What brings students to set up their own business? And how do they turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality? In this series, student entrepreneurs talk about the early years of their business. In this instalment: after recognising an opportunity in the port of Rotterdam, entrepreneur Jarell Habets is now competing with the likes of DHL.

“It was a very traditional, unsexy sector,” remembers Jarell Habets. He experienced it first-hand during an internship at one such freight forwarder. “E-mails are static: the provided information is no longer up to date even as you press the send button. On top of which, I couldn’t promise the client we’d provide better service than our competitor. If someone in customer service didn’t check his e-mail on time, the client wouldn’t be provided with the required information.” Each container led to a flurry of e-mails – 40 on average – and each application instigated a new round of the same old questions. “If you’re managing thousands of containers, this can keep quite a few people busy,” according to Jarell.

Graciëlla van Hamersveld

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Jarell seized the opportunity. After earning his master’s from EUR’s Finance and Investments programme, he decided to set up a new company, Shypple, which automated the process via a digital platform. This allows you to track your container – as if it’s a delivery from some online retailer. “We’re a kind of travel agency for intercontinental cargo shipments. When you’re travelling, you can arrange every leg of your trip via Expedia: you can reserve your seat on the plane, book a hotel room, the transfer from the airport. We do the same thing for companies. But in this case, it’s the shipping service, customs clearance and the transport from the port to your destination,” explains Jarell.

He may have stumbled on to a good idea, but he lacked the technical know-how to develop a finished product: “I simply set to work with PowerPoint and Excel.” A software development firm eventually turned his concept into a more polished affair. “It’s true, the product looks completely different to my rough draft,” says Jarell with a smile.

Energy from the edge

Still, this spontaneous, pragmatic approach played a decisive role in Shypple’s success as a business – and Jarell’s as an entrepreneur. “If I come across some untapped opportunity, I tend to think: what’s wrong with these people, why don’t they take a different approach?” Assuming that you have a better solution: you need to be a bit naïve for this, and maybe even a bit arrogant. “And after you’ve actually succeeded in doing it smarter than the rest, you’re actually winning from your rivals. That’s where I get most of my energy from: the competitive edge you can find in the gap between what’s possible and the status quo.”

It didn’t come as a big surprise to Jarell that he ended up starting his own business. This suspicion was confirmed during a different internship, when he supported a variety of entrepreneurs in developing their business. “I noticed that I really wanted to do all sorts of creative stuff rather than provide another entrepreneur with rock-solid, carefully substantiated recommendations. At which point I concluded: I guess I’m that entrepreneur.”

Jarell Habets van Shypple
Image credit: Sanne van der Most

According to Jarell, the key trait of a successful entrepreneur – besides creativity of course – is perseverance. “I must have considered throwing in the towel at least ten times. When we were light on cash and the next round of salary payments was coming up, for example. At times like these, I was very aware of my responsibility towards my employees,” says Jarell. But in his recollection, the biggest challenge actually wasn’t at work. “It was so hard for me to let the business lie every now and then. To do normal everyday stuff: for a long time, doing groceries or cooking felt like I was wasting my time. Now I’m aware that you need moments like these to relax and unwind – but it took a long time for me to get there.”


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By now it’s abundantly clear to Jarell that his heart lies in enterprise. “To keep going, you need to have a burning passion for the sector, or for building a company. For me, the most interesting challenge is the latter.” He may be working in logistics right now, but Jarell suspects he could have spotted an opportunity to some completely different sector too. “If this should wind down some day, for whatever reason, I’ll probably be setting up a new company sooner or later.”

But for the time being, Shypple is a resounding success. In February, the company was voted Sprout’s Start-up of the Year, and it has a large permanent staff and continues to expand at a truly impressive pace. “This isn’t something you give much thought to throughout the day. You’re mostly thinking about all the things that you could have done besides, or which direction you want to head in next. Success is quite relative, actually: by the time you achieve some milestone for your past self, you’ve already moved on to some new goal for your present self,” notes Jarell. “Still, it’s a big kick for me too when I see pictures taken two years ago and walk past 40 empty desks at the end of the day.”

Study or start-up?

Jarell had already dipped his toes into entrepreneurship as a student, launching both a marketing agency and a company that focused on smart food solutions. However, the first company wasn’t scalable enough; and in the case of the second, Jarell found out that gaining the necessary food and production expertise took longer than expected. In both cases, he ultimately winded down the business after concluding that he couldn’t develop a significantly better or smarter proposition than the competition: “I should be able to come out tops – that’s the challenge for me.” Jarell concludes that his studies have mainly given him the self-confidence to embark on adventures like this. “In addition to faith in your own abilities, it also gives you a kind of safety net: if this doesn’t work out, I can always work for someone else.”

Has he ever regretted choosing the adventurous life of the entrepreneur? “Maybe in the beginning a bit. My friends started earning a lot of money immediately after graduation. I was still living with my parents; they were all driving fancy lease cars. But I wouldn’t call it regret per se, because I knew I could always go that route if it didn’t work out.”

Which brings us to his advice to students who are considering becoming an entrepreneur. “You have absolutely nothing to lose. And above all, don’t compare yourself to people who made other choices than you did. After starting your company, you may think to yourself: ‘I’m not going to tell anyone what I’m working on. I don’t want to be that guy with his pipe dreams and big mouth – and then everything comes to nothing’.” Don’t let stuff like that bring you down, says Jarell. “Whether you succeed or not – people always respect you for making a genuine effort.” And, he concludes, you’ll always land on your feet somehow if you have a degree to fall back on.


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