Booking Local, Growing Global

Fredrik JanssonFredrik Jansson started HotelSpecials in 2003. Now this hotel-booking platform has grown to offer hotel deals and specials from more than 5000 hotels in 6 European countries (Norway, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark) How did Fredrik achieve success in this competitive and versatile industry for decades? What does the future has to hold for his highly localized business model?

The beginning of a decade long journey

Fredrik, 41 years old, is a Stockholm-based entrepreneur. “I was born in a family of entrepreneurs in the cold and snowy northern Sweden. Both my grandfather and father run their own small business. So, by the age of 20, I left my hometown for Gothenburg to participate in a training program for entrepreneurs. The people I met there inspired me to start something before getting too old with a nice and well-paid job.

HotelSpecials_logo-white-notldHotelSpecials was established in 2003 in The Netherlands by chance. My Dutch partner, Remco, was very good at manipulating Google search results before SEO practices became popular. Our first product was only a very simple homepage listing hotels. Then we started to get emails asking for bookings. One thing leads to another; a small booking engine was developed. The year 2007 marked a major change in our strategy: the site recorded over 1000 bookings per day. We realized HotelSpecials could be something big!

For a while, we have looked up to booking.com as the best company to learn from. They also started in The Netherlands, so, a big inspiration and competitor. However, while booking.com commoditizes hotel rooms and sell them to everyone on global scale, we focus on unit special offers on local level. For us, the purpose is not to have as many rooms at as many hotels but to list handpicked hotels with deeper offers like dinners, free upgrade or free kids. We always try to get extra discount for customers who are looking for package deals.”

Competing globally as local businesses

“In the beginning, driving traffic wasn’t an issue because we were at the top of the search game. However, as Google continuously upgrades its algorithm, we now rely more on our existing database of loyal customers and big online travel agencies like trivago, tripadvisor or skyscanner.

In fact, newsletter is currently our main source of sale leads despite many difficulties like aggressive spam filters or the possibility of pay-to-send newsletter to Gmail addresses. For us, those challenges can also be opportunities. If we are good enough to pass all filters, we will be the only one that can get to customers in the travel sector.

In the long term, branding is the top priority. We want to move away from the commodity market and be clearer about our focus on customers’ holiday experience instead of selling rooms. We want customers to see us as human with feelings instead of machines.

That is why we launch our websites with local domain for each country (hotelspecials.nl, hotelspecials.de, hotelspecials.be, hotelspecials.se, hotelspecials.dk, hotelspecials.no). Instead of an international corporation, we introduce ourselves as local experts – a bunch of local entrepreneurs who know the market and run a local website.

The difficulty is to be local on a large scale.

The difficulty is to be local on a large scale. It only takes 3 – 4 weeks to technically set up a new site with local domain. However, as all contents on our websites are in native language, deployment in a new country requires thorough analysis on the behavior patterns and interests of customers. Using AI to develop content can also be an interesting option in the future. For now, we chose to work with marketing or content partners before opening any new office with new international teams.”

“Germany is the most challenging country”

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HotelSpecials is available in 6 countries in Europe: The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. All these 6 websites are run by international teams located in Sweden, Germany and The Netherlands. “Germany is the most challenging country for us. It’s a huge market, which is very traditional and strictly regulated. You need to be super local to convince customers. A hard-to-get trust signal like local certifications can immensely boost the conversion rate of your site. They trick is to embrace the rules and business practices there.”

“Sweden, on the other hand, is much easier. Swedish do value quality and durability, but also keen on new things. We are savvy internet users equipped with broadband connection, laptop and big phones. Startups do not really need formal trust signs to attract curious consumers. That’s why there are a lot of startups coming from Sweden.”

The future of the hotel industry

“Airbnb is truly a game changer. Yet I am personally not convinced about the success of this venture-founded firm. It is operating on a low profit margin and competing against the giant booking.com. Hotelspecials is not a direct competitor of Airbnb because we are not going to include private apartments in our portfolio. This is something we learn along the way: stop doing everything and be a great niche player. Hotelspecials will focus on our core business – hotels. We want to help people spend great time together by removing the hassle of booking for dinners and the like. Hotelspecials is the one-stop shop for people who want to get away with their daily life and enjoy a short vacation. This year, we plan to relaunch the platform with new features and more mobile friendly interface – our biggest investment in a long time!

