The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Navigating Challenges and Building a Strong Brand [Podcast #106]

Tune in to the latest episode of our podcast featuring Dennis Helderman, the co-founder of easyToolHire. In this episode, with over a decade of experience in the industry, Dennis has a wealth of knowledge to share about his wisdom on building a thriving business in the tool hire industry and offers valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

From humble beginnings to a highly successful enterprise, Dennis and his team have navigated the challenges of scaling a business, building a strong brand, and staying ahead of the competition. Listen to his unique perspective on leadership, innovation, and the power of persistence.

Whether you’re just starting in business or looking to take your existing venture to the next level, this episode is a must-listen.

So don’t miss out! Subscribe to our podcast today and join the conversation with Dennis Helderman.

Ozan Dagdeviren

Hello and welcome to the Startups of London podcast. I’m your host Ozan and the founder of Startups of London. Today I’m joined by Dennis Alderman, co-founder of Easy Tool Hire. Easy Tool Hire is an interesting business. It makes the tool plant and the plant hire process quick, easy and accessible to all. It helps you rent everything you need to kick off. For example, a renovation project, a gardening project, ongoing works, and much more. They’re a part of the easy family of brands and I’m excited to have Dennis on. Welcome.

Dennis Helderman

Hi there. Thank you very much for the invite Ozan, and I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Same here. So, why don’t you tell us about the business and how it started? just so that we have, a basis, background, and understanding of what it is that you do and where the business is today?

Sure. I’ll try to keep that concise since I can go on about it for quite a bit.

Don’t worry. I’ll, I’ll interrupt you.

Okay. So, we actually as many, startup journeys kind of end up, we didn’t, the original idea wasn’t really easy tool hire, so that, that wasn’t what we started with. That’s something, something that we landed in after we were in the market and over a period of a few years reiterated, but we first started in early 2018 and it was a generally good rental marketplace. So we had it was a marketplace business and it was for anything and everything that you can hire. So, we would onboard suppliers that literally would allow, that would rent you wheelchairs, that would rent you bouncy castles that would rent you baby strollers, baby cribs, literally anything you could imagine. And the focus was a bit more on hospitality. So, we were working with hotels and service departments that were the original genesis of where we started, and the reason, that I was more in hospitality. And my co-founder Andrea was at Rocket Internet and he had moved around a lot to different locations, there were always a few things that, were missing that didn’t make sense for him to buy but, renting made more sense. And then when we, met each other at Imperial College, we both went to uni in London and, reconnected some years later. And had this idea and this experience that we can both relate to, we decided to launch. Back then it was called Renzo, which was, as I explained this general goods rental. A marketplace that evolved over the years and it went into events specifically. Instead of working with hotels and service departments, we focused on the event side of the business. So, it was mostly furniture, rental and hire. And then, of course, COVID happened in 2020. And, around that period, we had also just gotten, an investment, from Steelo, which is the founder of EasyJet, a very high-profile figure in the UK especially, and a very successful figure that’s launched. Europe’s most well-known low-cost airline or one of the most well-known airlines. So, he got involved with us around 2019 and we were running the event hire, and marketplace business and then in 2020, we were still on that. Trajectory. But we had then taken on the easy brand since that was part of the deal. We had with still OSI would be a shareholder, but also give us a brand license. But then Covid happened and then we landed in construction. So, it was quite a journey from being a generally general goods rental marketplace to an event higher marketplace and then some also iterations along the way, but basically ending up in tool and construction hire and not a marketplace, but more of a licensing SaaS and franchise model. So that’s just maybe a bit of a snapshot of our journey.

Thank you. Appreciate it. So, Easy Jets is an easy family of brands. So, what’s the investment strategy there? Because that seems to be one of the big news that has perhaps changed, the trajectory of the company. So maybe we can start there.

Yes, of course. So, Stelios was really inspired by Richard Branson. So, that’s what shared with us and just how Virgin has expanded into a lot of different verticals and put that really strong brand on a lot of different types of businesses. Steel Os went out to achieve exactly the same thing, and he has done that successfully with other brands such as Easy Hotel for example, or Easy Car. So, his investment strategy is very much to invest in a brand that he believes in. Or invest in a business that he believes can take on his brand. So he always offers you a brand license, and there is power in that brand because airlines build strong brands. It has 98% consumer brand recognition in the UK alone. So he needs to believe in the business. He’s an entrepreneur. And, that’s exciting compared to working with maybe an institutional fund when you work with him, you’re really talking to the decision maker and you’re talking to someone with some real wealth of experience. He’s really going through that journey himself.

