Step up with Virgin StartUp

Dutch twins Joyce and Raissa De Haas have been mixing their collective talents together since they were growing up in Eindhoven.

And after four years in the drinks industry leading Double Dutch, they’ve definitely stirred it up a little.

Having picked up a Virgin Foodpreneur award in 2015, the 28-year-olds who create innovate spirit mixers have just been named in the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 list, which recognises the brightest young entrepreneurial talents across the globe.

The duo knew from an early age they wanted to work together. When they were growing up, they used to sell corn from the fields and even had a clothing business.

So, when they quit their banking jobs and moved to the UK in their early 20s, there was only one thing on their minds. Enrolling on a masters in technology entrepreneurship at University College London (UCL), they set about creating Double Dutch.

Raissa said:

“We always used to mix drinks for our friends at parties and I actually did my dissertation at UCL on the spirit and mixer market, which was really interesting. When we graduated, we actually won a prize for our products and ideas, so we thought ‘let’s go for it and see if it turns a profit’.”



Passion and Drive

“Entrepreneurship can’t really be taught, but the things that come with running a business can be. You can learn things like finance and marketing – or you can hire people who do know about those things – but it’s more important to have the passion and drive."

Helped on the way by the £9,000 prize from UCL, Joyce and Raissa started to put Double Dutch into action, trying out different mixer pairings and working out what customers wanted.

“You need to know all about your product and you need to know your market,” says Joyce. “That’s where the research comes in.

“It’s amazing to be working with big brands but I was randomly walking in London the other day when I stopped and saw a set of Double Dutch on a table people were drinking at. That was a really nice feeling.”

Raissa said: “It’s more about trial and error. If it doesn’t work, you have to change it up. It’s about finding out what works and what doesn’t and making sure you learn along the way.”


Sound advice

Since scooping the Foodpreneur award, the twins have continued to work alongside Virgin Start Up helping others follow in the same footsteps.

Joyce said:

“We won the Foodpreneur award, which allowed us to go to the US to pitch, the Virgin team have kept in touch ever since. It’s great. We now take part in their workshops and talks and it’s great to give a little bit back. It’s nice to see people who might be thinking of starting up their own businesses, give any advice we can and do some networking.

“If we had to give one bit of advice to anyone thinking about setting up their own business, it’d be to do it sooner rather than later. There’s no gain in keeping your idea to yourself. Go out, see what people think of the idea. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, go back and change it until your customers love it. And do it in an industry that you are really passionate about.”

Raissa added: “It was amazing to be recognised by an organisation like Forbes. Similar to our work with Virgin, anything that gives us more credibility and helps us to connect with more people is great for the business.”


Ups and downs

But despite all the success, Joyce and Raissa are quick to point out that starting up a new business isn’t all red carpets and champagne (or gin and tonic). There have been plenty of peaks and troughs along the way – but working with family seems to help.

Raissa: “It’s a world of constant ups and downs. There have been lots of struggles throughout, even when the accolades have come our way.

“But working in a family business allows you to be 100% truthful with the people around you. If we don’t agree, we say it immediately. We fight a little, and then make up straight away. We don’t separate our lives away from the business either. When we get together, we’re always talking about Double Dutch.”

And as two women taking on a fairly male-dominated industry, Raissa says the duo feel proud, adding: “I think it’s important to try and use being a minority to our advantage, especially in an industry where branding is so important. I don’t think it’s ever held us back really. However, there are certainly the stereotypes and preconceived opinions, potentially around how serious we are. It shouldn’t be any different for women or men.”

Joyce agrees, saying: “We can rely on each other. Working with your twin sister can really lift you up. It’s really important to have the right team around you.”

And with Double Dutch now exporting to 24 different countries – the latest being South Africa – the uncertainty around Brexit is continuing to play a part in the company’s operations.

“I don’t think it will affect our distribution, but it may affect our operations as we attempt to expand the business further and double our production,” says Raissa. “We might need to adapt our business model a bit.

“However, it is becoming more difficult. Since January this year, we have noticed some export companies being more reluctant to trade. I think this is more to do with the uncertainty around Brexit rather than anything long-term though. When we know exactly what is happening, it will be better. We can’t rely on anyone else though. It’s up to us to make it work.”