After you graduate from a Dutch university, you get a one-year orientation year visa to find a job or set up a business. Sukriti and I moved to the Netherlands in 2021 after spending a year in India during the pandemic, so the clock started ticking for my visa. Since Pabio was already fully operational at this point as a Swiss company (owned by an American company), I decided to set up a Dutch subsidiary and apply for a startup visa to keep my residency here.
As part of this process, you work with a facilitator (e.g., startup accelerator or mentor) to get your business plan approved by the Dutch government. I worked with my friends at Novel-T and submitted the following application in December 2020, which was approve after around seven weeks. If you’re looking to write a business plan for a startup visa, I hope this helps you get started!
Startup visa conditions
The Dutch government has a few conditions for the startup visa:
- Working together with a facilitator
- The product or service is innovative
- The startup entrepreneur has a plan to advance the idea to a business
- The startup entrepreneur and the facilitator are registered in the KVK’s Business Register
- There is sufficient money (resources) to reside and live in the Netherlands
I will focus on the first two conditions in this post, since the other three are fairly straightforward. For the second condition, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency assesses if your product or service is innovative if at least 1 of the 3 conditions is met:
- The product or service is new to the Netherlands.
- A new technology for production, distribution or marketing is involved.
- There is a new innovative organizational and process approach.
In our case, I decided to focus on the first two conditions, since we were already operational in Switzerland and had a proven business model, and because I wanted to highlight our technology and how it’s different from other companies in the market.
From here on, I have copied the application I submitted to the Dutch government after removing some specific details (e.g., the registration identifiers and redacting specific financial information).
Collaboration with a reliable and experienced facilitator
Novel-T is the startup accelerator and incubator in the region of Twente, where Anand Chowdhary (the entrepreneur) studied. Please find attached the signed facilitator agreement at the end of this application.
About Novel-T and Anand Chowdhary
Stichting Novel-T (former Stichting Kennispark Twente) (KvK number 08158755) is a joint initiative of the University of Twente, the City of Enschede, the Region of Twente, the Province of Overijssel and the Saxion University of Applied Sciences. With 400+ companies, Kennispark is the largest innovation campus in the Netherlands, offering jobs to about 6300 people with 2000+ startups and spin-offs.
I moved to the Netherlands in August 2017 to study Creative Technology BSc at the University of Twente. I was also the first student in my study to go abroad to Santa Clara University as part of the Global Engineering Education Exchange (GE3) where I studied, among other subjects, venture capital from Silicon Valley investors. I received a 9/10 in my bachelor thesis, was a finalist for the Creative Technology Bachelor Award, and also participated in the Bachelor Honours Program.
During my study, I thought of several tech startup ideas and was an active participant in the Twente startup ecosystem. In fact, I was invited to judge startups for Hive 01 (an early-stage startup program in Enschede) several times and have helped students refine their ideas. I was also the runner up of the University of Twente Entrepreneurship Challenge. In 2018, I was listed by Het Financieele Dagblad as one of the 50 most-innovative entrepreneurs in the Netherlands and also in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list by the American business magazine.
Pabio provides rent-to-own furniture in Europe with an interior design service. Customers can visit our website, pabio.com, and share their interior design preferences via an online “style quiz” and receive a personalized concept for their new apartment. After accepting the proposal, all furniture is delivered and installed and the customer is charged a monthly subscription fee as opposed to purchasing the furniture directly.
My co-founder Carlo Badini and I started Pabio in Switzerland (where my co-founder lives) while I was living in India last year. We have already furnished over [redacted] apartments there, and generated contracts of over [redacted] million with monthly recurring revenue of over €[redacted] as of last month.
I came back to the Netherlands earlier this year and want to start operations for Pabio in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. The Dutch company Pabio B.V. is a wholly owned subsidiary of United States-based Pabio Inc. The parent company was incorporated in the United States to make it easier for American investors to participate in the company’s funding. To date, we have raised over €3 million in funding from top American and European investors including Pioneer Find, Serpentine Ventures, and SessionVC, part of which we will be investing to set up the Dutch company.
