“As a selected start-up at an accelerator, you haven’t won right away. It is still hard work."
Jonas Deprez, founder & CEO Daltix
Big data made simple. That’s the tagline of Daltix. The Antwerp-based start-up offers sharp market insights into prices, promotions and product ranges to major players in the retail sector. Unilever, Duvel Moortgat and Albert Heijn are just three of the big names that Daltix can count as customers. Meanwhile, the start-up opened an office in Portugal and to top it off, Colruyt Group took a majority stake in the summer of 2020. As a result of this collaboration, founder Jonas Deprez is now focusing on an international growth saga.
Jonas Deprez conceived Daltix in 2016 during a weekly meeting of his group of friends where business plans and ideas were exchanged. Jonas looks back: “After each meeting, each of us had to develop the idea further. The following week we got together again and decided whether we should continue or not. As a spin-off I then started Daltix with a friend from that group.”
Although there are two people at the origin of the start-up, Deprez calls himself a single founder. “Six months after starting up, my comrade left Daltix. What followed was a very intense period in which I worked day and night to bring in the first customers and the necessary funding. There were moments that were very lonely. That’s when I realized all too well how important a complementary founding team is.”
In order not to pull the cart alone, Jonas Deprez sought a commercial co-founder. He ended up at Jan De Lancker of sales and marketing company BrainTower. “He’s personally invested in Daltix, so really he’s a bit of a late founder, business angel or something in between. He has a great network in Belgian retail and with his and BrainTower’s help we then secured the first ten customers.”
In cooperation with Colruyt Group
After having built up an impressive customer base, Daltix joined forces with Colruyt Group in the summer of 2020. A logical step? “2019 was a difficult year for us. The team and our product market fit grew, but sales did not increase proportionally. I also found it difficult to go from capital round to capital round. I never had time to sustainably focus on the business and the organisation. That’s why I was looking for along-term investor. That has now been accomplished.”
In the media the interference of Colruyt Group is invariably described as a takeover. Jonas Deprez sees it differently: “Colruyt Group becomes the majority shareholder, replacing the previous external shareholders who also had a majority. If you speak of a takeover, this would also have been the case during the previous capital rounds. But then they call it an investment. Colruyt Group joins the board and also becomes a customer. They are not operationally involved in Daltix and we will not merge into the Colruyt Group. Moreover, I will stay on as CEO.
In addition to Colruyt Group, the Daltix customer base also includes other retailers. How sensitive is that? “We are, of course, doing everything we can to maintain our independence and ensure the Chinese walls between data and delivery. It’s definitely an extra effort to prove that. The goal with Colruyt Group as a shareholder is to throw ourselves into the international growth story and not just into Belgium anymore.”
“We are particularly targeting those large international retailers, rather than wanting all customers in Belgium and the Netherlands.”
The supermarket chain is part of Agecore, a buying group with retailers from several countries, including Edeka from Germany and Intermarché from France. Together they have a stronger negotiating position against major suppliers like Mars and Pepsico. This offers international perspectives for Daltix: “We are particularly aiming at those big international players in retail, instead of having all our customers in Belgium and the Netherlands. In addition, with our office in Lisbon we are also trying to get a foothold in Portugal.”
Besides the office in Antwerp, Daltix also has a developers hub in Lisbon. Why Portugal? “In 2017, Teamleader, Showpad and OTA Insight hired a lot of engineers in the Ghent area, with a very nice pay package. For us, that was unaffordable at the time. I also saw many other start-ups struggling to find the right profiles. They ended up hiring freelancers or setting up in countries such as Bulgaria. But we weren’t keen on that.”
“Then we started looking at Spain and Portugal. We finally chose Portugal because the English language is better there and the wages are a bit lower. Our CTO, Simon Esprit, then moved to Lisbon and built our entire engineering team there. We have set up a separate company for this purpose, but it supports the activities of our Belgian branch. So it’s just one company.”
The team split between Belgium and Portugal is not always easy. “We have regular meetings, but if you don’t have lunch together and discuss things, you miss a certain information flow “Jonas acknowledges. Take, for example, a sales colleague who had a difficult meeting with a customer. You don’t set up a meeting for that, but the information is important. That is why we are now also looking for technical profiles in Belgium and want to form project teams to better serve the customers.”
Meanwhile Daltix has twenty people on the payroll. “Depending on Covid-19 and the international traction, the intention is to build the team further. It hasn’t always been easy. The team has often been one of our biggest challenges.”
“We’ve always had cool and motivated people, but also some mismatches,” Jonas continues. “Then it just wasn’t the right person at the right time, even though they did have the skills. For example, we had a motivated junior who needed some more guidance, but we needed a senior for that and he wasn’t there. We just didn’t know at the time what we really needed.”
Love at first sight?
In 2016, Daltix applied for Birdhouse’s accelerator program. The start-up was not immediately admitted. “Initially we were still too early stage. But the following year we tried again. We already had a number of customers at that time, including Makro, Vandemoortele and Gamma. That proved to be enough proof of value to get in!”
At Birdhouse, Daltix was guided by mentors Wouter Neirinck and Tim Duhamel. The latter eventually invested in the start-up in 2019. Love at first sight? “I would actually say so (laughs)! The advantage, of course, is that Tim is also active in retail with Insites Consulting. Although that company has a different kind of business model, they also deliver insights from data. So that was quite interesting.”
“By the way, it was also a good match between Tim and Wouter,” Jonas continued. “We had a bi-weekly meeting with them, and that did help to pull us out of the operational. I sometimes preferred to continue working, but I was still forced to stop and explain. That reflection was very important. We poured the work into a timeline, so to speak, and that helped us to bring more structure to our work. And to determine what’s really important and what’s not.”
“I sometimes preferred to continue working, but I was still forced by the mentors to stop and give explanations.”
Tim Duhamel was not the only one to invest in the start-up in 2019. Pieterjan Bouten and Louis Jonckheere, the founding fathers of Showpad, also made a contribution. Jonas: “I met Pieterjan at an event about internationalization of OTA Insight. I was invited to speak there because of our set-up with the team in Portugal. Pieterjan spoke there as well and that’s how I got in touch with them. The nice thing is that they both can connect well on founder level. I’ve had a lot of input from them.”
Without Birdhouse, would you be where you are now? “I don’t think so. I have also participated in other accelerators, including Startup Lisboa. In all these places, we have benefited greatly from the available networks. So personally, I see those programs as complementary. Every accelerator has a different kind of network and focus. Ultimately, you have to see for yourself what items you need to make your business successful. That’s when it’s strong when you can combine the best of different worlds. Although, of course, you have to make sure that the feedback from different angles doesn’t distract you from the main focus of building your business.”
“It is also important to realize that as a selected start-up at an incubator or accelerator, you have not already won right away,” Jonas Deprez continued. “It’s still super hard work. But if you ask for the right things, you’re also going to get them more easily through the network they provide. I would advise all participants to go for it and use that network and that knowledge as much as possible!