Using Low-Code to Speed Up Global Ambitions with Stella Fietsen
Since starting in the backyard of its founders in 2011, Stella Fietsen has quickly become a leader in the European e-bike space. Already a top-3 seller in the Netherlands, and expanding market share in Belgium and Germany, Stella’s vision is to become the “number one player in Europe within the coming 10 years,” according to Niek Peters, Stella’s Head of Business Technology.
Stella is already disrupting the traditional bicycle sales model by opening their own sales and repair shops, as well as offering direct-to-consumer sales. The company has grown to over 700 employees and total sales of over 400,000 e-bikes. Their Morena e-bike was named the Netherlands’ 2021 e-bike of the year by the RAI Association, a Dutch mobility industry organization representing more than 700 manufacturers and importers.
Peters’ ultimate goal is for Stella to be seen not just as an e-bike retailer, but as a technology company: “I want to use technology to become a business driver instead of a business enabler…supporting the business, but also driving the business.” Stella’s path to continued and sustainable growth is forged through continued innovation in its digital customer experience. As Kjeld Cornelissen, Sales Director at CLEVR, a Mendix Trusted Delivery Partner asked, “Can you disrupt or are you being disrupted?” At Mendix World 2021, Peters and Cornellison discussed Stella’s journey and how low-code is helping to power the organization’s ambitions.
Strategy powering execution
When Peters joined Stella in 2019, he was given the key task to redesign the organization’s internal and external application landscape. As he put it, “I had the pleasure to design from scratch.” With that in mind, Stella has taken a multi-tiered approach to re-engineer their business technology.
Stella has adopted Gartner’s Pace-Layered Application Strategy, with systems of innovation, differentiation, and record. Next is a strategy of matching each business process to a matching best-in-class application. The final piece is architecture, ensuring that all applications are delivering a consistent, pleasing, and reliable customer journey.
All of this is underpinned by a data-first strategy to help ensure new insights are always flowing back to Stella and informing future decisions. “Data is the new gold,” Peters stated.
Strategy into action
The Mendix platform provides the base to a lot of their applications, but, because Stella also either presently has or planned integrations from other services such as Power BI, IoT, Salesforce, and Dynamics 365, they also use Dell Boomi as an integration platform.
Stella chose Mendix as a platform because it can help “create extra business value, business logic, to differ us from our competitors,” according to Peters. Stella uses “Mendix not only for the customer-facing portals or the My Apps and Sites, but also for some backend processes.” This flexibility allows for Mendix to be the system of record for both Stella’s customer portals as well as their order and product information management. Working with a trusted supplier in CLEVR, Stella was well-positioned to move quickly.
Taking low-code for a demo ride
One of the first major projects was to develop a proof of concept for Stella’s operations in Belgium. This initial project would provide a new customer portal for Stella’s Belgian customers, as well as some back-end support for Stella employees. This POC launched in February 2020, with the initial solution created in just five weeks.
From there, Stella used the same structures of the Belgium POC to launch new Stella Germany and Stella Netherlands customer experiences. The Netherlands launch represented a refreshed customer experience for the biggest part of Stella’s customer base and a big step into Peter’s technology-focused ambitions. As he related, “It was exciting because we were in the middle of the COVID period and all the shops were closed. But luckily for us, still the demo riders…were selling bikes at the homes of the people. We’re still riding.”
In that same time period, Stella also released Mendix-based applications for leasing (called BikeProject) as well as tools supporting the launch of a new product line of e-bikes named MUTO.
Learning to ride
For Stella, the original idea for their Belgium proof of concept was to create a singular application, which Peters described as a monolith. He said, “We would disarm this or dismantle this into different microservices, which has also been the intention from the beginning, but there were a lot of new business concepts, models, etc., that we had to keep on building new functionality on top of it.”
It quickly became clear to the Stella team that starting big slowed down Stella’s ability to create new features and updates, and so, as Peters noted, “We really need to dismantle it and create, as we call it, the common Stella command data and a common domain model.” Moving to a microservices model is currently underway and expected to complete late in 2021. Peters said, “This is our main focus this year to become more agile again.”
Further to this, the team at Stella has thought a lot about the importance of architecture. “Start thinking of the future as soon as you start developing,” Peters said. He continued, “That’s, for me, a challenge, the balance between quality and speed, because I want to deliver business value as soon as possible for the business, and on the other hand, I want to deliver quality.”
Partnership drives progress
A constant in Stella’s journey has been a partnership with the team at CLEVR. The two organizations collaborated on a shared process, starting with proving the value of low-code. From there, teams of both Stella and CLEVR colleagues worked to design, develop, implement and scale.
The open environment has led to a virtuous circle of success, new ideas, and innovation. “Ideas bring success and success brings more ideas,” Cornellison described. He further pointed out, “Working for companies like Stella is so much fun for suppliers like us because you go through a couple phases together and implement different ways of working.”
“[Partnership] is very important,” Peters added. “We have got the business knowledge, you’ve got the knowledge about the systems and retail market, and together we come to the best solution.”
Those new ideas will soon be seen by all of Stella’s customers. From next season forward, all Stella e-bikes will be outfitted with IoT sensors. Mendix-built apps will provide data to Stella on the patterns and usage of customers, which will help inform future business decisions. Further, a customer-facing app will let riders understand more about their rides and their fitness.
Climbing to the top
Stella’s first 18 months in low-code have helped them to embrace their ambition of being a technology company. They have new applications for each of their three business centers, are building out a Mendix Center of Excellence within their own team, and are becoming more agile with each new project. With that trajectory, what’s the next step? As Peters asserted, “We are going to conquer Europe.”