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EXCLUSIVE: This Entrepreneur Built A $7B Business Without Outside Funding. Here’s How He Did It

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Tim Hentschel is the CEO of HotelPlanner.com, probably the most important traveling booking platform you haven’t heard of.

Tim’s platform handles billions in transactions a year, powering all the booking sites you know. 

Altogether, HotelPlanner provides group travel technology expertise to over 4.2M group event planners while servicing $7B in group hotel booking requests in 2017.

(They expect $10B in 2018.)

Since launching in 2003—bootstrapped (the way we like it, WealthGANG)—Tim has raised money, paid back investors, scaled the platform to billions in transactional value.

And as of this year, he’s also won Cornell University’s award as Hospitality Innovator of the year, taking the prize from Lyft CEO, John Zimmer.

This is his story.

Solving problems

HotelPlanner.com was an idea birthed from frustration with inefficiency.

“There was a huge pain point in rate procurement process for groups,” he says. “It would take days, sometimes weeks, to get an answer.”

“A sales manager would ask you where your place of work is, all of the details about your contact information. They will come back and continue to keep asking and asking until they give you a rate,” Hentschel explains.

Like a true entrepreneur, Hentschel was able to simplify the group booking process. “We just ask where you are going, what your budget is, the dates and the number of rooms.”

And boom, the business was born.

Next thing you know, Hentschel and co-founder John Prince scored a bevy of Q-rated clients like Best Western, AT&T, and Walmart.

(They’ve since expanded to major sports leagues, including the NBA and NFL.)

Flipping the model

Despite the simplicity of the process, the business model is quite unique. Hentschel says the site launched on the back of an uncommon financial engineering decision.

What it effectively does is enable a reverse auction process—permitting hotels to bid on travel groups.

Whatever the occasion, the users can submit their requirements like the number of rooms needed (with a minimum of 9+ rooms per night) and the dates, and companies will compete to get the business.

Thus ensuring the best rate for the group.

Better yet, the brand has partnered with lots of affiliates like Orbitz, Kayak, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline, helping them tap into an expansive user base.

The process is extremely simple, and leaves no room for extra hassles.

Instead of screening for excess info, HotePlanner.com scratched out all of these requirements.

In addition to the current client list, the travel platform is betting big on expansion through acquisitions.

After its launch, the company’s acquired TravelTicker, Hotel Hotline, and very recently folded accommodation auction site BackBid into HotelPlanner’s suite of services.

It’s a disciplined approach, he tells us. 

“Our initial valuation was based on the cash we needed to reach profitability in relation to the equity we were willing to give up. Our 60 pages of market research helped investors believe that we could hit our targets with a very small initial raise by today’s standards,” Hentschel says.

“Our research was correct, and we hit profitability in our second year, and we never had to raise money again,” he adds.

Bootstrapped growth

In recent years, sectors like hospitality—and especially real estate—have seen a massive influx of capital inflows. One fund’s committed $93 billion to tech investments alone.

Despite all the VC dry powder looking for opportunity, Tim advises startups to stay as far away from funding for as long as they can.

“Think about it,” he says. “That big seven-figure, eight-figure check doesn’t go to you. It goes to the company, and you effectively lose control of your company. It’s business and the VCs can be ruthless.”

Instead, he recommends moving the focus to actually building the business.

“Focus on your core value. We filed a patent for our online group hotel booking technology 15 years ago, and we have been working everyday since to make that technology better for customers and suppliers,” he tells us.

What’s next on the cards?

While his company is busy garnering robust sales, Hentschel’s naturally bullish on the travel industry’s future.

The travel space is wedged into a transitional phase. Baby boomers who are spending their retirement traveling. Then we’ve got millennials prioritizing “experiences” over “stuff.”

“We have been through market bubbles and bursts over the history of our company and the highs and lows can be challenging if your core product cannot adapt quickly to market conditions. We are going to continue to expand globally and follow up with group travel trends,” Hentschel says.

“We want to compile as much data and information about every destination, and push it out to visitors in an easy to digest format.”

And what’s next, Tim? IPO?

