Destly is an online travel club that offers discounts on hand picked hotels. The idea is to provide customers with more inspiring travel experiences at a better price. Many hotels are not fully booked constantly and the company therefore has a deal with many of these to rent out rooms at a discount during periods of lower occupancy. I sat down with the CEO and co-founder Louise Brudö, who spoke about Destly’s progression and the ups and downs of the business.
From media producer to entrepreneur
Before she entered the entrepreneurial world, Louise studied a three year long program to become a media producer. During that time she felt that she wanted to find her niche, since the education was quite broad in its approach. Therefore, she turned her attention to Gothia Science Park in Skövde, where she started studying at their entrepreneurial school focused on business development. One of the assignments was to develop a business idea for a year. Gradually she started to get the hang of it and saw the potential and opportunities of having your own company. She did not continue with that particular business idea after the degree, since she wanted to work for a couple of years before getting involved in the startup sphere again. Around this period she got in touch with Venture Cup and found their concept to be intriguing:
I really wanted to work there so I picked up the phone and called them. They did not have any available positions at that time, but I was stubborn and managed to get involved. At first, my assignments were to answer the phone and hand out posters and flyers downtown. I showed a great interest in the organization and when there was an open position later on, I applied and got it. I worked there for about three and a half years and served as Regional Manager during my last year.
It was a valuable experience for Louise and she met entrepreneurs, worked with startups and read business plans. But the time had come for another challenge. She ended up as a consulting manager at Hogia, a medium-sized SaaS (software as a service) provider. After some time it became clear that she missed the entrepreneurial life. Subsequently, she spoke to Chalmers Innovation which had a project they wanted to evaluate and Louise became a part of the process.
Bringing the idea to fruition
There are four people behind Destly – Louise, David Brudö, Chrille Pettersson and Anders Wiredal. Louise explains the idea:
All of us love to travel and when we were young we did not care about the standard of accomodation that much, as long as we got to see the world. But now when we are a bit older we are also more picky. We realize the comfort of staying at a nice hotel, but we do not want it to cost the earth. Everyone should have the opportunity to stay at luxurious hotels without paying a ridicolous amount of money.
The four of them started to toss the idea around in 2010. They got their inspiration from the French company Voyage Privé, a highly successful luxury travel club. There was nothing like it in Scandinavia and the team started developing the concept. Louise ran the company, Anders developed the site, Chrille worked with web strategy and design and David, a strategic mind, looked for potential investors.
Louise called Claes Bjerkne, former CEO of Göteborg & Co., and presented the idea. At the time he was Chairman of the Board at the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Association. She asked him for contacts in the hotel industry, since the founders were not that well informed about the industry. Through that they got in touch with a woman who served as hotel executive at Radisson Blue and recieved a lot of good advice and suggestions.
David and I went there with a case we had built, but we had no website or members. She started mentioning different industry metrics and terms, which we did not have a clue about. We learned a lot from that meeting and she liked our idea. That inspired us to develop the concept further.
Later on Louise started to list four and five star hotels in Sweden and throughout the world and cold called them to sell Destly’s idea. There were a lot of phone calls, but finally they got their first hotel partner and launched the company in January of 2011. They had previously been in discussions with business angel and entrepreneur Magnus Emilson (Tradedoubler, Jetshop, Burt, Livebookings) and his company Visit Technology Group became a founding investor. Destly started to grow gradually and could hire several people. They offer trips all over the world, but mostly in Europe and Scandinavia. There has been an increase in bookings throughout the whole year and not just during holiday periods.
Competition and hurdles
The company has developed a unique idea in the Scandinavian market, but there is still competition. One of the competitors is Secret Escapes, an enterprise that got started in Great Britain. They have now established themselves in Sweden, Germany and Denmark. But Louise also points out that there are secondary competitors like Groupon and Let’s Deal, but she is not that worried about new actors entering the market:
You can easily become nervous when a big actor enters the market, but I feel that we have a strong market position due to our approach to customers and partners.
As previous articles have stated on Swedish Startup Space, the financial aspect can be a troubling one. This was also the case for Destly:
I think the climate has become tougher for startups that need external funding. When I worked at Venture Cup there were more angel investors and financial support. And being a startup like Destly, without a unique business idea, it is difficult. We were lucky to meet Magnus Emilson and Visit that supported us from the beginning.
Louise further elaborates on the problem and explains that fewer investors are willing to support you in the early phases where there is a big risk. It is not an easy task to find financial backers, but Destly found one in Chalmers Innovation Seed Fund, who invests in early stages.
Initially, the team also realized that they needed a lot of resources when it came to marketing. They hoped that viral marketing would work and that the company could reach a big audience, but it is hard to get through all the noise on the Internet. At the moment Destly mainly market themselves digitally with, for instance, Facebook campaigns. But they also collaborate with other companies and partners, which in turn generates more members.
Based in Gothenburg
The Destly office is located in downtown Gothenburg and the plan has always been to have the base there. Louise explains:
There are more decision makers in Stockholm, so seen through that lens the climate is a bit tougher in Gothenburg. In the beginning, when we looked for investors, we had to go to Stockholm almost every week. But I like Gothenburg – I have a lot of friends who run companies and we try to get together. The startup community is more developed in Stockholm though, with meetups and such. We have tried to do it here, but no one is in charge and all of us are quite busy. You do not necessarily think about Gothenburg as a startup community, but I think that will change in the coming years.
Destly is right in the middle of building a good, profitable and steady company with a solid foundation. The goal is to enter other Scandinavian markets and to have a continued strong market position. Louise ends on this note:
We are focusing on Sweden at the moment, as there is plenty to do here, and we will expand once the time is right.