#FoundersFridays: Meet Tim van Alphen
Meet Tim van Alphen, founder of Sparqle. Discover how a shared mission and passion for sustainability drove Tim and his co-founders to establish a last-mile delivery startup that's making waves.
#FoundersFridays is a StartupAmsterdam interview series: for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. Each hero answers questions on their entrepreneurial journey, their learnings, milestones and bottlenecks, as well as on Amsterdam and the Dutch startup scene. It’s a platform for entrepreneurs to speak their minds freely and pass on their learnings to anyone who’s thinking about founding a startup as well.
The hero of this interview is Tim van Alphen, co-founder of Sparqle, an Amsterdam-based tech startup dedicated to becoming the driving force in redefining Europe’s last-mile delivery landscape. Founded in 2022, Sparqle’s approach is twofold: helping retailers in achieving their zero-emission goals, all while ensuring an exceptionally efficient and reliable delivery experience for every parcel.
Tim, how did your career journey lead you to become a startup founder and found Sparqle?
My path to co-founding Sparqle began with a deep-rooted entrepreneurial ambition and a longstanding friendship with my co-founder, Ruurd Tjeerdema. After completing my studies, I joined ABN AMRO and my career took off. There, I engaged with diverse businesses and entrepreneurs, and my interests in technology and sustainability really started to grow. This period was crucial in developing my understanding of business dynamics and innovation.
My career path took a pivotal turn when I joined the Ministry of Finance. Specialising in state participations, I gained a deeper appreciation for social responsibility and sustainability in business - concepts that would become cornerstones of Sparqle's philosophy.
With Sparqle, we bridge the gap in efficient and eco-friendly delivery methods. We've noticed that products physically available in local shops and hubs often face unnecessary delays during the delivery process or are transported using inefficient and polluting methods. Furthermore, we recognised the high costs associated with existing sustainable delivery options, which impact both sellers and consumers. These insights drove us to develop cost-effective, reliable and sustainable delivery solutions, leading to the birth of Sparqle.
In building Sparqle alongside Ruurd, Maurice and the rest of our fantastic team, we're not just developing technology and delivering parcels; we're pioneering a new standard in logistics - one that seamlessly integrates efficiency with sustainability. Our approach involves 'ship-from-store', ‘ship-from-hub’, and working together with our customers' distribution centres. This helps us make every part of the process both more efficient and more sustainable.
What made you start up in Amsterdam? How does the city and its startup ecosystem aid you on your journey?
Starting Sparqle in Amsterdam has been a strategic advantage. Our office, located next to the Olympic Stadium, is surrounded by other startups. The city's vibrant startup community fosters a collaborative and innovative environment, while Amsterdam's dynamic business ecosystem has significantly contributed to Sparqle's development and success. Furthermore, our early customer base has mostly been Amsterdam-based companies, such as Grapedistrict and Bloomon. It was in Amsterdam that we tested our way of working before expanding it on a larger scale.
You’re a few years into building Sparqle. What were the major milestones you celebrated with the team and what were your biggest learnings as a founder?
Reflecting on Sparqle's journey, it's clear that our biggest achievement lies in making a real difference for our clients. Our focus has always been on working towards a sustainable future with zero-emissions, while being tech-savvy and reliable. This commitment has helped us attract great people who really believe in this mission. One of our major milestones was moving to a new, bigger office, which will allow us to grow our team to 25 people.
Our dedication to reliability and integrating cutting-edge technology with sustainability is at the heart of why customers choose Sparqle. We're focused on helping our clients transition from polluting van deliveries to more sustainable alternatives. One of our clients, who previously relied solely on polluting vans for deliveries, has now embraced sustainable delivery methods. Another client features us as a free eco-friendly delivery option in their checkout process, while applying a surcharge for less green choices. The list of such transformative shifts continues to grow. It’s really exciting to see these changes happening!
My key learning as a founder has been the critical importance of focus. Along the way, we've noticed that many opportunities will arise that can distract you from achieving your main goal. Though progress may occasionally appear slower than desired, I’ve learned that maintaining a clear focus is key to achieving long-term goals more effectively.
The growth path of each startup implies lots of experimentation. What was a risk you took for Sparqle and how did it turn out?
Launching Sparqle in a challenging funding landscape was undoubtedly a bold move, one that carried its fair share of risks. However, despite the challenges, we secured substantial investments from top-tier venture capital firms and highly valued industry experts, which resulted in remarkable growth last year.
We built a strong team, valuing raw talent and fresh perspectives over traditional experience. We believed that rapid learning and adaptability were more crucial for driving innovation, especially in the fast-evolving sector of last-mile delivery. While some might have seen this approach as risky, it enabled us to quickly learn, adapt, and experiment with various strategies, which is vital in our sector. The team’s capacity to swiftly assimilate and innovatively apply new knowledge became a key factor in our success.
This combination of a remarkable team driven by passion for sustainability and technology, along with expert guidance, proved to be our greatest asset. It not only helped us navigate the initial challenges but also significantly contributed to the impressive growth we experienced last year. Embracing risks and thinking differently, focusing on talent and learning, equipped Sparqle with the agility and innovative edge necessary to make a substantial impact in logistics.
What’s in store for Sparqle in 2024?
We are on a mission to redefine Europe’s logistics industry, setting our sights on becoming the leading player in the sustainable last-mile delivery sector. We want to continue partnering with leading e-commerce brands and retail giants to forge alliances that will propel us and the entire sector towards a future of net-zero emissions.
As part of our ongoing journey, we are excited to announce upcoming key customer partnerships and to share details about our forthcoming funding round – both of which are significant steps in accelerating our growth and impact.