So it’s not just, the investment that you’ve received, but more about, some board-level direction strategic advice as well. Is that case?

Definitely. Look, he’s been very generous with his time. He’s incredible, and experienced and, there have been resources that we’ve been able to get access to, because of him. So we’re very grateful for that. Whether that’s around IP licensing and franchising, whether that’s, just general business advice. So, definitely I would say so.

Got it. There was this, funny story of people don’t need drills. What they want, are the holes in the wall. So, in terms of this is always used like a sales or like marketing Puzzle. So, I want a hole in my wall. I really don’t care that if I have a drill or not, in terms of what you sell to people and what the real desire is, what the need is. But in your case, I think that’s kind of literally it, right? So, from my limited understanding of the business. People have jobs to be done and then they need tools to those jobs, but they don’t want to buy those tools. Is that the main niche of the need in the market that you’re addressing? What’s there that does not meet the eye?

Okay. So, that’s a really good question. And so yes, with easy tool hire, for example, the name might point you in the direction of tools, and that’s something we definitely do, but we do more than tools as well. We also do micro plants. So, for example, one of our most popular products in the UK is a 1.5-ton mini digger, an excavator. And but we have a very wide product catalogue. And in essence, all sorts of people, whether it’s a DI wire, so it’s someone that’s doing the job themselves, they’re doing little renovation gig at home or a little, landscaping job, or whether you’re a contractor or a builder or, like tradesperson, you will need to hire specialist equipment for certain jobs and it doesn’t make sense for you to own it, most of the time, especially if it costs a lot to buy. So rental is a much more affordable, value-driven proposition. So, for certain drills that might not be the case since you use the example of drills. But there are other items such as breakers or micro plants such as mini diggers or dumpers or scissor lifts that, some of those products will be really expensive, and the mini digger example, it cost you 25 grand. To buy a digger, it costs you only a couple of hundred quid to rent it.

I don’t see myself owning a scissor lift. I don’t see it.

You will not own a scissor lift. Exactly. So it is. Even if you’re a professional within the industry. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense for you to own it. It’s just a pain to maintain, to transport, and it’s a lot to purchase upfront. So, that’s why rental companies exist. And the rental industry is really big. It’s a 30 billion pound industry across Europe and the UK and that’s just documented equipment rental. And there’s much more of that if you include the general DIY market. So, we appeal to both people that are professionals as well as people that are looking to do something at home. And, the catalogue we offer cover is definitely tools of all shapes and sizes, as well as micro plants.

which I was going to ask about that actually. So, before we go forward. What’s the breakdown of your base customers? Is it b2b, large construction companies? More warriors?

Yes. So, yes, in terms of our customer split it, it varies. We are in four countries, in four different languages with over 27 different franchise regions. So there is of course variance between each of those different locations. The Portuguese market or the Italian market and the Spanish market are all a bit different from the UK market, and we are present in all four. But what I can say about the UK is that generally, it would fit the persona of a soul trader. So a kind of micro business, it would be, a contractor. It’ll be a builder. It would be that DIYer. So, someone that is looking to do a gig at home. And the industry would call that cash customers. So, there are credit customers, which would be the larger construction companies that you’ve hinted towards that would have trade accounts, that would have preferred suppliers, and a procurement process that is really tight. And then you have the other side of that where there are people that will just need to hire and rent items and, they won’t have that account needed from a rental company. And, that’s the segment we target because the brand works really well. It has 98% brand, consumer recognition, and we would focus on those micro-businesses, sole traders, contractors and builders and DIYers.

That’s like a very stronger competitive advantage you have there the recognizability of the brand. And it makes so much sense to double down on it. But with that in mind, it makes me think about the distribution now that we have a base-level understanding of the breakdown of your customer base. Let’s say I do have a need for a mini excavator or something. How do I actually, find you? What is your strategy for reaching out to people? Are you optimizing for SEO? Do you do events? Is it partnerships with key people, and key organizations in the industry? Like, there are a lot of ways, and sometimes I think this is where most businesses either make it or break down. They might have a great product. They might have identified a pretty accurate niche in the market. And they might actually be able to create a lot of value at a good price point. That’s also another question, how do you know how to price it? But, we’ll come to that later. Yes. But my current question is how do people find you? What’s your strategy there?

