Paris-based HostnFly develops algorithms to optimize rental income from flats on Airbnb, and takes care of Parisians’ apartments, guaranteeing a stable rental income. Airbnb’s first concierge service in France, HostnFly offers services from ad creation to key collection, and complete maintenance of properties.
Launched in 2016, HostnFly has raised a new round of €9 million to strengthen its presence in France and expand internationally. The round was led by Highgate Ventures, with participation from existing shareholders including Partech and Kerala Ventures.
HostnFly provides up to 30% more revenue on average than a rental directly through Airbnb. From taking photos and creating ads to handling the keys and selecting and communicating with guests, HostnFly offers a full service management platform. All logistical tasks, including housekeeping and linen supply, are also offered, saving hosts an average of 40 hours per year in managing their rentals.
After a first round of $3 million raised in July 2017, the startup now manages more than 3,000 homes in France, especially in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. It has also joined forces with La Conciergerie by Odalys to expand its offering to nearly 30 ski and seaside resorts throughout France.
With the new funding, HostnFly intends to aggressively expand by managing 10,000 homes in France within two years, launch in new European markets starting with Spain and Italy in the coming months, and recruit 50 people in one year.
“We are delighted with the renewed trust of our investors and the support of Highgate Ventures, which brings tremendous hospitality and tech experience to HostnFly,” said Quentin Brackers of Hugo, co-founder and CEO of HostnFly. “These funds will allow us to expand aggressively thanks to a constant improvement of our technologies and to keep deploying in new cities in France and abroad. We will triple the size of the team in one year with the goal to become the European leader in the rapidly growing short-term rental industry.”
Riga-based e-scooter platform ATOM was the first of its kind to launch in the city in early 2019, with plans to expand to cities throughout the CEE.
Now, the startup has announced the launch of a new white label solution – enabling independent operators to easily manage their own fleet of shared vehicles through a platform and app. With ATOM’s solution, anyone with a fleet can create their own ride-sharing platform anywhere in the world in 20 days, without huge investments in an IT solution.
“We were the first e-scooter sharing platform launched in Riga in April 2019,” said Arturs Burnins, ATOM CEO. “Thousands of users tested it and we put a lot of effort into making the platform work perfectly. Later we focused on different features that can be customized according to customer needs, as well as market requirements. Now anyone interested in creating his own ride sharing platform can do it easily in any country of the world.”
At a time when the scooter and bike sharing market is growing rapidly, the ATOM platform is the fastest way to launch a ride-sharing business. Individual operators and companies can use ATOM software to launch faster, and to capture market share. The company has already begun working with several clients, and is developing personalized ride sharing platforms. The biggest interest is from the Middle East and Europe, where the ATOM team is helping to customize the platform in accordance with local regulations.
ATOM’s solution includes a branded mobile app for riders, which is already operational on iOS and Android, and a dashboard to manage vehicles, rides, and follow metrics. The app has a built-in “get a free ride” referral program that is optional and can be switched off. Several user registration options are available – ID card, driver’s license or other documents are required upon registration. Likewise, a number of payment options are available including a wallet, pay-per-ride and subscription.
“For example, we are currently working on a project to develop an e-scooter sharing platform where all charging stations are going to be visible,” said Arturs Burnins. “When the e-scooter is taken there and connected to the charger, it’s not possible to collect it until its battery has been charged to a particular level. This project is specific because we are also setting up different speed zones within the same city.”
Together with the partner, ATOM provides customers with the telematic solution that will allow for the remote control of speed, distance, lights and even ignition. The platform owner can see the vehicle’s exact locations and its ride history on the dashboard. There is also an integrated wheel block solution to safeguard against theft or the illegal movement of the vehicle.
ATOM’s team supports personnel, shares best practice and constantly upgrades software. And it takes just 20 days to get the platform and app up and running.
