The Munich startup Holidu is a search engine for vacation rentals. The company was founded in 2014 by Johannes and Michael Siebers. The two brothers came up with the idea while planning a joint surfing vacation with friends. Now with more than 150 employees, the company offers its vacation rental comparison service in more than 20 markets across the world. We spoke with the founders.
Michael Siebers encountered the startup world quite early on. He worked for Zalando during and after his studies in computer science. He learned a lot during that time. Michael Siebers recounted:
“I was one of the early team members and helped scale the Zalando team to more than 600 developers. I worked closely with Arash Yalpani during that time, who was CTO then. He was also one of Holidu’s first angel investors and is still a consultant and friend.”
Michael’s brother Johannes contributes the commercial expertise. He earned his diploma in business studies after studying international business administration in Tübingen, Madrid and Sydney. After graduating, he worked with different startups at Siemens in the field of venture capital. Johannes Siebers said:
“I saw that anything is possible with good ideas and hard work. I picked up that enthusiasm.”
The founding brothers have divided up the areas of the company based on their expertise. As CEO, Johannes is responsible for business development, finance and marketing. Michael is CTO and heads the technology team as well as areas such as business intelligence and technical product management. Shortly after founding the company, Rasmus Porsgaard got on board as co-founder.
A strong network
Some of the reasons Holidu ended up in Munich include Johannes’ exciting network from his job in VC and the close bond they feel with Munich. Johannes said:
“Everyone who has or wants to start a company in Munich understands the importance of the support provided and a strong network. Even before founding Holidu, we were already networked with the Munich Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship thanks to an EXIST grant.”
“Munich is also super in the technical field in terms of education in technical professions. And, last but not least: the quality of life! Munich is an exciting big city, but still relaxed.”
How a surfing vacation turned into a business idea
The brothers came up with their idea — how could it have happened any other way — while planning a trip. Johannes explained:
“We came up with the idea to create a vacation rental search engine while planning a surfing vacation with friends. We had the task of finding a place to stay. While doing so, we realized: An unbelievable number of platforms were offering the same houses at very different prices and with different availability.”
And: Before Holidu was founded, a metasearch engine actually didn’t exist in the area yet. What’s special about Holidu is the company’s own development of image recognition technology that reliably recognizes if the same vacation house is listed on different platforms. The prices for the exact same vacation house for the same period of time can vary by up to 55%.
The challenge: finding employees
After founding the company, one of the biggest challenges was to quickly establish a top-quality team, said Michael:
“When you have very little to show in the beginning, it’s not that easy to convince potential employees to get on board with you and have confidence that the company will develop successfully.”
Good developers are particularly tough to come by. Nonetheless, Holidu overcame the challenge and is now in an excellent position with a team of more than one hundred employees who are passionate about traveling and tech.
Something that was also difficult for the founders: imagining how everything might take place before founding the company. That made outside advice important for Holidu, as was remaining open for further development. Johannes added:
“Benefitting from the experience and tips from world-class individuals was worthwhile in every aspect. But: In the end, you still have to make decisions yourself.”
His brother Michael said:
“Important decisions usually have to be made extremely fast in a startup. That requires stable processes and a clear direction. And that is also extremely exciting.”
What is a bit of a downer: Although the founders deal with vacations every day, the two are not able to travel as much as they used to. After all, the Munich startup also wants to meet the major demand on an international scale and is therefore active in more than 20 markets around the world. The founders mentioned that a total of more than one million people have booked their vacation through Holidu.
And where is the Holidu journey headed? Towards continued rapid growth and international expansion? Or perhaps towards focusing on systematic further development of the product? Michael said:
“We’re relying more and more on artificial intelligence so our users can find the right vacation home even faster.”
They also plan to keep working on their product. It’s already possible to compare millions of offers on roughly 500 different booking platforms. In the near future, it should be possible to compare more than 1000 vacation rental providers. And in three years?
“In three years, we want it to be possible to search through and book the world’s entire offer of vacation homes on our platform,”