The startup offers tours, activities and providers of small accommodations with a technology solution covering sales, marketing and administration.
The founders of Denmark-based Holdbar, which raised $1M in early 2022, previously founded experiences platform Truestory.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
For tours, activities and smaller accommodations who want more bookings, happier guests, and less stress, we offer an all-in-one system for sales, administration and marketing that makes it easier to reach potential guests and let those guests book an experience. Ultimately that can turn passion into profits.
And in comparison to existing ways of working, where many systems and features are stitched together, leaving the operator with a sub-optimal, fragile setup, Holdbar allows the customer to collect all core functions and features in a single user-friendly and reliable system - where the customer owns their data and the relationship with their customers. But it's also a system that is built open from the get-go, allowing our customers to use pre-built apps, but also to do more custom integrations using the Holdbar OpenAPI.
Holdbar is Scandinavian for long-lasting. Holdbar is a vertical SaaS bet in the $150 billion tours and activities industry, where more than half of all transactions still happen offline.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
Holdbar is a fairly "classic" SaaS model, where we charge the customer a monthly license to use the system and a usage-based fee on the transactional volume going through the system. It's a vertical all-in-one software platform, where the core of the system is made up of the essential tools and processes that 9 of 10 customers need. On top of that we are soon launching an app marketplace, where apps can be added to your Holdbar account, to tailor the solution to your exact needs, e.g., an app integrating your Holdbar account with your financial system of choice. It also has an Open API, which opens up the door to a lot of integrations to third-party platforms and systems.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- Strengths: A platform that gives you all the essential tools to run and grow your business. Built on great, highly scalable tech with an interface layer made extremely intuitive and user-friendly, designed and built based on more than 10 years of experience in the industry and based on a direct collaboration with more than 2000 operators.
- Weaknesses: Still a small team with experience from only a few smaller markets: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In order for Holdbar to become a global success, we need to add competencies and experience with a more broad, global expansion strategy.
- Opportunities: Our knowledge and goodwill in the Nordic markets allow us to create a proof of both concept, business and scale very efficiently. We know exactly what the customers need and have extensive experience with building those solutions and capabilities already. Based on our experience in the industry and our track record in terms of creating companies within “hospitality tech,” we are able to attract a lot of great talent, despite only having existed for two months.
- Threats: It's very clear that the shift from offline to online, that is about to happen within tours and activities, will happen in a very accelerated way. So if we cannot execute fast enough, we might miss a very attractive market opportunity.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
More than half of all bookings, especially for inbound tourism, are handled “offline” through tourism offices, email, and phone calls, leaving customers frustrated, and operators stressed and overwhelmed. With Holdbar, we want to help the operator get more exposure and offer a better customer experience from the very get-go when the customer is researching what to do.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
We believe in a hybrid approach, where a product-led model will drive a lot of inbound leads, which we are already experiencing, but furthermore, we want to be very proactive in various markets in terms of introducing Holdbar to as many operators as possible.
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Furthermore, we do already see a very strong referral effect in different sub-categories, e.g., we now have 15 breweries and distilleries using Holdbar, all based on one single customer that the rest are following and talking to. The recent investment raised allows us to set up a go-to-market team very effectively.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We got known in the Nordics for having built great tech for the industry, which created an organic and unexpected demand for that tech to power the individual operators. We believe the size of the market is vast, and can best be explained by underlining the total size of the tours and activities market, which is estimated to be at around $150 billion, combined with the fact that more than half of all transactions - and operators - are still handled offline.
How and when will you make money?
We don't plan to become profitable for the first few years. However, we have a business model and gross profit margin level that allows us to become rather quickly profitable if we need to.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?
Holdbar was founded by Lars Rasmussen, CTO, and myself, Lasse Kjaer, CEO. We both started several businesses (and sold several of them) in the past 15 years since we were teenagers. Together we founded Truestory in 2012, which we bootstrapped from 0 to being the leading experience platform in Scandinavia, with a sales volume of more than $10 million and more than 30 employees.
How have you addressed diversity and inclusion within your business?
Our experience has taught us that the best team and culture are created through diversity, honesty, and open-mindedness. We hire the best talent we find, not constrained by factors like gender, location, religion, or anything like that.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
Choosing a system like Holdbar is a pretty big decision and something that requires a lot of trust in the system and the people behind it. In many ways, the customer chooses to build a lot of key aspects of their business around Holdbar, which leaves us with a big responsibility in terms of stability, speed and support. This is something we constantly have to keep in mind and respect. It also means that the onboarding process can be pretty demanding and - in some cases - slow. This isn't a problem per se, but something we have had to build our setup and processes to accommodate.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
We have already proven that we can succeed in the industry with our previous startup. And our beta period has shown product-market fit with strong customer feedback and zero churn. That, combined with our go-to-market strategy and network, makes our odds of succeeding rather high compared to competitors starting from scratch. Making this a huge success will require world-class execution and luck. We do believe the first created the latter.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?
I believe that we, in a year from now, will have proved the business case in terms of initial growth and scalability, meaning that we have onboarded at least 200 customers and have gotten a very strong, dedicated team in place to execute on the long-term vision of the company.
What is your endgame (going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)?
First, we build momentum and substantial scale based on a long-term-oriented approach to delivering impact and value to the industry and the customers. We want to put ourselves and the company in a position that leaves several opportunities on the table.
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PhocusWire profiles startups in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.