“Not yet,” he says, laughing. “Our books are healthy, we’re growing. Maybe at some point in the future.”

ENTREPRENEURS

Investors Reveal: 3 Major Mistakes Aspiring Entrepreneurs Make

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There’s an old saying about first time entrepreneurs—they don’t know what they don’t know. 

No matter what field you are in, or what type of business you own, it is so important that you understand some of the mistakes that tend to plague so many entrepreneurs in today’s market.

There is one main mistake you can avoid from the jump. But it’s the same one many founders miss, investor Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin says.

“Most people come up with a solution first, without thinking through the problem,” Eckersley-Maslin told CNBC.

More often than not, aspiring entrepreneurs come up with a great idea…only to discover there’s no need. 

This looks pretty obvious, at first, but you’d be amazed to know how many people overlook it. So what are the right moves to make?

Here are some common mistakes aspiring entrepreneurs make.

1) Underestimate the amount of time it takes to learn a new industry

“One dumb mistake I made is to underestimate the barrier and knowhow when entering into a new industry,” says Zhifei Li, Founder & CEO of the Beijing-headquartered Mobvoi, the maker of the smartwatch called Ticwatch.

“Irrelevant experience can be a burden,” Zhifei Li, Founder & CEO of Mobvoi & Ticwatch. “Stay humble, stay hungry.”

 

2) Holding on to an under-performing employee for too long

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Chris Myers, the CEO and co-founder of the Denver-based financial tracking and analytics tools for small businesses BodeTree, says he held on to an under-performing employee for too long.

“I hesitated to take action, instead holding out hope that somehow the individual would fix their behavior and get back on the right track,” says Myers. 

3) Launching a company with no customer validation

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Victor Chang’s first startup idea, LifeCrumbs, a social journaling app, seemed brilliant to him. But Chang never tested it with potential consumers and that was, he says, a “terrible mistake.” He spent five months building the app in stealth mode.

“This hurts a lot because when we finally launched the service, we realized this isn’t what the customers were looking for!” In hindsight, Chang says, LifeCrumbs wasn’t different enough from existing products to be successful.

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ENTREPRENEURS

How The Greats Stay Ahead: 3 Hacks For Peak Productivity From NBA All-Stars

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We can all learn a thing or two about productivity from the world of sports. Whether you’re LeBron James or or Serena Williams, when it’s time to hit the court, there are no excuses.

There’s a lot we can learn from athletes about peak productivity. You don’t even have to play sports professionally to apply some of their hacks to get the most from your working hours.

Here are three hacks to maximize your productivity. (Even if you aren’t an athlete.)

1) Recovery Is Key

Lakers star Kobe Bryant was notorious for one other thing besides his fierce rivalry with the Boston Celtics. Kobe was a firm believer in the ice bath after a basketball game.

In a Facebook post in 2014, Kobe wrote, “Just finished training, so ice bath is everyday.” He also posted a video of himself getting into his ice bath.

While ice baths may be uncomfortable, they help athletes reduce inflammation and muscle pain. This helps the athlete recover more quickly after a game.

Thinking about recovery and giving yourself a break can help you prepare for more productive work ahead. This will mean different things for everyone.

For one person, it could be getting a massage or reading a book, whatever relaxes you.

You might notice that you feel fresh and ready to go when the next week rolls around.

2) Hydrate—2019 Style

We all know this but it’s a healthy reminder nonetheless: Water helps the body build muscle and repair itself more quickly.

During the day, your body loses water due to the heat and the body’s own processes. You will also lose some electrolytes, leaving your body feeling tired and sluggish.

Gatorade was a pioneer in this space, adding a soft drink with electrolytes, though heavy on sugar. These days you have sugar-free products like Aqua+ that give you benefits of Gatorade while removing the “bad” it brings.

“Aqua+ is an oral rehydration solution designed to help you hydrate faster and more effectively than water alone,” CEO of More Labs Sisun Lee says.

Formerly known as 82Labds, More Labs is a fast-growing biohacking beverage startup—think liquid version of the Limitless pill—that started out of Silicon Valley in July 2017.