Recently, we also participated in Y Combinator, the world’s most prestigious startup program based in Silicon Valley. From over 16,000 applicants this summer, only 400 companies were funded by Y Combinator, as they have previously funded public companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Coinbase, and top Dutch companies like GitLab and Messagebird. I am only the 3rd ever graduate from Twente to receive funding from Y Combinator, and one of only 280 founders from Western Europe. My goal now is to start Pabio operations in the Netherlands, hire a few employees for some key positions, and eventually disrupt the furniture industry.
The product or service is innovative
Pabio offers rent-to-own furniture in Europe with an interior design service. Our business has the following innovative features:
- The product or service is new to the Netherlands: Subscription model combining rental furniture and interior design
- It involves new technology for production, distribution or marketing: 3D rendering technology
- It is sustainable and good for the environment: Circular business model
In the past decade, subscription models have established themselves successfully in the virtual economy; for example, streaming services like Netflix and Spotify effectively replaced the ownership of DVD and CD collections. Now, subscription models are being introduced to the real, physical economy, with startups like Swapfiets (rental bicycles) and Grover (rental electronics) replacing ownership of products with long term rental plans.
The furniture industry, on the other hand, is completely out of touch. It has barely seen any change in the past half century; online sales account for less than 10% of total revenue, and most consumers today buy furniture the same way as they did in the pre-internet era, by driving to big retail facilities on the outskirts of cities, and returning with cheap, short-lasting furniture that they have to replace in a few years.
Pabio disrupts the furniture industry by offering a sustainable alternative to traditional furniture retail. With Pabio, customers get their apartments fully-furnished by a professional interior designer and rent high quality furniture on a monthly subscription. Once they move out, Pabio takes all the furniture back, renovates it and the cycle repeats. Since all payments go towards ownership, customers can also choose to buy out the furniture at the end of their subscription.
How it works:
- Users go through our virtual onboarding questionnaire on our website Pabio.com and state their interior design preferences
- They can upload their floor plan or take photos of their apartment, and our technology and team generates a 3D model of their apartment and furnishes it
- We delivery and install all furniture, and the customer pays every month
The product or service is new to the Netherlands
Currently, no other company offers rent-to-own furniture with an interior design service in the Netherlands. There are companies with which you can rent individual pieces of furniture and there are interior design services, but nobody offers a single, holistic, digital experience to fully-furnish an apartment on a monthly subscription.
The Netherlands has many millennials who want individualized service with flexibility. In Amsterdam alone, 38.000 expats migrated last year who have a high salary and value flexibility. Apart from expats, our early adopters include DINKs (double income, no kids) households, retirees, and recently divorced men and women (yes, it surprised me too!). However, we envision a world where everyone will have a Pabio apartment, because our offering is truly universal in that everyone would love to live in a beautiful home. Currently, we want to focus on the rental households in the Netherlands who move around frequently from apartment to apartment as they grow in their careers, and are above-average earners.
“Expats who move to new cities for short-term contracts either end up renting furnished apartments which cost too much or opt for fast furniture that doesn’t feel comfortable or last long. So, when Pabio told us that customers can get high-quality furniture with no upfront payment, we immediately saw the benefit for a large market.” — Tim Brady, partner at Y Combinator and former Chief Product Officer at Yahoo! (reference at the bottom of this application).
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, home and living have become more important than ever as people are spending more time inside. Young people who value experiences no longer want to wait until their next vacation to feel great, we want to have that 5-star hotel comfort at home every day. But today’s apartments are cluttered with cheap fast furniture, and Pabio offers an affordable alternative that transforms any apartment into a stylish home people love.
Currently available alternatives to Pabio in the Netherlands
We currently face competition in four ways:
Traditional retailers like IKEA: I don’t think traditional retailers will be fully pivoting to a rental model because it’s a very different business model and will require a lot of financing and credit setup. These retailers are motivated to get rid of their inventory as soon as possible (since warehouse space is very expensive and everything is ordered on demand), whereas Pabio looks at furniture as assets. We are motivated to keep them in apartments for as long as possible, and our circular business model means that we can refurbish and reuse old furniture.
Furniture rental startups like Feather: These companies already have a subscription model and offer individual items on rent, but interior designing is a different problem altogether that requires another innovative solution. Especially when you consider our proprietary 3D rendering technology, we think we are years ahead of the competition, even if they would pivot to directly compete with us.