Clones, copycats, and lookalikes – the startup world is littered with them. The usual storyline goes like this: an entrepreneur spots a popular web-based platform, looks for another market or location ready for a similar service, and launches a copycat company. The oft-cited goals are to scale fast, then co-exist in competition with the company they are copying, or sell the company for a profit. In some cases, the copycat succeeds in competing or gets bought, even by the company it’s copying.
This was the not case for Wimdu, an Airbnb clone founded in Berlin in 2011. From its launch and in its early days, Wimdu had all the hallmarks of a successful “clone”. Armed with a massive $90 million in funding from Rocket Internet and Kinnevik, Wimdu was on track to conquer Europe in the vacation rentals space. But late last year, after over seven years of operation, Wimdu had to shut down its doors.
What led to Wimdu’s demise? Here’s a look at what went wrong, and what can be gleaned from Wimdu’s story.
Wimdu in its early years – rapid growth, too soon
Conceived out of the internet startup factory of Rocket Internet, Wimdu registered as a limited liability company in Germany in March 2011. Wimdu’s founders, Arne Bleckwenn and Hinrich Dreiling, were considered seasoned entrepreneurs, having founded and managed several startups before Wimdu. Barely a month after it launched, it received what tech insiders said was the largest investment in a European startup ever. Wimdu was on the path to fast growth — online for less than 100 days, it already had 10,000 properties worldwide and was available in 15 languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch. Recognizing the vast potential of the Chinese market, Wimdu launched a spin-off business there called Airizu in May 2011. Well worth noting is that within two months of its launch, Wimdu was already employing 400 people and had opened 15 offices worldwide.
By June of 2011, Airbnb felt Wimdu’s presence and fought back by exposing Wimdu’s growth-hacking techniques (some of which bordered on unethical), bringing together Airbnb’s community of more than 100k hosts to report Wimdu’s “practice” of copying Airbnb’s listings, soliciting their hosts, and listing homes on Wimdu’s website without the hosts’ knowledge. Airbnb went so far as to seriously consider acquiring Wimdu, meeting them in Berlin that same year but eventually decided against it. Cracks started appearing in Wimdu’s massive growth hacking when by August 2011, it had to let go almost 50 employees due to rapid growth and unexpected business developments.
By 2012, Wimdu claimed to be the largest social accommodation search site, boasting a record 50,000 listings in over 100 countries in its first year, with $6 million in monthly booking revenues and over $100 million in expected revenues by the year end of 2012. Later that same year, Wimdu backtracked from its aggressive growth strategy, closing activities in its offices overseas and moving some of its employees back to Berlin headquarters. The restructuring was again attributed to rising costs due to rapid growth. 2013 saw the closure of its Chinese subsidiary Airizu, which faced fierce competition from local Xiaozhu, Mayi, and Tujia.
By 2013, regulatory bodies started scrutinizing peer-to-peer rental platforms operating in Europe and in Germany in particular, and Wimdu and its competitors faced new regulatory requirements; a contributing factor to 9flats, Wimdu’s competitor, leaving Berlin. Wimdu however, continued operating in Berlin and even pushed to expand its activities there in 2014.
It’s no secret that the skills required to start a company are not the same as those needed to effectively manage its growth. Some startups have founders with both skill sets, and are able to adapt or adjust to navigate from the start through the growth phase. This may not have been the case for Wimdu. As in a lot of similar cases, leaving is construed as a crisis in leadership. In October 2014, at their request, Wimdu’s founders left and handed the reins to Arne Kahlke und Sören Kress, the former founders of the dating agency ElitePartners.
By the time the new executives took over Wimdu had over 100,000 listings in more than 150 countries. From 2013 to 2014, Wimdu increased its bookings by only 31% and did not reach Rocket Internet’s classification of a ‘Proven Winner’ and was instead classified as an ‘Emerging Star’, in its 2014 annual report. Along with talks of Rocket Internet selling Wimdu and finding no takers, Wimdu’s reputation began to suffer.
Final nail in the coffin: regulatory restrictions, merger
Wimdu saw some positive developments in 2015 when it inked a media for equity deal with Mediaset, getting millions of investment in terms of advertising in the Italian conglomerate’s TV channels and leading to expansion in Italy, Spain and other Southern European countries.