I see a bright future for the hotel industry.

In general, I see a bright future for the hotel industry. We should expect the rise of self-service hotels with mobile check-in and smart locks, where you can have immediate access to your room and pay without receptionists. Many hotel chains have come a long way in enhancing customer experience, creating major challenges for small and independent hotels.”

In 2016, Fredrik co – founded timetomeet.se, a real-time conference room booking platform. “The meeting industry is developing in the same patterns with the hotel industry 15 years ago. It is digitized very fast. In 2 – 3 years, online bookings can completely replace phone calls and emails for conference rooms. The market is profitable because the need for meeting rooms will evolve the same way as which for hotel rooms, but with the absence of big, international suppliers. It is, however, harder to scale up because localization is more stressed. Rarely would anyone from Stockholm book a meeting room in Paris, for example.”

Connect with Fredrik on Beeleev! Join the Community to connect with other innovative CEOs and grow your business: www.beeleev.com

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Infographic: Doing Business in Portugal

This week’s Infographic is about beautiful Portugal !

We worked alongside our partners from CMS Portugal to provide you with our second issue of Doing Business in PORTUGAL!

Hope you’re enjoying our new format! Please feel free to comment and tell us what you think. We’d really appreciate your feedback.

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Nicolas Hazard, Serial Social Entrepreneur

NH -3-42 PM 4182 1Voted “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2015, Nicolas Hazard is the perfect example of a successful social entrepreneur. When he founded INCO, a global accelerator supporting social enterprises, back in 2010, he managed to bring together the financial sector around social actions. We got the chance to interview him and get his take on his journey as a French entrepreneur in Austin, USA.

 

Entrepreneurship: A Means to an End?

The creation of a business often arises from the Entrepreneurs’ observation of their surroundings, with the goal of solving a problem. This is what happened when Nicolas Hazard founded INCO. He went through difference professional experiences abroad and in the French public sector and saw that his need for doing good was not being fulfilled with traditional means, as he tells us, I quickly noticed how limited political actions were”.

What was his solutions? He turned to entrepreneurship: “I decided to turn toward the private sector, specifically the entrepreneurship part of it, to induce a much-needed difference in this world. I decided to become an entrepreneur so as to become an actor of change and ameliorate the situation”. He then narrowed his attention to the financial sector. As he tells us, the 2008 financial crisis trigged this choice. After 2008, the financial sector was characterized by mistrust and fraudulent behavior, as Hazard points out: “I see finance as a tool that needed to be re-anchored in reality, at the service of startups who make the world more inclusive and sustainable”. This tool, usually used for profit driven behaviors, turned into something useful for the startup community, following his beliefs of making the world a better place.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Distinct Way of Doing Business

We can already start to notice that Nicolas Hazard differs from most entrepreneurs. He looks for a better economy, to make a social change, and uses social enterprise as a mean to an end. Social businesses are organizations that use commercial means to maximize a social or environmental outcome.

After graduating from Science Po Paris and HEC Hazard could have followed the path everyone has, of the traditional financial industry jobs. But he didn’t, and ended up creating INCO after working in different jobs abroad and in the French Public Sector.

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INCO operates in more than 20 countries with the goal of “creating economic opportunities for ALL.”.

The choice to make his company a social business reflects his views, but not only that. He wanted to make it a holistic company that helped startups from start to end: “INCO invest in companies who combined both a financial viability and a positive social and environmental impact. Since we quickly noticed that the startups we financed also needed some support to fully mature their projects, we decided to make INCO an integrated accelerator, combining all the stages of development needed for these young companies”, these include investment funds, incubation programs, workforce development and media.

