On his LinkedIn page, Camiel Kraan describes himself as a “SaaS builder who loves to get the right people and resources on the right track to scale up great ideas into awesome ventures.” If you continue to browse his profile, you would see that this is an absolutely word-perfect description.
After starting his journey as an Account Manager with Niku Corporation, Kraan worked his way up in the field of sales and became the VP Sales (Benelux & Nordics) of BMC Software. He then took a leap of faith and delved into entrepreneurship and founded UnitedGames, a leading developer and publisher of social games. UnitedGames was acquired by Bwin.Party in September 2012. Later, he then went on to create Squla and Huckleberry. He was also the VP Sales of ActiveVideo Networks, which was sold to Arris in 2015.
In 2017, Kraan and Kevin Westermeijer started Convious, an Amsterdam-based AI-driven ecommerce platform for the experience economy. It enables leisure operators to connect with their visitors, enhance their experience, increase conversions, and manage all internal operations from a single place. According to the company, its AI-based system helps convert visitors with personalised offers, sell tickets at dynamic real-time prices, provides frictionless buying experience and analytics on the guests’ experience.
The company claims to be used by over 125 companies from 16 countries including Movie Park, Pleasurewood Hills and Bayern Park. In 2021, Convious increased its conversion ratio by 86 per cent on average, and the revenue — by 201 per cent. In 2020 and 2021, the team received The Highest Growth award of the Main Software 50, while Deloitte nominated it for the Deloitte Technology Fast 50.
Yesterday, the company announced that it has raised $12M (€10.6M) in a Series A round of funding led by Begin Capital. Other investors including Market One Capital, MillionMonkeys, and FJ Labs also participated in the round along with existing investor Capital Mills.
Therefore, for this week’s ‘Founder in Focus’ interview series, we have chosen to focus on Camiel Kraan for helping build Convious into this thriving scaleup that it is today.
Here are the edited excerpts:
SC: How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur? What was the inspiration or Eureka moment behind creating Convious?
Kraan: I think I’m ok at many things but great at just one. That’s getting the right people and means onboard to deliver something that actually brings value to the market, fixes something that is broken or disrupts something that needs to be disrupted. Add resilience and focus on what to do and what not to do is probably what describes me best.
The eureka moment was when we saw that dynamic pricing actually worked very well in the leisure industry, despite the fact that the industry themselves did not believe it. We built a small MVP and we were able to yield +30 per cent on average above the average pricing our customers had.
SC: What were some of the initial challenges that you faced while setting up Convious?
Kraan: Tons and tons :). In an industry that is overrun by OTA’s and resellers, it was hard to build trust with our prospects and customers. While we were bringing more revenue to them, they would choose not to work with us and stay with their legacy technology and vendors. Luckily, we overcame this by focusing not just on trust but also on a partnership approach and top-notch onboarding and customer success.
SC: What was it like to hire your first team member?
Kraan: It was Koen Scholte. It wasn’t before 2019 when we introduced strength assessments before we hire our people, but he was actually a bullseye. It only took one phone call for him to say yes. And he’s still with us!
SC: What was your first office like? How has your office evolved over the years?
Kraan: We started at the Herengracht — a single small room but with a canal view! After several spots within Amsterdam, we’re now back at the Herengracht. Just with a couple more rooms
SC: What are some of your most memorable memories during Convious’ journey?
Kraan: Oh, there are so many memories already! From our first 5 year deal to almost selling the company after 6 months and from getting a call from PayPal they would freeze all our bank accounts in the middle of the night to watching your revenue go to zero during the lockdown. I know we’re not even halfway so we can still make a whole lot more of them.
SC: How did your journey with Huckleberry, Squla, and UnitedGames prepare you for your journey with Convious? Any specific lessons learnt during your previous stints that helped you during a tight spot with Convious?
Kraan: Experience helps in coping with crisis situations and setbacks of course and you can’t learn experience. Having it done several times also makes it easier to let things go and knowing where your value lies. Another specific lesson, in my opinion, is that being a startup is a phase, not a business model and in my view, you need to get through this as fast as possible. It looks like fun but it’s the hardest, toughest and most likely-to-fail phase as well.
SC: Was it difficult to seek VC investment for your company? What were some of the key challenges you faced while seeking your first investment?
Kraan: Oh yes! Haha! VCs don’t have love for the leisure industry. It’s a worldwide $8.8T beast but stuck in the nineties. It doesn’t fit any standard SaaS metric and is quickly discarded as too small, too fragmented, etc. While the market has seen some money flowing into booking tech companies (Fareharbor, Rezdy, etc), building an enterprise software company like ours was something new and seemed impossible. But now, this is changing.
SC: How will the recent tightening of the partial lockdown in the Netherlands due to surging COVID cases impact Convious?
Kraan: Covid is an accelerator for tech adoption. This is, by definition, good for us. Of course, when everything closes down we’ll be hit as well. On the upside, we have customers in 16 countries and we’re the last industry to close and the first to open up so we’re confident we’ll make our targets.
SC: You have been instrumental in a number of exits — be it Squla to RTL ventures, United Games to Bwin.Party, and ActiveVideo to Arris. What is your long-term vision for Convious? Do you have an exit strategy in mind?
Kraan: Our vision is not so much on selling this company in x years. Of course, it would be great to do an IPO if that would fit the strategy at that time but for now, we’re focused on becoming a category leader in our vertical.
SC: When would you consider your company to be a success?
Kraan: If success means when are you done, never. There’s always another goal, another aim, another milestone you want to achieve. Otherwise, it’s more the little things. A candidate that tells me “I want to work with you and your company, not because my current job sucks but I think that you’re doing actual great stuff and I want to be part of this.” Or a customer that calls up saying he just recommended us to a museum owner he bumped into on an exhibition.
SC: What are your international expansion plans?
Kraan: We’re actually amidst opening our UK and French offices, as we speak. The reason is we’re following a “beachhead customer” strategy. In this case, these customers have their bases in the aforementioned countries. Next up is the United States, which will follow in mid-2022.
SC: What would you advise your younger self? Are there things that you would do differently if given a chance?
Kraan: I’d tell myself to celebrate the little things as well. It took me years to realise the value in that. I don’t feel I would have done things differently as the outcome would have been different then as well. And I’m happy where I am right now.