Another huge hurdle Wimdu experienced was a new law restricting private apartment rentals that came into effect in Berlin and prompted Wimdu to file a lawsuit against in April 2016, using up funds and receiving a lot of public attention in the process.
In October 2016, Wimdu merged with its rival 9flats, in a move that was set to combine Wimdu’s 300,000 or so listings with 9flats’ over 250,000 listings, and compete better with rival Airbnb which had over two million listings worldwide at that time. The merger came with speculation that it was in fact a “fire sale”, after Wimdu burned through its $90 million in funding failed to secure more.
Later, in December 2016, Wimdu was acquired by Novasol, a Danish holiday apartment broker owned by Wyndham Worldwide. And in a further stroke of changing ownership for Wimdu, in February 2018, Wyndham Worldwide sold Novasol to PE firm Platinum Equity for a reported $1.3 billion.
September 2018 brought Wimdu’s saga to its fateful end. Platinum Equity was reported to have pulled the plug on scale-ups, and Novasol announced a new CEO and shortly after announced Wimdu’s closure as part of cleaning house and cutting off unprofitable operations.
Wimdu’s official statement said it was closing due to “significant financial and business challenges”. The closure affected 100 employees in Berlin and Lisbon. The platform honoured bookings made until the end of 2018 and is still accessible to this day but redirects to a different provider.
If you search for the top three reasons why startups fail, you will often get lack of market need, a lack of cash, or a wrong team. Arguably, these reasons are not applicable to Wimdu. When it launched in Germany in 2011, Airbnb and other similar platforms did not yet have a strong foothold across Europe and there was room for another player. Clearly it did not lack cash, with the huge investment it received right after it launched. There were no indications that it suffered from lack of cohesion in its team. Wimdu was a “victim of its own success” – suffering from crazy expectations of growth and eventual acquisition resulting from its hefty initial capital. It played copycat to Airbnb for far too long, forgetting to develop a company and service that distinguished itself. In the end, Wimdu was not driven to provide authentic, sustainable, experience-driven accommodation for travellers – it just wanted to copy Airbnb and grow for the sake of growth.
Berlin-based Raisin, a pan-European savings marketplace, has announced a new investment of €25 million from Goldman Sachs. The new investment follows the fintech’s recent Series D round of €100 million raised in February 2019.
Raisin will use the funding to launch in the $12.7 trillion US savings market in 2020, as well as enter two new European markets in 2019. Following Raisin’s acquisition of Manchester-based PBF Solutions in 2017, now Raisin UK, the startup bought its long-time servicing bank MHB-Bank in early 2019.
With its ‘deposits-as-a-service’ platform, Raisin offers savers access to higher-interest savings products through partner banks across Europe. Since it was founded in 2013, Raisin has brokered more than €14 billion for over 185,000 customers. With more than 480 savings products from 80 European partner banks, the fintech provides a deposits marketplace to banks all over the European Economic Area looking to diversify with high-quality retail funding from markets beyond their own. Raisin has also built distribution partnerships with N26, Commerzbank, o2 Banking of Telefónica Germany and Yolt among others, making Raisin a marketplace of competitive deposit products.
Now, the fintech aims to further advance its technology, acquire top-notch talent, and broaden its product portfolio. With the backing of preeminent global investment bank Goldman Sachs, Raisin will be able to further accelerate its mission of removing barriers and simplifying access to better and fairer savings and investments in Europe and the US.
“Raisin has developed a unique savings marketplace with a solid business model, impressive growth and a loyal customer base,” said Managing Director of Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments Rana Yared.“We are excited to support the company’s outstanding management team in executing their vision.”
“This investment from such a renowned brand is a very encouraging confirmation for us that our core business, as well as growth strategy, are on the right track,” added Raisin CEO and co-founder Dr. Tamaz Georgadze. “We’re really proud to have Goldman’s backing, especially given the expertise in investment products, along with an extraordinary 150-year history and record of success.”
