Boosting business for boxer shorts in Tanzania

Boosting business for boxer shorts in Tanzania

A year ago, Thom Uildriks battled his way to victory in a boxing ring for the I WILL Award 2018 competition at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The bachelor student won with Boxrs4ALL, the company he co-founded with his friend Spijk Geene that gives a pair of underwear to someone in Tanzania for every pair of boxers that is sold. Winning the award was exhilarating, Thom says, and he has been working hard since, trying to figure out a way for Boxrs4ALL to gain more traction and make a larger impact. We sat down with Thom to ask him how things are going.

So how has Boxrs4ALL been doing since you won the I WILL Award last year?

“Actually, the prize money has been instrumental in getting some things off the ground. We’ve hired a developer to professionalize our website, and we’ve hired someone to work on our packaging. We’ve also been talking to retailers about getting the underwear onto store shelves. But we’ve noticed that the bulk sales are made online, not in physical stores. Stores might be the place where the first purchase is made, but once people know what they want and like, they do their repurchasing online.”

What are some ways you’re planning on doing that?

“The number we’re selling now is good, but not on a larger scale. We’re looking into collaborating with companies that can sponsor us. This will provide more work for those making the underwear in Tanzania—the setup we have to support the local economy—and in turn give away a considerable amount of underwear. As a thank you, we give the company 100 pairs of underwear to distribute among employees. We’re also looking into getting more media coverage. We’ve been featured a few times but we want to get more recognition among potential customers.”

Where did the idea originate? And why underwear?

“In secondary school, Spijk and I went to Tanzania on a school exchange trip. Meeting the other schoolboys was awkward at first, but to break the ice we started playing football. We found out that it is common for them not to own any underwear, and it just really hit us and we wanted to do something about it. When we got back to the Netherlands, we learned more about the health risks that come from not wearing underwear and that’s where our idea took off.”

You started Boxrs4ALL at a young age, and you’re now a bachelor student. Do you ever stop and think about your achievements?

“We started this at 16 because we enjoyed it. It started with writing up texts and sketching logos. We both see it as a learning process and that it’s not about making money. A lot of young people start companies because they think they need to create the best of something, but Spijk and I started this because we thought it was important and we really enjoy it. It sounds cliché, but that’s really how it is for us. At the end of the day, in 10 or 20 years the contacts that we’ll have made will be really valuable.”

Where do you think that inherent motivation to do good comes from?

“I partly grew up in Brazil, and my mother worked as a volunteer for a foundation in the middle of the favelas. The money they made went directly back into the favelas. I remember going home to a nice house with people who took care of the household whereas 50 meters up the road another family was living in a house of 16m². It struck me how lucky I was to be in the position we were and I guess that and seeing the work my mother did is what led to me having this motivation.”

How has RSM been helpful in working on a startup?

“The minor in entrepreneurship taught me a lot, in particular a new way of thinking. I learned that a lot of things can change, and don’t go according to plan. It’s definitely been the case with our company; we thought that going a certain direction was the smart thing to do, but then things changed. Next to giving away a pair of underwear, we’re now looking into providing sanitation workshops in Tanzania, to teach schoolboys about the importance of washing their hands and brushing their teeth.”

Do you have any advice for fellow students or young professionals in the startup scene?

“A lot of young people often start companies because they have a vision of how something ought to look like or be, or they’re looking to make a newer and better version of an existing product. The funny thing is that this isn’t how successful startups typically begin or how they take off. They’ll start with small ideas and through feedback, demands, and a lot of twists and turns become what they are. Take Airbnb for example. It started out with two guys in California who couldn’t afford their rent and thought of renting out a mattress in their apartment and turn it into a bed and breakfast. I would say, try to allow for diversions and for things to go differently than planned because you never know where it might take you.” 

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