Yes, distribution. Okay, sure. Yes, that’s a really key point because you can be fantastic as a business, but if no one’s heard about you, then you’re not really a business, are you? So…

Like a tree in the forest that fell because nobody heard.

Exactly. So, distribution and marketing are so important for us. You mentioned search. Search is actually a big part of our acquisition strategy. It’s actually a big part of the industry as well. You’ll be surprised by how many people will go to Google and they will search for mini digger hire, or they’ll search for scissor lift hire, or they will search for a whacker plate or a plate compactor. So, search is definitely a big part of it, and we focus a lot on organic search. So that’s SEO. And then we also do paid advertising campaigns mostly on AdWords. So again, on paid search. So that is a big part of our acquisition. And then it is also true partnerships. So, we build partnerships with other merchants that cater for the construction industry. So, that could be other outlets, shops and gardening centres, that would be selling construction materials or other tools and having a presence there. So that’s also something that we focus on, which is quite important. And then, we would at the same time also push quite aggressively within the local areas that we have a depo in. So, whenever we sign a rental company and we engage with them on a franchise, venture, a franchise relationship, they’ll have different shops and depots where they would have all their stock. So, having a strong presence locally is quite important. So, we will do sponsorships, for example, we will do offline advertising, we’ll do radio, we’ll do bus advertising very locally. So, that’s also something that we do. But, search honestly has been a big opportunity and it’s something that we drive pretty strongly on.

It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. It’s not an impulse purchase exactly, right? The things that, you present to people, it’s not like, oh Yes, I’ll do it. I want that but it’s just, it needs to come at the right time, at the right place. They have a problem, and that’s the good thing with search. They already have the problem. They are the person. They need that now or very soon. But it must be very competitive. I think the Google search landscape has changed quite a bit. So, what do you think about that? Have you observed any changes there in the last, few months, or years? Especially there’s a lot of big push towards more paid. Organic content is changing. SEO is changing. So, how is that landscape affecting your business?

I think search is so important for any business, honestly. Especially in a business like ours. It’s important not only in terms of the results you can get in regards to kind of inquiries, sales and ultimately revenues, of course, but, people do have high commercial intent as you pointed out because when they’re searching for something, they’ll put mini digger higher or wacker plate higher. So, they want to hire or rent the product, and they literally will put that into Google. And that means their purchase intent is quite high that they’re there and they’re ready to pay and get something. But also I think search is really important for business decisions in terms of business intelligence. You can look at what the competitive landscape is doing. You can see other companies’ bidding strategies when it comes to, paid ads. Also, it gives you a good indication of the potential of a region. So, we would do a lot of keyword research. We would look at a lot of different search volumes. Metrics for different categories that we want to promote. And we would do it on a very local basis. So, we would do that as local as Manchester. So, we would look at Manchester, we’ll know exactly the search volume for our top categories in Manchester, and then we would drive on that, and then we would look at other parts of the country and realize actually, That looked like an opportunity, but then the data doesn’t really back it up too much. So, actually maybe that’s something we should not focus on and we should focus more on somewhere else. So, like that’s the way we’ve used search as well as to kind of guide business decisions as well as of course, kind of produce results in regards to sales. I think the landscape has changed incredibly. And that’s why it’s so important to have a really strong team. We have an in-house team. It’s been really difficult to find the right type of people. I’ll be frank with you. We went through a lot of different types of SEO managers and it’s often viewed as a basic field. It’s like the black art of SEO. A lot of people, even in marketing don’t understand SEO. But it’s just so important to get right and it’s so important to get the right team on that because things change. Google will push updates very, very frequently. This is what people don’t get. People think they’ll go up on the search rankings, and that’s a permanent slot. That’s never going to change. Just because you’re on page one now doesn’t mean you’re going to be on page one tomorrow, because Google’s constantly changing the algorithm. So, you need people to, Up to date with that. And you need people to be passionate about that. To go to SEO conferences, to constantly read about the field of SEO, because it does change and it will continue to change obviously.

That is the case. It is also a landscape, very, the competitive nature of things is quite visible, which I kind of appreciate about it. In a world without Google search and SEO or other, options. People are limited to what they can reach within a certain physical distance. But now it’s just much more international. So, the competition is there. You can actually see it. And without in mind, I would love to actually. Touch base on that. What is the competitive landscape for your business? Who are your direct competitors and what are the cases when people. Choose to go with them rather than you or the opposite.

