For a change, winning growth prizes matters for FindHotel

This is an exceptional year for everyone in general, and anyone in the travel industry in particular. In such exceptional times even stubborn founders like myself re-evaluate their choices.

One such choice for me was participating in the various ‘startup growth competitions’.

Naturally, I am a big believer in ‘grow or die’ for a technology company. A good company should either reap rewards of its past investment through years of expansion, or expand its services towards a wider market, preferably some combination of both. Growth is the outcome of that, and while for FindHotel our main growth KPI is gross margin and not revenue, the two are often heavily correlated and it is perfectly reasonable to measure a company via its absolute revenues & growth.

I am less of a believer of chasing ‘growth for the sake of growth’, which often happens when companies raise capital early and are measured mainly by that matrix. I also dislike the fact that in the search of the headline grabber that is ‘absolute growth percentage’, most competitions ignore relevant minimum revenue benchmarks in either the start or the final year of comparison.

Thus, when asked in company events ‘why don’t we participate in Deloitte Fast 50' or similar competitions, I often replied that these are not capturing companies such as FindHotel well enough, and we could do very well without these public recognitions as a rapidly growing & profitable company.

But this year is different

2020 started very well for us, with our key indicator of ‘bookings’ showing YoY growth of 88% on January and 145% on February, indicating that we may be heading to revenue growth of ±100% for the year. We were enjoying growth as our hybrid marketplace product design begun baring fruits (with customers finding better deals either on FindHotel’s booking engine or on our partners websites), and were overall riding a very successful expansion strategy that helped bring the FindHotel brand to every price sensitive marketing channel in the Western world.

Then Corona happened, bringing cancellations of bookings worth >€20M in GBV almost overnight, while very little travel demand remained for the next few months. On summer things picked up rapidly (as I mentioned on the PhocusWire podcast at the end of May when the signs were clear), but in September Europe started shutting down again, bringing a second (though smaller) wave of cancellations and another period of limited demand outside local travels in APAC & some segments in US & the Americas.

So we are now in another, much lighter ‘all hands on deck’ period, which one must get accustomed to as startup founders in a competitive industry such as travel, though in normal periods we won’t see it happening twice in a six months period.

In times like that we like to show that we are a very successful company that will make it to the other side of this crisis.

Since the crisis is not over yet, there is no better way to show it then marking the two growth mentions we received in the past months (for our growth in 2015-2019).

The first is Deloitte Fast 500 EMEA where our 185% growth during 2015–2018 got us to place 467 in EMEA. Deloitte’s criteria is purely revenue growth, and the two leaders raised between them €2Bn in VC funding, but I am gracious for FindHotel to have made the cut nonetheless.

The second is Netherlands’ FD Gazellen 2020 where 138% in growth during 2017–2019 got us the 24th spot in the Western midsized category (€5M-€10M revenues in the base year). One aspect I appreciate in this contest is the fact companies had to maintain profitability in both 2018 & 2019 in order to be included, which makes the comparison to FindHotel much more relevant.

Next year will be different too, as would 2022

Armed with the knowledge that we are a high growth company in both European & Dutch terms, we now have a public status to defend. In 2021 we will seek to participate in FD Gazellen again (this time in the ‘large’ company tier), and in 2023 might have enough growth to reappear on Deloitte’s Fast 500 once again.

This year we waved goodbye to our ‘YoY revenue growth’ status for 2020 earlier in November, having still grown through the end of October. Our performance is still well ahead of the broad travel industry which reported contractions of 53% for the first 9 months (Booking Holdings), 54% (Expedia Group) and 68% (Trivago).

That comparison means we have more than doubled our market share this year and are in an excellent starting point for the inevitable travel recovery that will start sometime in 2021, however hard it is for us to mark a (single digits) decline in revenues in a calendar year for the first time in the company’s history.

But travel is certain to soon return, and we will be there with our full (and still growing) team, updated strategy & improved product base and far more ambitious goals than we ever set when travel was a highly competitive industry in ‘crises beating’ steady growth (see graph above).

It is obvious for me that we stand every chance to resume great growth in the next years, and I promise to share these as 2021 & 2022 conclude in similar fashion, prizes won or lost.