London-based Curve, a banking platform that consolidates multiple cards and accounts into a single smart card and app, has secured €49 million in a Series B funding round, valuing the company at a quarter of a billion dollars.
Curve came out of beta in February 2018, and is on track to welcome its millionth customer by the year end. Curve is already available in 31 European countries and plans to use the fresh funding to expand its product offering in the UK, Europe and overseas. It will officially launch into six European markets later this year: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain, and aims to launch its operations in the US by mid next year.
The round was led by Gauss Ventures, with participation from Creditease, IDC Ventures, Outward VC, along with several of Curve’s early stage investors including Santander InnoVentures, Breega, Seedcamp, and Speedinvest.
“While the challenger and traditional banks are busy fighting to win or retain new customers, Curve is building an Over-The-Top Banking Platform that provides customers with a better banking experience with no need to change their bank,” said Shachar Bialick, founder and CEO of Curve. “Curve is playing a completely different ball game, it’s not a challenger bank which means that we can focus on creating a radically better customer experience, without asking customers to trust their salaries with us, or the significant overhead of becoming a regulated bank. Receiving this level of investment from such prominent investors is a fantastic endorsement of the value and experience Curve brings to its customers.”
“The success of Curve, demonstrated by its outstanding growth, is a clear testament to the opportunity in rebundling of financial products and services,” said Daniel Gusev, founding partner of Gauss Ventures. “The strength in Curve over the challenger banks is its product strategy which avoids competing directly with the banks by building an over the top banking platform.”
“Curve is a real trailblazer and we’re very proud of their amazing trajectory,” said Ben Marrel, a founding partner at Breega and one of the original investors in Curve. “Their unique solution offers consumers a seamless banking experience by aggregating both traditional retail and neobank services through the same card and app. Over-the-top banking solutions like Curve are here to redefine the future of banking like over-the-top video reinvented TV.”
Curve customers spend an average £1,500 a month through the platform, significantly more than other challenger banks. For instance, Monzo’s last annual report stated that only 30% of their customers spend, which is roughly £1,000 a month, goes through Monzo.
Brighton-based MPB is a scale-up transforming how photographers and videographers buy and sell photography and filmmaking gear, offering a curated, verified marketplace for second-hand equipment.
Founded in 2011, MPB has raised a €10 million Series C funding round led by growth VC firm Acton Capital, with participation from existing investors Mobeus and Beringea.
Thanks to data-driven automatization of the vetting process, and a transparent pricing strategy reflecting supply and demand, MPB users can instantly sell their gear for cash or trade for other items in a single transaction. This end-to-end customer experience has enabled the MPB platform to build a fast-growing community of more than 135k active users.
“There are over 20 million photographers and filmmakers who are our potential users, in Europe and the US alone,”said Matt Barker, Founder and CEO of MPB.“These photographers look for the perfect bit of kit, but face a highly fragmented market which lacks transparency and trust in sellers. MPB offers them an innovative platform to buy and sell second-hand gear in a single transaction. In the near future, further developments will see MPB blurring the lines between ownership and rental.”
Based on thousands of data points generated on the platform every day, MPB’s technology ensures that all items are correctly priced. With headquarters in Brighton and an operational site in East Sussex, MPB is already active in the UK, USA and Germany. The fresh funding will allow MPB to extend existing infrastructure to support international growth as well as investing in engineering and further automation of processes on the platform.
“With the new capital, we will open the first MPB operational centre in Brooklyn, US and are planning a German site to follow in 2020,”said Matt Barker, founder and CEO of MPB.“We intend on becoming the leading global platform for photographers and filmmakers to trade professional equipment.”
“Fueled by online marketplaces, the re-commerce industry is on the rise,”said Sebastian Wossagk, managing partner at Acton Capital.“MPB’s customers can buy and sell second-hand photo gear in one single transaction. Thanks to data-driven pricing and customer centric end-to-end service, we believe MPB’s platform is able to unlock the potential of reselling even a high-end product on international level.”