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Mr. Hazard is also the president of CALSO, a non-profit organization helping disadvantage individuals on their journey to success. His companies are not the only mean he uses to reach that social business potential. He organizes each year the Impact. event, dedicated to social entrepreneurship, which brings together 1,500 political and economic decision-makers from 50 countries every year in Paris.

Austin, an Exemplary Technological Hub

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Austin, capital of Texas, with a population of 970,870 individuals, is where Mr. Hazard chose to create one of his incubation programs. An entrepreneur may overview a city like Austin as a place to set up a business and go for more mainstream locations like Silicon Valley, however they may be wrong. Hazard’s reasons to set up in Austin his incubation program, Tarmac TX, was well thought through:

“By exemplarily adding technological, entrepreneurial and academic talents, the city of Austin became one of the major technological hub where big companies in the likes of 3M, IBM, Google or even Silicone Labs implanted themselves. Besides, the administration of Austin, especially City Hall, wanted to make the city an example of inclusiveness and durability, capable of rising to the social and environmental challenges inherent to large metropoles. Austin is also known today for its excellent quality of life, with a dynamic cultural and artistic scene. So many reasons that pushed us to prioritize the capital of Texas compared to other American cities.

Where the Tech industry tries to answer the ecological challenges and fight against inequalities, INCO would like, with its partners, to be present to contribute to this convergence. It is in this very fertile context that in January 2016 in Austin, our program of incubation, Tarmac TX, was born. An adventure made possible thanks to strategic partnership made with the enterprise 3M.”

The French Social Know How

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France is known for many thing, like its food or the beauty of the country, but the French Social Know How is also something to be pointed out. As Hazard tells us “I personally try to export the “Social Made in France”, and in particular the model of social enterprises that unites economic performance and general interest, by putting vulnerable individuals back to work”. As an entrepreneur, he tells us that “there is a lot to learn from other countries, especially in the United States, where all entrepreneurial dreams can be realized.” And that is why he travels so much and exposes himself to “as many entrepreneurial mindsets as possible”. He also notes that France doesn’t have to be “ashamed” of itself in comparison to other countries, and this Social Know How is a very valuable asset. He also tells us that paradoxically “this model works well in the U.S., a country where they value individuals who give themselves a chance to succeed, whatever path they have”.

“Every Entrepreneur has his own experience, his own path”.

We asked him if he had any advice to give to entrepreneurs:

What I learned and I appreciate the most from the United States is that to be successful you first need to fail. When raising money, you need to be able to show that you have learned from your setbacks and that you weren’t discouraged. More than money and partners, who always end up being found if the project is good, you first need to be tenacious and know how to admit what did not work the first time, so as to be able to start again.”

An Article by Syrah Ribourel

Connect with other Entrepreneurs on Beeleev! Join the Community to connect with other innovative CEOs and grow your business: www.beeleev.com

Infographic: Doing Business in India

Hear Hear!

You might have noticed, but a lot of changes are happening within Beeleev. First, we launched our Community Platform and now, a new format is born: the Doing Business Infographic!

Much more readable and comprehensive, it will include all the important informations for developing your business abroad: macroeconomic country data, ease of doing business and cultural specificities to take into account.

We worked alongside our partners from CCI India to provide you with our first issue of Doing Business in INDIA!

Hope you’ll enjoy the format! Please feel free to comment and tell us what you think. We’d really appreciate your feedback.

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Doing Business In Japan: Interview with Aurore Leauté (Video)

Interview of Aurore Chasseloup Leauté, Founder of Ohward and Aura Legal, about her experience of Doing Business in Japan as a French Entrepreneur. (Transcript below)

“Hello My name is Aurore and I am a Lawyer. I created my law firm specialized in corporate law, that I tried to build like a startup: flexible and innovative. I also have experience in the customers experience field. And I created a startup that was called Ohward, that had the aim of matching former CEOs with acting ones for an exchange of experiences.”

Doing Business in Japan: What are the difficulties?

“While working in customer’s experience, I was in charge of international business. I thus developed a subsidiary in Tokyo. The first the step was to find a team there. We wanted to find locals (Japanese) and not Europeans to develop the business in Japan. This was the first difficulty, finding a Japanese who was capable of developing a business from scratch, able to meet our international clients but especially someone who would accept to work in a small French entreprise.

