of us may seem ancient by the Internet industry standards. That’s because we tend to attract senior people with exceptional talent. Our people are smarter, faster, entrepreneurial and pragmatic. To work at Chama, you need to be a bit of a risk taker and like to work hard – a pirate mentality. People here work hard because it’s necessary. But they also relax and enjoy hobbies too. Personally, I take time to sing in a jazz band and spend my downtime with my wife and kids.”
What’s it like for new people joining the crew?
Marijn: “We’ve enjoyed tremendous enthusiasm from consumers and our candidates. There has been a 100% buy in from everyone we recruit. They want to work for us because they recognize the unique opportunity and want to be a part of the adventure. Since we launched the app in November, we have been building our team with very talented people. This is our growth curve phase as we continue to develop the apps, expand our team and launch on a major scale.”
And you’re getting ready for a well-funded adventure.
Bram: “Normally, start-ups don’t have the funds to pay market salaries but we are very well-invested so can offer market rates and more. And unlike many Internet start-ups, we are building it for generations and to change lives. We are not building Chama to IPO or sell it. It is a professional and stable company with a long term vision to remain a part of the value chain. People base their decision to join a company on: salary, people, boss, content and adventure. At Chama, we offer everything they could want. And it’s like a pirate ship.”
Full steam ahead!
Marijn: “In 2017, it’s all about growth. We anticipate there will be millions of customers using Chama by the end of the year. Chama will turn the entire home gas delivery model on its head while offering better service and quality to customers. We are very proud of the potential to grow across emerging global markets. After all, we have tapped into a niche environment with 400 million consumers with a service that is highly relevant to their everyday needs.”
What do you see on the horizon?
Marijn: “Within three to five years, Chama will be the largest home cooking gas distributor in the world… without any fixed assets. Much like how Airbnb owns no hotels yet offers accommodation. We will have a global presence, operate in South America, Africa and Asia and be a market leader in five to ten years. As a tech company, our digital platform will be able to accommodate future apps for our customers, for instance for water or food delivery to their homes. Since our app will be on the mobile phones of 10 million customers and with all the valuable real-time data we can access, it is very exciting to think of all the additional business initiatives we can explore.”