Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Raissa and Joyce of Double Dutch
“Believe in what you are doing and love it enough to be able to give up or sacrifice certain things for it because otherwise, you will not be happy with what you have to give up.”
Raissa and Joyce De Haas
Founder of Double Dutch
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
We are Raissa and Joyce De Haas. Together, we founded Double Dutch, a brand of premium tonic water and mixers, about five years ago in London.
What inspired you both to create Double Dutch premium mixers?
Growing up, our parents were always very passionate about different wines and champagnes and so they would always invite friends and family over to our home for tastings. In return, they would bring their own gins and liquor. Hence, we grew up being exposed to many quality spirits. During our time at university, we hosted many parties for friends where we would make our own flavoured soda waters which our friends really enjoyed. When we secured a place at UCL to study Technology Entrepreneurship in London, we realised how advanced the hospitality sector was in London compared to the Netherlands, but the choice of mixers at the time was basically as limited as back home. Hence, we wrote our dissertation on how the drinks industry was evolving and that there was a market for healthier, more innovative mixers and tonic waters. To our surprise, our dissertation awarded us the UCL Bright Ideas Award for most promising start-up, providing us with an initial cash investment to produce our first batch of mixers. In 2015, we launched our two debut mixers, Cucumber & Watermelon and Pomegranate & Basil, which really started our entrepreneurial journey.
What was it about gin that particularly intrigued you both compared to other kinds of alcohol?
Gin is a super interesting spirit and it is relatively easy to make. There are numerous distilling methods and various kinds of flavour profiles. We’re enamoured by its innovation and versatility. Nowadays, there is every kind of gin out there – even lobster-infused gin! This is really fascinating to us.
As successful self-made entrepreneurs, was this the path you always wanted to take?
We always knew that we wanted to start our own business. Our parents also have their own businesses, so that entrepreneurial instinct has always been in our DNA but we never imagined that we would have our own business at such a young age. It just kind of happened (of course, with a lot of hard work!) when we received the cash investment from UCL. We figured, “What is there to lose?” At the time, we did not have another job, so we both agreed to give our business idea a try and it worked!
How do you think you fit into the term “Urban Explorer”?
Joyce: To me, urban exploration is about finding the new, being open, and exploring new things in life – whether it may be embarking on a new type of cuisine or discovering a new city and its architecture. It’s all about embracing new experiences that you don’t get to try in your home city.
Raissa: I think it’s about exploring different cities and really getting to know the whole city, inside and out, from its architecture and natural landscapes to its museums. In London, you are constantly exploring because there is so much change in the city, with an array of galleries opening up all the time and constant shifts in the thriving hospitality scene.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
It is such a fun industry to be a part of, especially to be at the centre of that industry with what we do. That said, what we love most about having our own company is that it is so satisfying to walk into a restaurant or bar no matter where it is and randomly see someone using your product. It brings us so much joy!
Keep Your Gin Up
Could you tell us more about Double Dutch – there are so many incredible flavours to choose from. How do you find inspiration for these unique and tasty variations?
Many of our flavour profiles are inspired from traveling and exploring different foods and cultures in places like Asia and the Mediterranean. On a more technical level, we like to pair flavours based on molecular compatibility (pairing two different ingredients that share the same key molecules). In this process, there is a lot of testing, eating and drinking in many places.
Can you explain to us a bit about the overall process when it comes to creating the perfect mixer?
We start off with tasting in the kitchen! Once we have some kind of inspiration that we find from a dish we like when travelling in another city, for example, we will start looking at what other flavours will pair well with it. We then make about two to three different combinations of flavoured soda in our kitchen before heading into the laboratory with commercial flavour developers that will reiterate our recipes, making it into commercially viable products.
What is your favourite Double Dutch mixer if you each could choose one? Why?
Joyce: It honestly depends on the hour of the day and the season. At the moment, my favourite is our Cucumber Margarita. I absolutely love tequila so I enjoy its spicy spring flavour. If you had too many the night before, it is also a very good remedy for curing hangovers.