Furthermore, the Labor Laws in Japan are very similar to the ones in France, meaning ithey come at a high cost. We finally found someone amazing and this first step cleared.

The second one was to adapt to the culture, and to how they run a business. Japanese have a lot of respect and even in business, they never say “no”. And if they don’t say no, we cannot assume they mean “yes”, because its is just their way to be polite. This can bring a certain amount of misunderstanding. And finally, their time management is different. For example the time required to sign a contract is very long. You can’t be impatient and rush, you need to learn to be patient.”

How to Succeed In Japan ?

“Its an incredible experience and very rewarding. My advice in a few points, is the following. First, is that a person needs to know how to take their time. A Japanese was telling me that a French company needs 7 years to gain the trust of Japanese companies and enter in partnership with them. Second, you need cash, as Japan is relatively expensive. Third you need to be open minded, you can’t impose your way of doing and thus accept the Japanese Culture. And last point you need to mix the companies on a local level, mix Japanese and Europeans together in both locations.”

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8 Last Minute Gifts for Entrepreneurs

Faking gratitude when receiving a no-good gift is never very pleasant. But things get awkward (and even a bit heartbreaking) when you realize that your gifts to someone will end up rotting in a corner right after the wrapper is off.
No more suffering from bad gifts and fake smiles! We have a great list of helpful and irresistible gifts for those entrepreneurs you call family or friends.

Subscriptions to an Online Learning Platform

In comparison with a shopping gift card, a gift code that gives access to a learning platform is a much more enticing and practical gift for learners. There are several platforms you could look into: Coursera is the place to go for certified courses delivered by top universities and educational institutions that can lead you to obtain an actual degree. For more specific courses, Udemy and Lynda are good options. With modules ranging from business to science, your gift can’t be left unused. The only drawback is that only Udemy has an option for gift giving…

Tickets to a World-Class Business Event

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You’ll surely notice the rising excitement when your special someone will open his present and find  a ticket to the upcoming CES, SXSW, WebSummit or Viva Technology (of which Beeleev is a partner). More than an event, you are giving an entrepreneur the opportunity to increase his visibility amongst inspiring and like-minded people. However, make sure he’s available when the event happens or you will both end up crying over spilled milk.

A Book (or Books!)

Books are common but golden. Take a look at our Summer Reads list for inspiration (those books work for winter, spring and autumn too)! However, for this holiday season, we’d like to add some more titles:
First, the book Sapiens and its sequel Homodeus summarize in a relatable way the history of humankind and where we are heading to in the future. Not interested? There’s The Social Animal, a book that looks into sociology, psychology, and biology just to give you a comprehensive explanation on human behavior. And last but not least, classic non-fiction books like The 4th Industrial Revolution or The Design of Everyday Things should also be alternatives.

A Productivity Gadget

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If you want the gift to fall more on the comforting side, a productivity gadget is the key. Depend on your budget, the choices range from a simple mug warmer to a fancy smart note/smart pen or noise-cancelling headphone. While a mug warmer is the perfect gift for someone who wants their drinks hot all the time, a smart notebook or smart pen is an interesting and practical upgrade for the old style note takers who have too much notes to reorganize manually. And don’t forget noise-cancelling headphones! It’s just a great boost that helps you stay focused during both work and travel.

A cool stationary product

downloadYes, we have mentioned smart notebooks and smart pens, yet, traditional paper and ink still have their charm. Fountain pens or leather journals remain appreciated.
Beside the classic plain journal, look for an artsy update with a pre-printed Bullet Journal. A Bullet Journal is the mix of a diary, a planner and a to-do list. It’s trendy to get a blank notebook and do all the drawing and design by yourself, however, if the lucky recipient isn’t that good at drawing or just simply too busy for that, get him a professionally drawn bullet journal.

