In 2009, Meindert Wolfraad booked a one-way ticket from Holland to Australia. The idea was to study English and travel around the country, but Wolfraad struggled to find the right bike to ride to and from university. Like any budding entrepreneur, the now 35-year-old Melbourne resident set about fixing his problem by creating a business, bringing a Dutch-style bike prototype to Australia from Amsterdam and driving up and down the east coast of Australia finding stockists.
Lekker Bikes was born and five years later, Wolfraad’s business employs five people and turns over $2 million. Lekker Bikes are now distributed in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, England, France, California and New York. In 2014, Lekker Bikes was expanded to include Amsterdam Canal-style boats and Wolfraad’s plans don’t stop there.
I started my career as a mechanical engineer in a big firm in the Netherlands that employed more than 10,000 employees. I worked in corporate account management.
After two years, I started working for an engineering recruitment agency. I liked it a lot as I was interacting with a lot of different people from a technical background.
But after four years working in the Netherlands, I was looking for a job where I could travel and improve my English. So I stopped working and bought a one-way ticket to Australia.
It was a big change but it is a fantastic way to explore what you want to do in life.
I spent four months travelling around Australia and I saw an opportunity for Dutch-style bicycles. I was studying English in Sydney and I could not find a ‘normal’ Dutch-style, urban bike anywhere.
I started importing urban bikes from the Netherlands but after a year, I realised more people were asking for certain designs of bikes. So I developed my own brand, Lekker.
We design and build the bikes in Taiwan and send them over to Australia, New Zealand, Amsterdam and America.
I funded the business myself. I have been surprised at how quickly the business has grown. I have spent a lot of time driving around Australia finding retailers who are interested in buying the bikes. We sell to retailers as well as directly to consumers. They like the story and the philosophy of the brand.
We started selling boats a year ago. I love the water: I’m a surfer and I have grown up on the water. The first time I went to Sydney Harbour on a friend’s boat, I was amazed about the environment. The boat we were on would use thousands of litres of fuel a month, but we were only using it four or five times in the month. It was not an efficient way to move a lot of people around and it was totally different to what we have in Amsterdam.
It took time for people to get used to our boats, the same way it did with the bikes. It’s a cultural change too. People [in Australia] are currently using boats for fishing and sporting, but not for getting around with their family and friends. Our boats are very light and maintenance-free and can be used for water skiing and wakeboarding. They are very different from old-school fishing boats.
To start a business, you need to understand your own product very well. My engineering background has helped me a lot because I understand materials, design and strength.
I think running a business is something that is in you, in your head. It’s about having knowledge about how the business will work and having the right people around you. But it can take a year or two to understand what the business is.
My experience working for the recruitment firm has also helped. I’m currently looking around for a new staff to join my team so it definitely helps to recruit the right people. My style is based quite a lot on feeling. I look people right in the eye and ask them the right questions; in half an hour I will know if they are capable and should be in the team.
But it also gave me experience in managing people. The thing I have learnt is you have to follow your passion. Don’t do a job because you have to do a job. That doesn’t help my business grow.
Starting a business in Australia is pretty easy. You can start a business in one day and it is not too complicated with the regulations. If you work hard here, you can earn a lot of money.
I started a new company in Amsterdam last year and it is much more complicated. Introducing a new product in the Netherlands is also more difficult than in Australia. There are so many different cultures in Australia so people get used to new products and new cultures quickly. I received a very quick welcome as a Dutch person in Australia.
The biggest challenge is Australian people don’t like to say to your face that they don’t like your product or don’t like you. In the Netherlands, and in other places in Europe, people are more willing to say ‘this doesn’t suit me’.
I’ve also learnt you can’t put too much pressure on people in Australia. You need to find a balance between not pushing too much and trying to find out what the real answer is.
I want to turn Lekker into a lifestyle brand. We are already making caps and t-shirts, although the caps are doing better than the shirts. I want to launch more products, maybe even a Lekker travel brand with an exclusive aeroplane.
I want Lekker to be a brand related to health and happiness. If you’re happy, you’re healthy.
It is something I encourage with my staff. I tell them, work hard but play hard. For example, one of the guys worked very hard in December, so he took three weeks off in January to go to Indonesia.
You need to be flexible. You especially have to give people the ability to move and think wider. It gives them space to develop new business or ideas. Locking someone into working 8am-5pm or 9am-6pm won’t give you that flexibility.