47. Balance IT with Dirk Van Nievelt co-CEO of Sustainable Marketplace, Denda

Dirk Van Nievelt

Dirk Van Nievelt

Denda

Transcript

Agata Solecka: Hello, Dirk. Thank you so much for joining me in today's conversation. So before we get into the details of e-commerce and sustainability, we had a short chat before we started this call, and you said there's much more before that and much more was happening in your life. So how about we start with a little bit of your background, where you're from, what your education was like and how you ended up where you are today.

Dirk Van Nievelt: Let's say that might be a long one, but yeah, uh, I went, I would try to do the short version of it.

Agata Solecka: [00:02:17] Oh no, please, don't restrain yourself. 

Dirk Van Nievelt: [00:02:20] Eh, I, I have a strong calling from the like information from a very, very child age, like a 12 years old. I have a lot of interest in meditation and Reiki, yoga, Chico, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and everything from the East? Like India, Pakistan and China. And I never thought of how to be an entrepreneur or study anything. In fact, I wanted to be a monk and then. That's the beginning of the story.

12/13 years ago, I started to prepare for my long trip to Asia. I'm talking about the year of 92 . And then some cell phones werevery weak and no internet. And I grew up in Chile and I developed all these skills about metaphysics and, uh, and spiritual stuff. And I grow from there and I talked to all the masters that we have.

That of course it was, it was not enough because they are the students of the students of this children of monk in China or in another country. Then I started preparing myself when, when, when I finished my school at 18 years old, I made an exam to enter to the University. I got the maximum grade. I did not want to go to university. Chile is a very traditional country. The men and women live with their parents till a very late stage in their lives, maybe 30 or 30 something. And that I think makes the development of themselves very slow. Uh, I entered this career in mechanical engineering, the best university with for free because I have a very good test, like, 

Agata Solecka: [00:04:46] you received a scholarship or something. 

Dirk Van Nievelt: [00:04:49] Yes. My mother was very happy and my family was very happy. And then I did the career for two years and I said, I can't do this. This is not my life. Uh, I will go full disclosure. And at the same time they found a marijuana package in my room from a very traditional family. Every day they go to church. It was terrible. The solution was to go away. In a rebel way, I took a backpack, literally a backpack, like not a suitcase, two t-shirts, one pants, one shirt and maybe two socks. And I had $1,000 that I earned in a television contest. If any of these things didn’t happen, I would not be here. That's the way I believe in destiny or I believe in the coincidence and how life develops. That I think is impossible, but anyway, I take my backpack. I take out some dollars and I go by car, by sea like a ship, because I don't have enough money for a plane ticket wherever I get first to Australia to see a master that is from a Chinese, uh, long family. I was talking about ‘98 for putting in the year. And now I worked there for six months and I make a lot of money as a bar bartender because there, this was another economy, and a lot of money. Enough to take the trip duration, but what's my final, final goal. And I studied with the master in Australia for maybe six months.

I would first step to, to go further and deeper. Then I'd take my plane to China and I started my journey, my journey to find myself to find it through some of the laws of life. My goal was never to make money. Or in fact, I looked downwards at  the people that work. I just wanted to be a monk. And then I went to the Shaolin Temple, spend one year there. I basically traveled from city to city, country to country, temple to temple. I don't find ithe truth. Then I say, okay, I cannot find the truth. I went to Tibet, which was forbidden at that time. And I got permission to enter with a lot of connections in Shangri-La. And  you have a book that is called lost or reason that is typical for backpackers. And then. And, uh, that, that speaks about this, this Shangri-La that you will find happiness on leave forever. Okay. I was a kid at heart and I, I truly believed in all the things I read the book and I believed 100% and I say, okay, go for it. Um,  like for a year trying to learn in science, but now I see it was a waste of time, but at that time I was very happy. But I couldn’t find the truth.  I had this idea that if I come and learn how to levitate, I can prove my theory that the metaphysic work exists, because you can say a lot of things that can feel energy. I was in Shaolin. I could break a glass bottle on my head at the time. Uh, I was very trained in martial arts and energy stuff, but, but always you have that line that is body training, or there is really energy. I don't know how to explain it, but I only have this. I also make a lot of limitation techniques. I am really feeling light and I almost start to levitate or is it just a feeling. So at that point I can speak Chinese perfectly. After being like two years in the monastery alone, I may start to get out of money. Of course. I say, okay, I need to prove this levitation theory. I need to go to India. I need to go to Bhutan. I need to go to Nepal, to the places that the books said that these techniques still exists.

