9flats, an early European competitor to Airbnb and others in the holiday rentals space, has seen a change of guard. Founder Stephan Uhrenbacher has stepped down as CEO and “stepped up” to Chair of the Hamburg-based startup’s Advisory Board. He’s being replaced by Roman Bach, who, for the past two years, has been 9flats’ head of biz dev and marketing and a key player in the company’s growth.
The news also comes at a time when the 2011-founded startup — backed by the likes of eVentures, T-Venture, and Redpoint — says it’s reached break-even and positioned for profitability. However, 9flats is also being refreshingly candid about the market dynamics of the holiday rentals “sharing economy”, of which the startup was an earlier player.
Specifically, it notes that 9flats “quickly found itself in an aggressive market environment, shaped by financial investors placing lots of money with imitators and foreign companies”. This, along with unwanted pressure from the traditional hotel lobby — who are unhappy with the P2P rental model used by 9flats, Airbnb et al — has made it a challenging space to be in. The rising advertising rates in the tourism sector is also mentioned.
In this context, breaking even and on track for profitability, then, is being lauded as an achievement. But the market constraints also explain in part why Stephan Uhrenbacher, who previously founded and sold Qype, is taking a back seat. He’s also being refreshingly straight talking, telling me it was always his intention to get 9flats to a certain stage but concedes that the business is smaller than planned.
“Yes it is no Qype,” he says when I make the comparison. “But there will be several players in short stays. Now being profitable, 9flats will be one of them. At the same time it makes sense for Roman who has proven he can run this business to do that and for me to work on new projects,” he adds.
Those “new projects” will be via his startup builder Upspring Holding which had a hand in kicking off 9flats and, I gather, Qype before it. In that sense, it’s business as usual for Uhrenbacher. And 9flats, too.
“This young branch is the fastest growing business model in tourism. And 9flats continues to grow faster than the market,” says new CEO Roman Bach in a statement. “Reaching profitability is an important step for our further growth. Yet the next years are not only about profits, but also about continued growth. We’re right on track on that score.”