On this week’s Designer’s Corner, we present the company behind the revolutionary and phenomenal Senz° umbrella. The umbrella combines qualities of form, sophistication and function. It caught our eyes as unconventional yet stylish, and we at BRENMI decided to grab a chat with the creator of this amazing product! Here we are with one of the co-founders Gerwin Hoogendoorn.
1. Can you provide us with a little background to you and the Senz° cofounders, anything you want to share, your upbringings, what are you and your cofounders like?
Senz° was started with 3 co-founders Philip Hess, Gerard Kool, and I (Gerwin Hoogendoorn). During university, I studied Industrial Design and Engineering at the Delft University of Technology. I graduated with a Master’s Degree and completed my thesis of product design on our current product: the original storm umbrella. Philip and Gerard in their turn completed their Master’s Degree in Innovation Management, and Philip topped that up with a Master in Entrepreneurship at the Rotterdam Erasmus University. All three of us have different skills and personalities and we form a very complimentary team (from a skillset and personality perspective). Currently, Philip is focusing on the commercial aspects of the business, while Gerard focuses more on the operations and as for me, I am focused on the innovation of the brand.
2. How did Senz° launch?
We had a market introduction on October 2006. In the first nine days we sold our initial stock of 10,000 Senz° umbrellas. We had a lot of press during and after that time, so it was really a dream start!
3. The story of the umbrella is indeed phenomenal. So what’s the story behind the name? What do you want people to associate with first when they hear the name Senz°?
The name of the brand stands for: sensational, sense (feel it) and makes sense. Each of these words or phrase means something different.
– Sensational: it is sensational to use the senz° stormproof umbrella under strong winds!
– Sense [feel it]: holding a Senz° stormproof umbrella gives a special feeling of floating with the wind.
– Makes sense: the design of Senz° umbrellas is intuitive compared to traditional umbrellas.
We were looking for a nice short brand name and these elements and words represented in our opinion the user experience of our stormproof umbrellas.
4. As the go-to innovation manager in the founding team, what is your creative process and outlet with the brand?
I think our creative outlet came from our focus on commuters, and people who travel through the city. We have an ambition to expand the brand with new product areas that address the needs of our target audience. As a reference we use the “Value Proposition Design Method” written by Alexander Osterwalder as a guide into our creative process.
5. Startups like yours need to be constantly changing, and it seems like you are taking innovation at the company very seriously. How do you think Senz° has grown over time, and how have you and the other cofounders personally grown over this period?
Our brand has grown tremendously over time, and is increasing its reach internationally. With one iconic product, the stormproof umbrella, our brand has a great future with the possibility to widen its scope and have a more lifestyle-focused path.
As founders we experienced a steep learning curve, since we started fresh after our graduation. Building our company had many professional and personal challenges. All three of us also did a postgraduate course on becoming a professional coach. The course helped us to learn more about ourselves and to improve our coaching leadership, and our understanding of each other.
6. Seems like your team is prepared for whatever challenge is in front of you. Throughout this entire journey, what has been your biggest struggle?
My personal biggest struggle is to “let go” and not always be on top of things 24/7. For me it’s a challenge to try and build a great company, while at the same time be able to “disconnect” and take care of myself in other areas. These struggles helped me grow as a person and without this “drive” I would not be standing where we are right now.
7. The Senz° umbrella is a wonderful product that achieves both functional and aesthetic design. What was the creative process specifically for the umbrella? What were your inspirations that you derived from?
I developed the concept during my graduation project. The analysis was a very important part, trying to determine exactly what the problem was in current umbrellas, and figuring out the kind of solution that would fit the problem and product perfectly. My inspiration for the ideas came from every source I can think of, such as “bionic” principles, kiting and windsurfing (which I picked up since I was 8 years old).
8. Senz° does seem to have a very established product design and development process. As a lifestyle brand, Senz° isn’t just about the products; I would think it’s also about the lifestyle vision that you preach. Can you describe the Senz° lifestyle and culture?
We describe our target group as “metropolitans”. These metropolitans are citizens between the ages of 25-45 years. They love the urban/city life and like to be busy. They are curious and ambitious, are open to try new things and chase their dreams. Our products should support them in the comfort and convenience of their lives. Important values are reliability, quality, convenience and luxury.
9. The Senz° values definitely speak in the products you sell. We noticed that Senz° has started working with designers to bring together functionality and fashion. Can you elaborate on this?
Traditionally umbrellas have been a product that people don’t spend much thought on, and for many it is even a throwaway product. Our goal is to change the perception of umbrellas and turn it into a fashion accessory that embodies quality and creativity. So from that perspective, collaborations with fashion designers help push Senz° to its ultimate goal.