You know, I need to go to all these places and that is my first entrepreneur and stuff I say, okay, how can I maintain myself? I am getting out of money. I have $200 in my pockets. And I started to do manufacturing for some friends in Chile. And I started to make, I started with of course, martial art products from near the temples that you have, these shops that I buy in one or $2 and I sell them, send it to Chile. I think I paid for very expensive logistics. But at that time it was such good business that it still was five times what I bought. So I started to earn money like that. I started to get to know some factories, 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 100. And, uh, and then I make real money, like $60,000 per year.

For a 22 year old it was enough. I spent maybe 1 or $2 per day because it was very cheap. And then I went to India after my failures in China in finding myself as I say, okay, India. Then I started to learn all of these tools that in many years helped me to start my entrepreneurship career, but I did not plan this at the beginning. In India I learned Kundalini yoga and I almost levitated, but the journey finished without that. And I got really sick in Rishikesh temple. There were many years that I didn't come back home. I was angry with my parents. But I came back home, eh, and, uh, I go to Delhi. I take the first flight I can take and go directly to the hospital to have an operation. I took him to my father one day and I told him that I was almost losing all the connections with the real world. Because when you meditate for that many years, you make the things in this case with these monks and you start to doesn't care about your family. It doesn't care about your friends. And there is a very thin line that I almost cut. And I know that if I cut ii, I can not come back. I don't know how to explain it, but, um, I decided I'm going back to Chile.

I started my entrepreneurial career, and I said, okay, I have this skill. I know a lot of languages that nobody knows. Then a lot of people go to study Chinese. I mean, he, me, and then at that time going to China was crazy.

This is like 2000, uh, two, uh, my father asked me and begged me that I can finish a career. And I finished like, uh, like, uh, business administration in two or three years. That's a five-year per year, but then I go to China again and I start that OAM and company that produces everything. And you have already been in 500 factories, all around Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China.

And it's not producing any products, not sustainable products. And at that time, nobody spoke about sustainability. I remember in India, everyone is throwing the garbage anywhere. It's no garbage beans, no one very much beans. And I start to make these, all these productions for Pepsi Coca-Cola and big companies.

And I make my company in China. But now as an entrepreneur, um, this company grew from $1 million. Sales the first two years to $20 million, eh, in 10 years. Uh, and I opened my first company in Wuhan, and there you need that you be a bachelor from some university or when the company, if you don’t have the bachelor degree, you cannot open. That was a minimum requirement then. Everything gets together. And if I lived in Wuhan for a couple of years. We got bigger, bigger, bigger. And then in 2013, came back to Chile and started to make e-commerce start to make this model. That I made ike, uh, as a consultant, I can say I have a big team, but eh, all our girls are my friends from the trips. I took all my friends from my China trips, my India trip saying, okay, let's do this together. They don't know how to use a computer, but we all learn. 

Agata Solecka: [00:16:12] You can never learn a certain attitude, right? You can learn skills, but your personality and attitude and approach to life. That's something that you either have, or you don't. 