So, in terms of our competitive landscape, I would say that you have some of the larger national hire companies that some of, the audience here might have heard of. That could be, if they’re based in the UK, of course, that could be HSS higher, speedy higher. Definitely for that, the DIY market especially. And then you have other companies like Sunbelt Rentals, but they don’t have too much of a DIY focus, but still, a very large national hire company, that works with businesses. So, those are some of, the nationals. Our industry’s pretty big, so for example, HSS Hire is a publicly listed company. So is Sunbelt Rentals. Sunbelt Rentals is part of Asht Group, and I think their last market cap was about 35 billion. It’s a US company. So you have some really, really big players in Europe as well. You have bowls, from the Netherlands. You have Kilo Two, in France. So, these are companies that produce hundreds of millions in revenue and have multi-billion valuations. So, what our strategy has always been is, there are some large national players, some large private equity banked players as well as publicly listed. So, we would work with independent operators. So we work with kind of small, medium-sized businesses within the rental world. And we bring them together to fight against the big boys. So, we will get multiple different independent rental companies for each different region in the UK. And the industry is hyper-local. That’s why it’s super important to have a hyper-local presence. It’s where your depots and shops are located that are very important. Because some of this kit is not easy to transport, right? So, we would partner up with these dependent businesses and then together we would have the same network effects that a large national player would have. So, that is something that I can say about the landscape and how we operate within it. There are also other parts of that. There are other kinds of, brokers that just do the brokerage of equipment rental and hire. They are to some extent a competitor. But then again, our business model is just so different. We’re not a broker. We work only with one supplier exclusively per geography. So we’ll have one company in Scotland, one company in London, one company in the northwest and northeast of England, which means that we just integrate so much more deeply in terms of it being a business partnership and a venture so that we can really add value to that end customer. But that’s what I probably can say about the competitive landscape.

Got you. Got you. A good summary. Thanks for that. What I’m curious about is what are the big milestones in your mind, Dennis? In terms of the business, what are the things that you’re looking forward to? What would be great, amazing news for the company in the next year, let’s say? What are you looking forward to?

Yes, so, right now we’re about 30 people full-time. A bit more if I include people that are part-time. We’re distributed and remote as a team. We do meet-ups every month. We’re in four different countries, in four different languages and in 27 plus franchise regions. In regards to a milestone that we’re looking to achieve we would like to expand internationally. Obviously, we’ve done this successfully within the four markets on the same product that we have. The same deal has been signed in, as in Rome as it has in Lisbon, as it has been in Madrid. So there is more international expansion in the pipeline. We would like to expand into the French market. So, that’s something that we do have planned for later this year, at the end of the year, because that’s a big opportunity. There is also a very important milestone of consolidating the existing markets that we’re in the UK is our biggest opportunity. It is the biggest market for this industry. And I think a really key milestone would be for us to get complete national coverage. We’re not fully covering the entire country yet. We’re covering a lot of the key areas, but we don’t have full national coverage as of yet, which we will hopefully do very, very soon. So, I think that also will be a big milestone for us. And then, it’s just us executing the plan. We’ve got a really clear plan in terms of the marketing as well, in terms of the partnerships that we’re building. So, it’s just giving that the time to work, which it really is because, we’re growing rapidly, month on month which is really exciting. And I think at that point, another milestone would be us really being able to have the network effects of having all these other businesses that have signed up to the easy venture to work together and start passing business between each other. So I think that’s also something that would be a big benefit for us.

When I imagine people using your products, immediately, what comes to mind is people are either delighted by this whole experience from start to finish, right? They start with the search intents or they see your ADSD somewhere, or they hear it from a friend. And then the whole online booking, payments, delivery, timely and, high-quality delivery, like disclaimers, warnings, et cetera, about the use of these, tools and devices, people using them collection feedback. That whole cycle, the more smooth it is. Sometimes what I experience as a customer myself is you buy a product and then they give you like, a little, a little candy on top. It’s just a little thing, but it’s beyond what you wanted and it does really add to your satisfaction. So, even with things like that, just, to surprise and delight people in ways that you show them, okay, we are a really good operator here. And then what that creates is this unstoppable force of a feedback loop of positive reinforcement, where people do a lot of word-of-mouth marketing for you and then it grows. and then the opposite thing can apply as well, right? People have an experience with you and then they’re like, I would not really go with easy tool hire. Why? Because it’s late. It’s just, so a lot of things come down to execution and the quality and the attention, the detail I see there. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that, so I would love to get your thoughts on what I just said, as well as to hear how you’re measuring, how you’re collecting data about, customer satisfaction and user happiness.