Raissa: My favourite is the Cucumber Watermelon, the very first flavour we launched. It is very summery, refreshing and works well with any London dry style or more citric style gin. I also love a good negroni but it may be a bit strong for some, so I will make a twist of this classic with our Pomegranate Basil and add some vermouth and Campari. It’s a lighter, longer-lasting version of a negroni so we can enjoy a few more glasses!
Any particular foods that you enjoy pairing with a gin & tonic?
Gin & Tonic pair very well with fish, salads and lighter dishes. For instance, our Cranberry and Ginger works very well with barbecue-style foods. Ginger beer and ginger ale pairs perfectly with meat. Just yesterday, we cooked chicken in the oven and topped it up with a bottle of ginger beer. It’s super nice!
How has this journey been so far together, as both sisters and business partners?
Raissa: There are mega benefits of working together because we understand each other. We can just look at each other in a meeting and instantly understand what the other is thinking. We are very honest with each other, which make things much more efficient. If we do not like something or have a disagreement, there is no need to tip-toe around each other. That said, we will also have our arguments but the good thing is that we make up again two minutes later. It is the beauty of working with your sibling!
Joyce: I don’t think there is anyone else I would have loved more to embark on this journey with. It’s nice because, on an emotional level, I really think having Raissa by my side makes it much easier to endure the stressful moments. It’s important to know that you have someone you can trust when you have those ups or downs, and someone that also has the same vision as you at the end of the day. It is a very calming, easy kind of reassurance.
If you were not doing what you are doing now, what career path would you have taken?
Our background was in Finance so we would probably still be in this sector had we not started our own business.
Any words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
It sounds cliché, but you really just need to go out there and try to make it work, or at least make your product and see whether people actually want to pay for it. It doesn’t matter that it takes time. You will get many no’s before you get your first yes. But there is no point in trying to make the perfect product or service. Especially in our industry, we find that people genuinely want to help you succeed in your journey. So even if your product isn’t perfect, you listen to your customers. Only then, can you create a product that your customers will really want? Another advice we can give is to truly believe in what you are doing and love it enough to be able to give up or sacrifice certain things for it because otherwise, you will not be happy with what you have to give up.
How often do you both travel for work? What about for leisure?
For us, it is about 90% work and 10% leisure. For example, we will soon be launching in the west so we will be in the States for two weeks in April, travelling between New York, Boston, and LA. We have the first few days to ourselves where we can just relax. So it’s not always all work!
Any cool destinations on your bucket list?
Raissa: I think Japan is super interesting but I haven’t been there yet so I look forward to visiting that country one day!
Joyce: I would love to visit Japan as well! Argentina is another place that is on my list!
When you have a moment to step away from work, how do you explore the city?
The nice thing about London is that you can walk easily from one part of the city to another part without having to take a taxi. On the weekends, we often walk 25,000 steps going from east to west and visit little galleries in nice little neighbourhoods. There is so much diversity in London – from cool, hipster areas to super expensive luxury neighbourhoods all located in a relatively small space – which makes it all walkable and easily accessible to each other.
What was your first impression of the city when you guys first moved from the Netherlands to London? What are your impressions of London now?
When we first moved to London, we had the impression that it was such a big, mega international city. Now that we have lived here for eight-nine years, we sort of feel the opposite. What’s so comforting about living in London is that it is made up of all these smaller neighbourhoods – from Mayfair to Notting Hill. They are like little villages in a big city that makes London so cosy!
Have there been any challenges and learnings of living in this city?
The biggest challenge for us when we first moved to London was not knowing anybody in the city or in the country, so we relied heavily on Google for everyday things like setting up our bank accounts. But then again, I think London and the UK have this strong mentality of helping and supporting other entrepreneurs. So, all in all, London has been a very welcoming city to us.
When you need an escape outside the bustling city, which places would you recommend to make a nice getaway by car?
To be completely honest, we are probably those people that never go out of London. Many Londoners enjoy visiting the countryside for a relaxing getaway, but it takes approximately the same amount of time for us to go back to the Netherlands by train. Hence, we are either in London or you’ll find us visiting family and friends in the Netherlands!