Margot Huysman interviews Matthieu Vaxelaire, co-founder of a Belgian start-up that helps you find cheap, fun things to do at short notice.
Meet Matthieu Vaxelaire, George Henry de Frahan and Diego d’Ursel, the three boys who together make up Kicktable, a Belgian start-up that offers discounted last-minute activities for the terminally unprepared – which, these days, is most of us. The three met back home in Belgium, though I ran into them at Springboard, the UK accelerator they recently graduated from.
Vaxelaire, with whom I sat down last month, originally took a job in investment banking after university, but found it too boring and decided to throw himself into the entrepreneurial pond. He founded, along with a friend, a brand of eco-shoes called Jojo Project. The business went on for two years and was rolled out into eight different countries.
“Working in finance was rather boring. And you have this strange feeling of being replaceable,” he says. “No one cares about you as an individual, you are here to do a job, but it could be you or someone else, it makes no difference. I’ve always been an entrepreneurial person, what with having family in that industry, so founding my own business just made sense.”
Matthieu realised, after a while, that the concept did not interest him any longer. Designing shoes was not what he wanted to do with his life. So the business was sold and he turned to his best friend, George, with the idea of founding something rather different.
Kicktable was initially set up as private dinners at Matthieu’s place. The team would invite people with different passions and hobbies to come and talk about them and share their interests. “We just thought, wouldn’t it be cool to invite different people and hear about their passion? There are some real cool people out there, why not make the most of it?”
The dinners had been organised through Eventbrite, but Mat and George realised they ought to build their own platform dedicated solely to this concept in order to scale it to other sorts of events and experiences. Diego, whom Matthieu knew from school, was brought into the project as CTO.
Kicktable launched in Brussels in December. Brussels being a small city, in comparison with London or Paris, the concept was successful straight away and investors were soon interested in putting some money in the project. Since everything was going so well at home, the boys decided to bring the business to a bigger city. They picked London. If the concept was really going to work, it was going to have to prove itself in Europe’s start-up hub.
For three months, the friends were sleeping on the Eurostar and living on Mat’s brother’s apartment floor. They opened the platform mid-February in London and, once again, the project was met with a lot of enthusiasm and interest. Everything was going so well, in fact, that the team found themselves facing a bit of a dilemma: try to get investment or participate in an incubator.
The business model may have been successful in Brussels and London, but nothing was guaranteed. Would it work in other countries and could it be scalable? The boys felt they were going to face big challenges with their business model, so they opted to apply for Springboard. Electing to take part in an accelerator meant waiting longer to get funding, but receiving support and mentoring to help elucidate the business model.
Kicktable entered the interview process to participate in Springboard and were successful. They were given desks at Google Campus, a shared workspace in London’s Silicon Roundabout, and the opportunity to get some mentoring. They’ve discovered in the process that no one really knows how exactly their business should best be scaled and how to make it profitable in the long run.
They tested different models and approaches, at some point even considering offering couples-only experiences. Finally, the team decided upon their current plan: a mobile application that offers discounted experiences on the same day. “We like to think of ourselves as the HotelTonight of the activity industry,” says Vaxelaire. ”Actually, it’s funny because HotelTonight in London is in Google Campus, so we got to meet them.”
“Now that Springboard is over, the real work is about to start,” he says. “We are heading back to Belgium until the end of the summer and then we will be back in London. The plan is to work really hard and make a beautiful app and a whole new user experience. We want a stronger, better product so that we can seek funding and then start to beef up the business. We are looking for angel investors; people with experience in the markets we are covering and who could offer us some guidance.
“Belgian VCs are out of the question, and there is no way we are staying in Belgium. London is the place to be right now.”