Appeared in the Volkskrant on Oct. 9, 2022. Written by Liam van de Ven. Photos were taken by and owned by Raymond Rutting. Also read at https://www.volkskrant.nl/economie/ondernemen-in-duurzaam-wc-papier-deze-twee-jonge-ondernemers-doen-het-rol-voor-rol~bc039ae4/
24-year-old students Leroy Ranglek and Joseph Nickisch were eager to bring a product to market together. But what? It became toilet paper made of bamboo; a godsend to the emissions and natural damage associated with paper production.
Joseph Nickisch, co-owner of Bamboi, demonstrates the strength of the paper.
Image Raymond Rutting / the Volkskrant
On a sunny day in April 2021, a colossal container truck pulls into a storage yard in Hoofddorp. With open mouths, a group of students stands watching, to them the herculean task of unloading. It involves more than 50,000 rolls of toilet paper, packed in boxes of 9 kilograms each. It is the first delivery, directly from China, for student Leroy Ranglek and Joseph Nickisch’s (both 24) startup Bamboi.
Dutch customs also come to check, but soon give up on checking every box. One half must go into a couple of garage boxes, the other to Nickisch’s dorm. “The attic there could only support five hundred pounds, and we ended up putting down over five thousand pounds of rollers.
More than a year later, they laughingly recount it, but they have by no means forgotten the nightmare of that time. ‘And we only paid our friends who came to haul only two tens, even though we ended up spending more than six hours.’
Bamboo, according to Ranglek and Nickisch, is a godsend to the emissions and natural damage associated with paper production. Cutting down 30-year-old trees for toilet paper that is only used once is a crime, they think. Bamboo, on the other hand, can be fully grown in as little as three months.
Besides, says Ranglek: bamboo grows best when it is regularly harvested. When properly maintained, a bamboo forest absorbs much more CO than a tree forest. From the felled bamboo, a pulp can be made that is very suitable for making paper. Win-win, then, for the environment as well as for the two toilet paper vendors.
Nickisch and Ranglek became friends in junior high in Amsterdam. All together, they have had more than a dozen side jobs and ventures, from street vending to catering. Once upon a time, they set up an e-commerce platform well before bamboo paper came on their radar. That the two would do business together was a given. The question was only in what.
Leroy Ranglek came up with the idea to market toilet paper made of bamboo.
Image Raymond Rutting / the Volkskrant
Ranglek came up with the idea to market toilet paper made of bamboo. ‘I wanted to sell something that everyone uses. A friend’s father had his own garbage bag business, and from there I thought through until I ended up with toilet paper. So I looked up: is toilet paper actually sustainable? It turned out that it absolutely is not, because so many trees are cut down for it. Now I’m from Thailand myself, where bamboo is widely used, and I wondered: why don’t we actually make that toilet paper out of bamboo? The idea then landed on the shelf. Because, say the founders, “who, as a young guest, is going to start a toilet paper company?
After two years, the two-man team decides to follow through; the idea is too good to pass up. They write an outline for a business plan. Nickisch, who is studying International Business Administration, deals with communications, customer contacts and branding. In turn, Ranglek, a Mechanical Engineering student, knows how to get a product assembled on the other side of the world.
They ordered dozens of prototypes from as many different manufacturers until they finally arrived at a product that met all the requirements. Softness, firmness, weight and, a necklace for entrepreneurs, made entirely of bamboo. From core to wrapper, there is not an ounce of regular paper in a Bamboo roll.
Meanwhile, they were taking the entrepreneurship minor at the HvA. “We used that minor to create the first draft of a functional business plan,” Nickisch says. When that was in place, with eyes watching from their teachers, they applied for a social credit of 50 thousand euros. Of that, they got only half. Nickisch: “Being young, they didn’t have enough confidence. From their own piggy banks, they scraped together another 10 thousand euros, just enough to order that first giant shipment.
Sales began from its own webshop and through bol.com and others. ‘The biggest challenge was managing our inventory. Because we had to work with a smaller budget, we didn’t have enough room to order a second load while sales were shooting through the roof.’
Ranglek was a guest on a radio broadcast on NPO4 just under six months after sales began, after which thirty orders immediately came in one morning. ‘If that had persisted we would have sold out all at once and would not have been able to deliver more. Then we would have fallen victim to our own success,” Ranglek says.
The most exciting moments for Bamboi are over. While the two finish their studies, they are working more than full time to expand their business. Within the start-up world, they are a breath of fresh air, among all the fast-paced tech entrepreneurs. They win award after award for their entrepreneurship. And that they don’t pay themselves yet? ‘That doesn’t matter to us,’ Ranglek said. ‘In a year I’m sure we can pay ourselves a salary, but for now that’s not so important. We both have the intention to roll out this company and tackle the paper industry, that’s the vision.’ Order our bamboo toilet paper.
Number of employees: 2
Turnover 2022: 34 thousand euros