A leather bag

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It’s elegant, classy and most of all, practical. An ideal leather bag should be big enough to fit a notebook, a book, a laptop, a phone, a headphone and possibly make-up. The thing is, a leather bag will always complement one’s look, regardless of his conservative suit and tie or smart casual office attire. A great gift (not only for yourself)!

We hope to have sparked a few good ideas for your last minute shopping! In anycase, we at Beeleev wish you Happy holiday and a lot of success for the year to come!

Looking Forward to your International Success!

 

The Czech FinTech Company That is Taking Central Europe by Storm

We got to interview Michal Smida just several weeks after his Series A Round in October 2017. Our first impression: he’s a man of details who appreciates timely manners. His company, Twisto, proposes an alternative to traditional credit cards for online shoppers. Initially launched in June 2013, Twisto has successfully earned a steady base of more than 250,000 customers in Czech Republic. Michal enthusiastically started our conversation by explaining his expansion plan for next year, both in terms of product portfolio and market.

Twisto Payment and Where to Find It

The emergence of “Buy now – Pay later” services is a huge boost to e-commerce sales. While Klarna (a Swedish solution) is on the rise in Western Europe and PayID covers Eastern Europe well, Central or Mid-Europe is left vacant. That’s where Twisto stepped in. Taking off from Prague, Michal and his team plan to expand to Warsaw, Poland in 2018.

“Poland is a very competitive market. Its population is around 40 million, compared to only 10.5 million in Czechia. E-commerce there is growing at 20% per year, twice the rate  in Czechia, with a yearly turnover of €7.5 – 8 billion. That’s why we are working very actively with ING Bank, and investor in the Series A for the launching of our payment solution in Poland next year”.

What exactly are Twisto’s solutions?

“To make it simple, we are a credit card”, Michal explains. Twisto currently offers two services: Twisto Now and Twisto Account. Twisto Now is a payment method that can be integrated into e-shops. Twisto pays the merchants on behalf of customers after running a credit check. They then have a 14-day product trial before paying Twisto back. Twisto Account, on the other hand, is the follow-up product. With a Twisto Account, customers enjoy a full month of shopping on credit (extendable, can be paid in installments) and an online finance management platform (including the ability to pay utilities bills by uploading photos of the invoices).

“Recently – beginning of December – we have launched with a German bank the Wirecard Twisto card and payment bracelet, which will allow holders to pay anywhere in the world with a Twisto account.”

What makes Twisto different?

Michal spent 11 years abroad before setting up Twisto in Prague. “I lived in the US, then Moscow and went to King’s College in London. After working 3 years for Barclays Capital London, I decided to come back to my home country and start a business. The bank is a great start. Yet I just felt unfit with the culture and how banks are moving away from real customers.”

Michal and his team are on a mission towards a simple and fair financing for the online generation. “The market of consumer finance is dominated by banks, which often reject young students, freelancers and young families. The strict risk scoring models of banks opt for profiles with stable employment or certain level of education. Those ignored customers will be able to finance their daily purchases with Twisto instead of banks because we use alternative data sources and apply different statistical models to determine risks.”

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At Twisto, machine learning and neural network replace the simple logistic regression models used by traditional banks. Online transactions history becomes the major determinant of risk management. “Twisto simply offers a different approach to credit scoring. Without a banking license and its strict tag-along regulations, we can be more creative in determining the credit risk of clients and tackle new groups of customers.”

Twisto’s risk engine is named Nikita. “For now, Twisto services are only available to Czech citizens. But as we are going to Poland next year, Nikita will be adjusted to fit with local risk patterns.”

Why does it have to be Czech?

Mid 2013, Twisto took their first steps in Prague, Czech. However, Michal seemed a bit surprised when being asked about setting up a business in Czech Republic. “I mean, Czech is a great country, but a small market with only around 10.5 million people. Here you will find talents with good technical skills at a fraction of the cost in other European countries. Plus, big communities of investors increase your chance of getting funds at early stage. The thing is: Czech is good place to start. But if you want to raise money for your business, a global ambition is vital.”, Michal concluded.

Connect with Michal on Beeleev! Join the Community to connect with other innovative CEOs and grow your business: www.beeleev.com