Okay, I’m absolutely with you. I think attention to detail is key. You need to delight your customer and that’s so important. And in the end of the day, business is people. So, you need to have common sense and you have to treat people the right way and you need to delight them and suppress their expectations. So, that very much is a big focus for us. The way we achieve is by picking really the right partners to work with because, we don’t own the stock ourselves. we don’t deal with the fulfilment and the logistics of it either, but we do make that process much easier. We do enable people to go online, have the full product catalogue, know if, know if it’s available or not. See, transparently what the cost breakdown is and, enable them to get a quotation or to place that order immediately to book a delivery slot. So, we definitely digitize and make that entire, process very easy for someone to do. And we provide all the FAQs and information you would need to make a decision. And, for our, franchise partners, we also make it really easy for them and cost-effective for them to service that customer demand. We have CRM systems integrations with inventory management systems, and, we have a whole lot of marketing automation that kind of makes their lives easier. We do track a lot of customer feedback. So, that happens in multiple ways. It happens on-site when people come to one of the locations, and of course they can fill out a form or they can just share their feedback. It happens over the phone. The operators at the higher desk will always ask, if a customer is satisfied and then we’ll put it down if they’re not, and the same if they are. And then it’ll happen also digitally through different emails, SMS and interactions that we have when someone engages with the platform. So, we do measure it. It’s incredibly important for us to measure it and to constantly keep that focus on the customer because it is all about the customer. And I think some businesses lose track of that. But having that customer focus is so important and it’s something that we’re constantly striving to do more.

It’s a key part of running the business. I’m so happy you have a big focus on it. In some businesses that I’ve, interacted either the customer or in different capacities in the UK what seems to happen is there are a lot of contractors that are subcontracting to each other. And there’s like this the psychological term the diffusion of responsibilities. So nobody feels responsible when you have a situation. And it’s just a dreadful experience for the customer. You cannot even cancel, a service that you have, et cetera. because the call centre is just like an incumbent and they don’t really have our key part of so that’s, I think a key part of these service-oriented types of business is that the customer’s experience as frictionless, seamless, high quality, and it’s difficult to gather data around that as well. But, it’s amazing that you’re focused on this.

Look, just to share a bit on that point, but, it really is down to the people in the business, right? That are serving customers. So, that’s why we spend so much time making sure we pick the right franchise partner because we want to partner since it’s going to be their guys on the phone that are really, really customer-focused, that is going to go that extra mile. And generally speaking, it is those independent family-run businesses that do that, it’s not necessarily maybe a very bureaucratic big national company. Where you’re a small piece and a very big machine. But it’s that independent business that really, really knows their local area that really, really cares and is still very owner driven. That’s why we work with independent businesses, which are often family-run because they really genuinely care. And that culture, comes to the top down, bottom-up and is really present. So, I think, that is just super important to always have, to be human about it as well, and to make that process easy. If you can’t bounce – I’ve been in that situation myself- it’s horrible. Whenever I call, I’m not going to name other brands, but whenever I call like a big bank or I call some call centre and then I’m waiting for 20 minutes. They transfer me from department to department. No one wants to accept accountability and responsibility. It’s a nightmare. So, you know that that’s exactly why we’ve spent so much of our resources, making that process as straightforward and as easy and, pun intended with the brand as we are easy tool hire, we want to make it easy for people to fulfil their tool.

Makes so much sense. Dennis, I think this was an amazing conversation, easy tool hire for sure. When I have something like this, that I need, it’ll be the first place I check. And, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Terrific. Thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure being invited to the podcast and having the opportunity to chat with you as well. So, I’m looking forward to staying in touch in the future, and please look at anyone that is listening. The one thing I’ve learned being on this journey is that you need to give back. I remember when we started out. I didn’t really know what direction this was going to take, but, being able to lean on others that have already done it or have had similar experiences, I think is so important. And I think the UK and London are really good in that because there is a big founder and startup community. So, I’m very happy to answer questions, help out, and share, my learnings because I’ve made a lot of mistakes and there’s been a lot of lessons I’ve learned as well. To everyone that is looking to start a business that is looking to kind of do something entrepreneurial. I’m just, very happy to help out.

It was a pleasure for this. Thank you.

Cheers. Bye.