Coupling correct pricing with detailed, accurate and nuanced descriptions ensures that any user looking for that next bit of kit can easily choose the right tool for the job, knowing that the item will be precisely as described and with the comfort that they have paid the correct price. Further, sellers are guaranteed a correct price for their kit when selling and can sell any number of items in one single transaction with guaranteed instant payment.
“The market for professional photo gear has grown in each of the past two years thanks to significant technological developments such as mirrorless cameras,”said Matt Barker, founder and CEO of MPB. “MPB is capitalizing on this trend by enabling professionals and enthusiasts to access the latest kit in a far more affordable way.”
“MPB’s growth since Beringea first invested in 2017 has been significant, with immediate and substantial traction in new markets in the US and Germany,” said Eyal Malinger, Investment Director at Beringea. “Our continued support of the business, along with the new investment from Acton, is testament to the potential of the business to become a lasting success on both sides of the Atlantic and it will kick off an important chapter of accelerating growth.”
Espoo-based Surrogate.tv is a game development and video streaming technology company that seeks to blur the lines between reality and games, offering an experience that combines gaming with real-world physics and consequences.
Just founded in 2018, Surrogate plans to launch its product this year, and has just raised a seed round of €1.8 million from Initial Capital, an early investor in Supercell, with participation from PROfounders Capital, Brighteye Ventures, and Business Finland. The investment will enable Surrogate to rapidly build up its “Surrogate Reality” game portfolio while continuing to enhance the company’s low-latency video streaming technology, SurroRTG.
“Video games continue to be developed with the same limitations that existed at the time of Pong – creating fake physics and fake graphics in an attempt to mimic real-life,” said Shane Allen, CEO and co-founder of Surrogate. “At Surrogate, we want to rethink this process by bringing in unique benefits that the real world has to offer and using them as major elements in the video gaming experience. Backed by some of the most well-recognized venture funds in the world, we’re building a new category of online entertainment – completely blurring the lines between what real and virtual worlds should and can be. We look forward to releasing the first stages of Surrogate gaming in the coming months.”
“The lines between watching and interacting with entertainment content are blurring and Surrogate is pushing the boundaries even further by building tools that enable anyone to watch and play real-life games remotely,” said Matteo Vallone, Principal at Initial Capital. “We’re excited to be adding Surrogate to our portfolio, and we look forward to being a part of the team as they bring their vision to life.”
Out of around 14,000 flexible working spaces globally, less than 20 are dedicated music and the arts. Co-founders Amin Hamzianpour and Nicholas Sonuga launched The Qube in order to provide a vibrant community and workspace for the underserved creative sector.
The London-based coworking space for creatives has now raised a €2.1 million seed round led by the Angel CoFund, along with UK music industry veterans AEI Group and angel investors. The funding will be used to develop their 16,000 square foot flagship site ahead of its launch. The Qube is now accepting new members, and the first site will be officially launching in the autumn of 2019.
With over 30 soundproof studios under one roof, the West London premises will offer a collection of purpose-built music, podcast, photography, and video editing facilities, all catering to the needs of today’s artists and creatives. The range of packages available gives individuals a choice of flexible and affordable coworking solutions, providing members with the space, resources and network needed to write, produce and record to a professional level.
“Working as a music producer for the past five years, I have struggled tirelessly to find flexible and affordable studio space with a real sense of community,” said Amin Hamzianpour, co-founder of The Qube. “Most creators are facing this same battle; artists, podcasters, songwriters, photographers, youtubers, video editors, directors working from home or in dingy basement studios feeling isolated, with no real sense of belonging. We’ve set out to bridge that gap with Qube; a home for a new generation of creators to connect, collaborate and most importantly feel inspired to create their best work.”
“We have seen a massive expansion in the coworking market over the past few years, with a wide range of operators bringing much needed choice to serve all types of office workers, but Qube has identified that there is a lack of similar options available for the UK’s flourishing arts and creative industry,” said Tim Mills, founder partner at the Angel CoFund. “Amin and Nicholas have a clear vision, borne from their own extensive experience, to give access to tier 1 facilities for creatives across the sector, and bring people together in a vibrant environment where ideas get the best chance to thrive. The UK has an incredible creative community, and the Qube will give it space fit for the 21st century.”
