‘We are in a position to challenge Berlin as a start-up location.’
Urlaubsguru (MyHolidayguru) founder Daniel Krahn talks about the Metropolis Ruhr as a start-up location
With the start-up scene in the Metropolis Ruhr growing, the City of Cities has an increasing number of initiatives, advice centres and competitions to promote innovative new companies. One of the most well-known start-ups internationally in the region is Urlaubsguru.de, an online portal for holiday deals that has made its home across from Dortmund Airport. We spoke with founder Daniel Krahn about its development. At just 35 years old, Daniel recently became the youngest member of the Senate of Economy.
Shortly after nine o’clock, an upbeat Daniel Krahn, bronzed from a recent trip to Bora Bora, arrived at the open-plan office. With lots of green plants, extensive glass and modern furniture and fixtures, the office has a friendly and open vibe. There is a relaxation room with a TV fireplace and a games room with a football table and ping-pong table. Daniel heads UNIQ GmbH with his friend and business partner Daniel Marx. Through its online portal, the company brokers 200 million euros’ worth of holidays per year, and all within just the first five years since its founding.
Daniel, with Urlaubsguru you are already able to look back on a success story fit for Hollywood. A two-man team of hobbyists has become an enterprise with more than 170 employees, locations in Vienna and Rio de Janeiro, and 22 million visitors to its website per month. It would appear that you did everything right!
Daniel Krahn: Yes, from the outside it does often sound like we never make any mistakes, but of course we have run into trouble from time to time. We knew that we had it in us to succeed and tried to seize the opportunity to establish our company, even internationally. But there was no playbook that we could just pull out of the drawer and follow, nothing to model ourselves on. Thank goodness that out of ten decisions we made concerning which countries to set up Project Holidayguru in, more than half worked out OK.
Can you give us an example of something that didn’t go so well?
One time we only narrowly escaped a PR disaster, with 6.5 million Facebook fans, no less. We found out that the Ruhr way of thinking really is special when we made our local cinema advert for Unna. We had had it produced in-house for a good price with Ralf Richter from Bang Boom Bang [a German comedy film set in Unna]. It was a super clip – everyone thought it was funny. Until we posted it on Facebook. And we discovered that the bawdy Ruhr humour absolutely does not translate across regions. After a few hours we took it offline and we were gutted. But even with pitfalls like this, we just laugh it off.
What secret can you share with new entrepreneurs in the City of Cities from your experience? How does one start turning their big idea into a reality?
Daniel Krahn: I would always seek advice from the economic development agencies. Even today, we are still in constant contact with the local agency. Most recently, for example, we sought advice on fire protection in office buildings. As e-business experts, we naturally have no experience in this field, and the economic development agency provided quick and easy help. It is also a good idea to contact other start-ups that are already successfully established on the market. They can usually tell pretty quickly if a concept is missing something and give practical tips. And finally, I would also suggest finding good professional legal and tax advisers from the start, rather than risking it with dangerous half-information you might have found on Wikipedia.
The young start-up scene in the Metropolis Ruhr today has more advice centres and business networks than it did five years ago. For example, ruhr:HUB is the first port of call for digital business. Its start-up camp, Starbuzz, promotes digital business ideas from young companies in the fields of retail and logistics. Universities are establishing advice offices and entrepreneur centres, and there are more and more regular meet-ups and events for start-ups – including the international RuhrSummit conference which took place for the first time last year. And the 30 million euro Ruhr entrepreneurship fund provides a solid basis of financial support for innovative new companies. What are your thoughts on the optimism and ‘can-do’ spirit of the region?
Daniel Krahn: I agree, in recent years the start-up scene has really started to heat up. We don’t have to hide behind Berlin and the others. That was our thought from the beginning. In the entrepreneurial scene here, you see more of an active ‘get the work done’ approach. We get stuck in, rather than flitting off to parties to drink bubbly in Berlin. Of course we network as well, but that happens more often on the weekends playing football. During the week we focus more on the work. A great advantage of the Ruhr district is also the huge amount of universities in the region – the rest of Germany can’t compete with that. So we have all the opportunity to challenge Berlin as a start-up location. By the way, we are already seeing in our recruitment that a lot of people are moving here from Berlin, because they see that cool work can be done in the Ruhr district, too. Besides, we have the best currywurst here.
You are known for being from the Ruhr district. Do you see yourself as an ambassador for entrepreneurs in the Metropolis Ruhr?
Daniel Krahn: First and foremost, I see myself as a child of the Ruhr. My grandfather always said, ‘Everywhere else is crap.’ Home is simply the best. I would never consider moving somewhere else.
Of course we do a lot of indirect advertising for the region. For example, Facebook – which has its European headquarters in Dublin – once had to fly from Dublin to Dortmund instead of landing at the usual airports in Berlin or Hamburg. For things like that we act as ambassadors and naturally we show off Dortmund and Holzwickede. And our guests always say that this region is completely different from what they had imagined – they say it’s a lot greener, for example.
If you wanted a nice holiday in the Metropolis Ruhr, where would you pitch your tent?
Daniel Krahn: In Unna. On the Ostenberg. You get a wonderful view of Hamm from there, and it’s especially amazing on New Year’s Eve. It’s a panoramic scene spanning the old mine towers and the airport. I think it’s extremely beautiful and perfectly reflects the charm of the Ruhr district. It’s a shame that I have so little free time for it. I’m always looking forward and I know what our business will be doing in the coming days, weeks and months. So I probably won’t really appreciate this unbelievable time until I’m old and sitting in my rocking chair and can look back on everything and reflect on it in peace.
You’ve taken on another task this year: you were appointed to the Senate of Economy. The senators offer their experience to the top decision makers in politics and society. What is your role as an expert in digitisation?
Daniel Krahn: We advise political and scientific representatives, which is an exciting experience for me. Many of the older members tend to see the risks of digitisation, whereas the younger generation sees the opportunities. I think politics can’t avoid the issue. I provide information and explanations, so that Germany leaps forward and doesn’t lag behind. We’ll see what becomes of it.