Since then, More Labs’ has grown to $13M+ in sales through various products, raised $8M in a Series A round last year, according to TechCrunch, earning a $33M valuation.

“On top of electrolytes,” Sisun says, “Aqua+ Immunity combines seven essential vitamins to strengthen your body’s defenses”.

You can check out Aqua+ by MoreLabs here.

3) Pay Off Your Sleep Debt

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A final hack to peak productivity is to reduce or eliminate your “sleep debt.”

Let’s face it. Most of us are probably running on less than the recommended amount of sleep.

According to the health experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, sleep deprivation can increase your risk of heart disease by 48% and 36% for colorectal cancer.

If that sounds like a recipe for health trouble, you can be sure it will mess with your productivity as well.

Sure, you can get away with the occasional all-nighter or skimping on sleep here and there.

Long term, however, the consequences might not be so rosy.

The best productivity hack you can make today is to reduce or eliminate your sleep debt completely. [f][g]

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More Labs is a venture capital-backed biohacking supplement company that started with the basic idea that you shouldn’t have to compromise between having fun and being productive. Since launching in 2017, More Labs has racked up $13M in revenue and a $33M valuation.

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ENTREPRENEURS

This Ex-Tesla Engineer’s $33M Startup Wants To Kill Hangovers Forever—Here’s How He’s Doing It

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Hangovers: We all had them. They suck.

Hangovers come about when we drink more alcohol than our livers can handle, leading to a type of toxic acid buildup. Along with dehydration. And headaches from hell. 

So now, one ambitious Facebook and Tesla alum wants to kill hangovers forever—and he’s got big VC money behind him. 

Since launching out of Silicon Valley in 2017, fueled by his hangover killer “Morning Recovery,” generating $13M in revenue en route to a whopping $33M valuation.

And the mission is now to kill hangovers. Forever.

How do you kill hangovers?!

With the help of a UCLA researcher publishing papers on herbal remedies for hangovers, along with other tech engineer friends, they created their own formula.

And it’s worked. Big time. 

According to Business Insider, the product sold a whopping $1M in under three months of launching.  

That’s not a typo.

But…how?

During a long trip to Korea, Sisun Lee was partying every night, then working the next morning, hangover or not. Which led to the idea that hangovers could be managed.

“My friends would go to work the next day and they would swear by these hangover drinks with an herbal base,” Lee told TechCrunch last year.

He tried it on his friends at Tesla plus his former co-workers at Facebook. 

“I was basically getting drunk every single night,” Sisun told Business Insider, seemingly immune to hangovers. “I wondered, did I not drink enough?”

A Toronto VC put it on Product Hunt—a website that helps launch new products—where it immediately shot to No. 2, with 10K people signing up to try it. 

So what is More Labs? 

His company More Labs is a FDA-compliant (pretty big deal) biohacking beverage startup, which produces various productivity, health and hydration products. 

Think Limitless meets Gatorade without the sugar. (With FDA approval.)

On the heels of the crazy launch, Sisun raised a small seed round to bankroll production, forcing him to quit his Tesla gig. 

And it became increasingly obvious that he had to quit his job and give running this company a try.

“Leaving Tesla was a very tough decision. If I could have done both, I would have,” he said

Aqua+…

This week, Sisun Lee, founder of More Labs, is launching Aqua+, a water product designed to make you hydrate faster. 

On the heels of success of More Labs’ flagship product Morning Recovery, Sisun’s next product is designed to help you hydrate faster than water…without the sugar.

Basically water on steroids…hence Aqua+. (Aqua plus, get it?)

“Aqua+ is an oral rehydration solution designed to help you hydrate faster and more effectively than water alone,” Sisun says. 

“On top of electrolytes,” Sisun says, “Aqua+ Immunity combines seven essential vitamins to strengthen your body’s defenses”.

[Editor’s note: If you want to try out Aqua+, smash this link right here.]

 

More Labs is a venture capital-backed biohacking beverage startup that started with the basic idea that you shouldn’t have to compromise between having fun and being productive. Since launching in 2017, More Labs has racked up $13M in revenue and a $33M valuation.

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