This e-commerce platform uses AI and Crypto to offer a hassle-free, seamless furniture shopping experience that gives back to the planet
erial entrepreneurs Wouter Gyssels and Tobias Wendel have combined their experience of running digital ventures, developing software and unbeatable insights into logistics gleaned from working in the music industry with their passion for sustainable design to launch Troppic, an AI-led online furniture retail platform that is truly next-gen.
AD spoke with the co-founders about their exciting, and inspiring venture.
What inspired you to launch Tropicc?
We decided to launch Tropicc is the UAE after a long market research. In the UAE alone, the furniture sector will be worth $1B per year by 2023. Ecommerce is furthermore only in its early days in the Middle East and it is estimated that in the UAE, about 40% of the furniture will be bought online by 2023.
That’s a tremendous opportunity for niche & more agile D2C, direct-to-consumer, furniture brands to enter the market and make a mark. Of course, these are just projections. Our discussions with UAE residents on their furniture buying experience have highlighted recurring issues like high pricing, a rather homogenous product selection and average service levels. So even if the above projections are wrong, consumers in the region seem ready for a fresh experience.
We were both based in Bali, Indonesia, when the global pandemic hit. We already had noticed small furniture workshops with artisans making eye-catching furniture and with international travel out of the question for us, we got extremely curious about the inner workings of the local furniture industry. And the rest is history.
What makes Tropicc’s proposition unique?
Tropicc is a D2C, direct to consumer, sustainable furniture brand. We bring Bali-inspired furniture, handmade with the best natural rattan, to consumers in the UAE at competitive rates. It’s a digital first business, meaning we are not available through brick and mortar stores. To offset the offline experience, we provide customers with smart tools like augmented reality to better visualise our furniture in their house, free & fast delivery and hassle-free returns.
We work directly with manufacturers, allowing us to develop and test new designs fast. This is in contrast to the traditional ‘slow’ model where wholesalers are acting as a middle man and controlling the products to be sold by retailers.
Natural rattan is lightweight, sustainable, durable and also flexible, allowing a wide range of designs. Currently, the export of raw top graded natural rattan is banned from Indonesia. As a result, if you want high-quality rattan furniture, manufacturing needs to be done locally. To supervise the production at all time and ensure quality, we have at least one of us on the factory premises. This is in contrast to a lot of furniture brands that are handling manufacturing without on ground presence, just via Zoom calls.
On a service level, we try to take the pain out of furniture buying. You preview it in your home with augmented reality, buy it with your preferred payment method – that includes options for instalments and Crypto – we deliver the next day to your home regardless if it’s on top of Burj Khalifa or on the ground floor. In case you have any troubles, we offer hassle-free returns.
Do you think there’s a demand for sustainable design in the region?
We believe sustainable and fashionable furniture are not mutually exclusive. We want to make sustainable furniture so eye-catching that our customers don’t just buy the furniture because of its sustainability aspect, but because the furniture is great.
Sustainability is not yet a strong value proposition by itself for most consumers in the region. We believe it’s more of a question about if our designs and associated price points will appeal to our audience in the UAE. After all, these are the major criteria consumers have in mind when shopping for furniture.
Beyond Meat, the alternative protein company, didn’t become widely successful solely because it offers plant-based burgers. It became successful because their burgers are so delicious and affordable that it became a great alternative for the average consumer. Over time, sustainability will play an increasingly bigger role in the choices customers make in the Middle East. Mega projects like the sustainable city in Dubai and the many pavilions at the Expo 2020 covering sustainability topics are a proof of this trend.
What has the reaction been like so far?
The response so far has been positive. We weren’t expecting that many inquiries, since we haven’t even started with serious marketing. The good thing is that people in the UAE travel a lot, they are familiar with the dreamy island of Bali and have experienced markets where e-commerce has been popular for quite some time. But to our surprise, the inquiries we received are very diverse in kind. From UAE-based interior designers looking to incorporate our furniture in their upcoming projects, to end consumers in the UAE and even, KSA.
What are your plans for the future?
Bootstrapping a company, risking your own capital is very hard. The uncertainties involved makes it difficult to make long-term plans. As a first, we are looking to enhance our collaboration with regional designers to make our furniture even more accessible to the local market.
Secondly, we hope to expand our activities to other countries in the region. Especially Saudi Arabia has caught our attention. E-commerce is only getting started there, and recently the government has made it much easier for new companies to operate. And of course, in the meantime, we will focus on continuously improving the customer experience via enhanced digital features such as AR and an elevated brand experience.
How does Troppic give back to the people behind these objects – designers, makers and craftspeople?
During our time in Indonesia, we have seen all kinds of working conditions. Some local manufacturers and suppliers working with global furniture brands offer extremely poor working conditions. It’s possible that some of their clients aren’t even aware of these despicable conditions.
So, for us, nurturing and supporting businesses with strong, positive ethics was paramount. We only work with carefully vetted Indonesian manufacturers that provide a good working environment – think proper ventilation, competitive wages, benefits and time off, for example. Our partners in Indonesia have a progressive mind-set and are playing a long-term game. They understand that taking care of their employees and investing in new technologies will benefit them in the long run through less attrition and greater retention of knowledge. Recently, while the pandemic wreaked havoc in Indonesia and many Indonesians were facing financial uncertainties, one of our partner advanced six months of pay to all of its employees. It’s these initiatives that can make a real difference.
Furthermore, we are working together with organizations like Trees4Trees to support tree planting initiatives to help rehabilitate the Indonesian rainforest. By conserving the rainforest, indirectly, we support the furniture industry as a whole, on which many locals depend. So every time someone buys with us, they are not only getting a handcrafted piece of furniture but are helping the rehabilitation of the rainforest.