Online interior design services like Modsy: These services only focus on human-powered interior design and are typically very “low tech”. They might offer selling furniture packages after interior design, but they don’t have the necessary rental and logistics setup to have a full-service offering as we do. Companies like these will only be direct competitors to us if people want interior design and want to buy all furniture outright and pay upfront. However, since a typical apartment has over €20.000 of high-quality furniture, we think our affordable offering has a huge price advantage.
Fully furnished or serviced apartments: In urban centers like Amsterdam and The Hague, fully-furnished or serviced apartments are significantly more expensive than renting an unfurnished apartment. I personally pay €1.350 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in Groningen and it’s fully furnished, whereas I can get a comparable unfurnished place for around €800. We think a large part of our value proposition is the “rent to own” offering where each of the monthly payments of a customer go towards furniture ownership. This way, people actually make equity rather than just renting a more expensive but furnished apartment.
A new technology for production, distribution or marketing is involved
We have invented a new technology that makes Pabio possible, and we don’t think of ourselves as only a consumer furniture company, but really a tech startup.
“Many companies have done rental furniture in the past, but what sets Pabio apart is their rendering technology with which they offer interior design individualized to each customer, while having an affordable rent-to-own offering.” – Calvin French-Owen, investor and founder of Segment, a startup acquired by Twilio for $3.2 billion (reference at the bottom of this application).
When a customer signs up on our website and requests a personalized interior design concept, we build it using a proprietary 3D rendering engine that generates photorealistic interior concepts with the help of our professional interior designers. A video demo of how this technology works is available at https://pabio.co/designer-tool-demo. In a nutshell, our web-based tool offers a top-view of an apartment, where we simply drag-and-drop furniture on top of the floor plan. By simply doing this, our engine automatically generates renders almost indistinguishable from photographs, which we then share with customers.
Lastly, our Pabio.com web application is a modern, scalable, multilingual platform with a focus on automation and user experience. Customers can make payments, view all upcoming deliveries, make insurance claims, and more, all from their phones or computers.
It is sustainable and good for the environment.
At Pabio, we take a stance against the unsustainable fast-furniture industry. I personally advocate for a sustainable and truly environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional furniture retail through our circular business model.
In the past, furniture used to be high-quality and long-lasting. However, sometime during the last century, a new trend in furniture was being promoted by big retailers — “fast furniture”. They started to produce cheap, short-lasting furniture made out of plywood and other low-cost materials to make sure customers keep buying more items every year. This has a terrible environmental cost, and while the industry portrays itself as ecologically friendly, in practice only 1% of all furniture gets recycled.
We only use high-quality furniture through our partner retailers which will last for years to come. Since we provide furniture on a monthly subscription, we are actually motivated to keep furniture in our customers’ apartments for as long as possible whereas fast furniture companies want people to keep coming back to replace their cheap furniture. Furthermore, at the end of the subscription, we take all the furniture back, refurbish it, and put it in a new apartment. If any items are not in a usable condition, we recycle them. This way, we expect to use the same furniture for a long duration.
I am so confident about our circular business model that I wrote an impact report to measure our future carbon footprint, and calculated that over 140 kg·CO2 equivalents are saved every year if someone finishes their apartment using Pabio’s subscription instead of buying fast furniture. This means that through the [redacted] apartments that we have furnished in Switzerland, we have already saved over [redacted],000 kg·CO2, and we estimate that we would have saved over [redacted],000 kg·CO2 more by the end of 2022. This impact report with all citations is also attached at the end of this application as an appendix.
I’m glad that that I got the opportunity to live in the Netherlands after studying here. Sukriti and I love the country and being able to travel around Europe, and I’m glad that I could continue working on Pabio here. I’m also glad that I got to work with Novel-T, who were very helpful in the process and helped me get my visa approved. The startup visa application process was not only a means to obtain a residency permit but also a validation of our business concept and a stepping stone towards achieving our goals. We are grateful for the support we received from Novel-T and the Dutch government in making this possible.
The startup ecosystem in the Netherlands continues to thrive, offering numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs like us to succeed.
About the authorAnand Chowdhary
Anand Chowdhary is a creative technologist and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CTO of Pabio, an interior design and rent-to-own furniture company funded by Y Combinator. He lives in Utrecht, the Netherlands.Read more about Anand →