We’ve all heard of old boys’ clubs. Allbright is new a collective seeking to build that level of cohesion and support among entrepreneurial women.
Allbright is a membership club that supports women and their careers by offering skills, networking opportunities, events, and space. The AllBright Academy offers a 10-week course for business woman and early stage founders, while at Allbright spaces in London (and soon coming to cities in the US) there are regular events on topics such as Building Your Brand, Motherhood, and Careers in Entertainment.
Founded by Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow in 2017, today the women’s collective is announcing a €14.5 million funding round led by Cain International, bringing the total amount of capital raised to over €28 million, and valuing the company at over €110 million.
Cain International is leading the round as AllBright capitalizes on the success of the opening of its two UK women’s members clubs, with plans to open new clubs in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC in the coming months. This investment round is set to fund the international roll-out of these further sites, following the successful launch of AllBright Connect, the digital app which connects and cultivates global sisterhood; the AllBright Magazine; and the release of the founders’ book, Believe, Build, Become.
Angel investors also participated in the round, including Allan Leighton, Gail Mandel, Stephanie Daily Smith, and Darren Throop.
“We are hugely excited about the global expansion of AllBright, to the US and beyond,” said Debbie Wosskow OBE, co-founder of AllBright. “Since launching AllBright, we have grown rapidly into a destination brand for women from all sectors. AllBright has galvanized a strong and dynamic community of like-minded women and we are excited about growing this community globally as we continue to develop the business.”
“We believe in AllBright,” said Jonathan Goldstein, CEO of Cain International. “Since Cain International’s initial investment in 2017, we have supported the execution of the business’s long-term growth strategy and watched with pride as it has created a supportive space for working women to achieve their goals and given them with the tools to do so. Our US footprint positions us perfectly to help Anna and Debbie realize their vision of growing AllBright and its digital network on a global scale.”
Cluj-Napoca-based startup Blugento’s core business is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution for e-commerce. Using the Magento framework, Blugento’s platform enables business owners to effectively create e-shops and automate their online business processes.
Founded in 2016, the startup has just raised an investment of €1 million from the Polish group R22 to boost international expansion, invest in new e-commerce products, and grow its business support services for established offline business owners that are looking to add an online revenue stream.
“Our expansion plans target both new markets and new products,” said Jakub Dwernicki, CEO of R22. “We have built a comprehensive portfolio of services and tools that enable entrepreneurs to develop their online business and support them in automating business processes. Blugento is a unique tool that allows fast and cost-effective creation of professional online stores. The company has proven its value on the Romanian market and is ready for international expansion.”
Blugento previously raised a round of €120k in 2017, and following the latest investment the company is estimated to be valued at around €3.8 million.
The company’s development plan includes upgrading its e-commerce solutions with the latest state-of-the-art technologies such as Magento 2, Progressive Web APP, Serverless and Kubernetes. It also plans to expand into two new markets, France and Poland.
In 2018, e-commerce in Romania grew 30%, reaching a total of €3.5 billion. This represents the highest growth in Europe for the second consecutive year, demonstrating the huge potential for developing online stores in the country. Blugento plays a unique and important role in the economy’s GDP, in the same way telecoms infrastructure did back in the old days – the company has a unique advantage of creating a strong e-commerce market within and outside of Romania.
“The partnership with the R22 Group will help us reach our development goals, create the best e-commerce solution for small and medium-sized businesses and expand ourselves internationally,” said Sandu Băbăşan, CEO of Blugento. “The support from R22 includes not only development funding, but also access to know-how and a base of more than 250,000 Group customers, we are on a mission to hit a 0.2 seconds load time and support 1000+ online shops in Romania.”
Blugento plans to expand its team with technology and business specialists in e-commerce, and reach 35 employees by the end of the year.