Dirk Van Nievelt: [00:16:24] Exactly, these are the girl that were working in maybe a two story in a beach in Vietnam, or in India,  and now they are like very big managers and they start and in nighttime studies, like for, for like, for more. And we're professionals. We have super salaries and we are all one and we get bigger, bigger, bigger. And I started to learn that a lot of money is the truth. And I shared this money with them. They have a percentage in our companies and in getting to them that in 2019 auntie factory engineer, I don't know if you know about. And GE is the biggest supplier of energy in Belgium and France, but a $60 billion company. They make assistant time stable. Um, federal capital corporations went through COVID-19. They are already the best in bender from 2016, the company was broke after, put it $3 million and the company, um, they told them that the founder and that time of CEO you need.

Eh, eh, or we, we closed the company. Um, I said, okay. And my co-founder says, okay. And he started to find, he cannot find something he likes because this is Steve Jobs, personality. He is very picky.

Before that with the gains of all these years, I invested like a $1 million in a, to be a limited partner of, uh, Sudan medic that. So America is having to carry that in Chile that has a fund of $24 million that only in best insistent durability companies and in B corpse. First introduction to the B world and the sustainability world and circular economy that was before 2018 January.

Um, I buy like 10% and I am on the board and I see them, and I say, whoa, this is a good idea. And way to change the way people consuming stuff. I already know how to make sustainable products because I'm, at that time, maybe I've been in 10,000 factories and I'm not joking and I know any material I can copy anything.

I can also develop innovation, but. But at the beginning, of course, I started with more basic products and I said, wait a minute, you have this e-commerce that only sells sustainable products, but they don't have sustainable diapers. They don't have sustainable baby wipes. And then I said, I can take this company.

This company is almost broken after putting $3 million and selling 50,000 grants. So $50,000. It was horrible and I lost a hundred thousand dollars per month. I'm going gonna say, okay. And as a board of directors, say, I can take this company and I can make it grow. Uh, it will take time. It would take a lot of my life because already I was CEO of another company by, but this, uh, but it's a goal that I want to take because, or because it's important for me to close my circle because I feeling at that point that I make a lot of products that contaminate the world. I have some production of  products, especially for Betsy on some big players that are starting with this trend, but maybe from 1000 plus without us making a year, we do 20.

And then I get to them, I invest money from my pocket also. Um, I got to CEO and, uh, My co-founder say, okay, you have the skills. Uh, it was not a fight as well. You have tremendous skills, go for it. And I support you. And I will work together in this, in this journey. And, uh, now, then that is selling six times more than two years ago, like three to $4 million per year. And it still is not a lot, but, uh, but this a lot for the niche that we are, we are only Mexico in Chile. And I start with eCommerce earlier if, uh, because I have an eCommerce that is trying to compete with Ali that is much bigger than, than, than like 20 to 25 million.

By, uh, that makes all kinds of products. For example, in the medical industry, you don't have any sustainable products. We sell all, we have 30% of, of share of market share of all the, the, the, the medical industry, Chile. No one is, uh, a sustainable product. Uh, uh, I say, okay, I will have these two companies. One will give me the volume to give the other company very cheap price that I can sell sustainable products to the same price that non-sustainable products.

And now we are selling the most sustainable diapers in the market. The most sustainable weather wipes for babies in both countries have the same or less price that the worst brand in Chile in quality, then make the change and then start to grow a lot. That is my story. It was not so short, but.

Agata Solecka: [00:22:54] It was amazing. Wow. I mean, I don't even know what to say at this point. I was definitely not expecting this kind of story the way you started. Where you came from your initial motivation in life, your journey to self discovery at such a young age. Um, wow. I'm looking at my prepared questions, like, okay. 

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Dirk Van Nievelt

Dirk Van Nievelt

Denda

eCommerce expert, who spent more than 15 years in various Asian countries, with a strong focus on the Chinese manufacturing market. After developing strategic relationships with over 5,000 factories in multiple countries including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Africa, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Russia, Africa he became the CEO of PRD Group, a company that today has more than 200 clients in the LATAM area. Currently, the CEO of Emonk, a B2B commerce market, and the co-founder of first 100% sustainable eCommerce market Denda.

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