In a coffee house in Groningen, 23-year-old Anand Chowdhary shows off the five different corona-check apps he uses to travel around Europe. You can safely say he is a man of the world. Born in India, graduated in Twente, lives in Groningen and has been co-founder of start-up Pabio in Switzerland for a year now.
Renting designer furniture for a fixed fee per month, that's the idea behind Pabio. The customer completes a questionnaire on the website, is paired with an interior designer, receives a 3D model of the future flat, hands in the keys at a suitable time and, upon returning home, the flat is completely redecorated with designer furniture. ‘The point is that we want to provide people with a beautiful home,’ says Chowdhary. ‘If you have to buy everything new, such a thing can easily cost 20K. Because of us, people can now rent their furniture for a small monthly fee and have the option to buy.'
Into the unknown
Chowdhary studied Creative Technology at the UT. During his studies, he worked on Oswald Labs, a company that makes the internet accessible for people with disabilities. Because of Oswald Labs, Chowdhary landed in the list of the fifty most innovative young entrepreneurs and professionals in the Netherlands in 2018, compiled by the Financieele Dagblad. Not much later, the Forbes 30 under 30 followed for which the well-known American business magazine selects thirty up-and-coming talents each year. Chowdhary had only been in the Netherlands for a few months.
However, there is also ‘normal’ studying to be done. At the beginning of 2020, the young entrepreneur was nearing the end of his studies in Creative Technology. ‘I thought to myself: what's next? Will I start working for a company or will it be something else entirely? I knew some people at Uber. Perhaps I could work for the American company?’ However, fate had something else in store for Chowdhary. ‘I came into contact with Carlo Badini via LinkedIn, he was also in the Forbes 30 under 30 list with his company Cleverclip. He was looking for a CTO (Chief Technology Officer, ed.) and I decided to find out whether it was something for me. Working for a start-up seemed like a good idea to me.’
When Chowdhary contacted Badini, the Cleverclip boss came up with a very different proposal. ‘His company had grown into a successful business with dozens of employees and a substantial turnover, and he was now looking for a new challenge. Something with living was his idea. He asked me if I wanted to join and I thought that was a great opportunity. We complemented each other well: he knew a lot about sales, I knew a lot about technology.’
‘When you start a business together, it's like getting married’
To flesh out 'something with living', the new business partners began to visit friends. Just to see how they lived. ‘What immediately struck me was that the furnishings of their houses - they were all young starters - didn't look great. It consisted mainly of 'crappy’ Ikea stuff. What if our friends could rent designer furniture at a reasonable price? That's what gave us the idea for Pabio.’ The two young entrepreneurs also added something else: an interior designer who puts together an interior according to the customer's taste. ‘People often see it as something for the elite, but a designer doesn't have to be expensive.’
An idea was born. Now the two companions had to shape it. They decide to organise speed dates to get to know each other better and to work out the business plan. ‘When you start a business together, it's like getting married,’ Chowdhary says, half-jokingly, half-serious. ‘You have to get to know each other. Therefore, for three or four months, we talked to each other almost every day. I saw him more often than my girlfriend and family. And this all happened online, by the way. I only saw Carlo for the first time in real life a few weeks ago and that was quite crazy. You suddenly see each other in HD.’
‘I had to say no to money for the first time in my life’
By the time the two met in real life, Pabio had existed for over a year already. By then, more than 70 flats had been designed in Switzerland, where the company was founded. More than three million euros in seed capital had also been raised. ‘There was an unprecedented interest,’ says Chowdhary. ‘I had to say no to money for the first time in my life.’ The company is still in the race for a sustainability investment by the Swiss government. ‘For that, we are currently writing a report on our emissions. Sustainability is an important element for Pabio. After all, renting furniture is a lot less damaging to the environment than constantly buying new, poor quality stuff.’
Pabio wants to enter the German market this quarter. ‘Berlin is our big next goal. It is an interesting market because so many expats live there. Paris and London will hopefully follow soon as well. Eventually, we also want to open up in Amsterdam.' And after that? ‘World domination', Chowdhary says with a smile.