Having reached the end of the incubation program, Clubee exited Technoport recently to fly with its own wings. The company, committed to automating the management of sports organizations, now serves over 3000 sports organizations throughout Europe. Clubee’s CEO and co-founder Gilles Mangen told us about their startup journey from inception in Luxembourg to their international expansion.
First of all, what is Clubee about?
Clubee is a B2B SaaS management solution for the sports industry. Clubs and federations usually lack time, workforce, and professional knowledge to manage their organizations, so we provide them with a virtual assistant that unburdens volunteers or staff members with their tasks. Our tool helps our clients in activities such as marketing and communication, CRM, community and event management, sponsoring, finances and more.
Clubee’s virtual assistant manages itself by automating workflows and connecting different data sets. This is our competitive advantage over other management solutions that still require workforce to manage the software itself, therefore they do not really solve the customer’s core problem.
How was your startup journey so far?
We started early 2015 in Luxembourg as Sport50, that later was rebranded in Clubee. At the beginning we were two co-founders and we bootstrapped, then we closed our first seed funding round of 600K€ that allowed us to grow the team and rent a new office in Technoport Belval. Shortly afterwards, we moved to the Technoport Foetz and loved it there from day one.
After the first four years spent on product development with organic growth, we started building a sales team. Over the years, we closed two more funding rounds and opened a second office in Berlin. Besides Luxembourg and Germany, we now have clients in France, Belgium, and Finland. The stability of the Luxembourg market played an important role in the international expansion, as it allowed us to learn fast and easily maintain a close relationship with our early adopters.
Recently we released Clubee’s new app, and we are starting to move from B2B to a B2B2C model, moving away from a pure backoffice tool for club managers, to a tool that is also used by the members and fans of a club.
Today the team consists of 15 people, mostly employed in Luxembourg, and we are now turning the page by moving into our new office, having reached the end of the incubation contract at Technoport. We are at the same time thrilled for the new headquarters but sad to leave the tech incubator that was our first home.
“Technoport was one of the first to believe in us and we are grateful that they provided us with an amazing location, very good network connections and support system that exceeded our expectations.”
Was it difficult to survive during the covid pandemic?
With the lockdown, the sports industry was paralyzed, and this obviously impacted our business. Above all, it has been tough to make new sales. We reacted [them] by mixing inbound and outbound marketing. Although scaling was impossible in the first months of the year, in 2020 we managed to grow our recurring monthly revenue by 2.7x.
How have you benefited from support schemes of the local ecosystem?
Technoport was one of the first to believe in us and we are grateful that they provided us with an amazing location, very good network connections and support system that exceeded our expectations. It allowed us to focus on growing our team and our core business.
We had the chance to participate in worthwhile programs like the Fit4Start acceleration program and the business mentoring program by the Chamber of Commerce. We benefited greatly from startup services and public grants from Luxinnovation and the Ministry of Economy, such as the Young Innovative Enterprise and the Process Innovation financial aid.
I think those programs are a must-have to be competitive with other countries, and we are very thankful to have been part of them. In general, the support of the Luxembourg ecosystem for innovative startups is very helpful and we are very grateful to have been surrounded so well. Furthermore, during the pandemic crisis, the Ministry was very understanding of our own difficulties as a startup within a sports industry that lived through significant limitations under Covid.
What are the major challenges your startup faced overall and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The biggest challenges we had were related to human resources.
We’ve learned that one of the most important things to build a startup is to have the right skillset on board by creating a good founding team with complementary skills. First hires are also very crucial, so we can only underline the importance of hiring the right people from the start. We are now happy to have a great team, but initially we did not have a CTO and we burned the money we raised by hiring the wrong people. That turned out to be the most expensive error we made, and it was very hard to recover. In addition, it was very challenging for us to figure out how to properly scale the sales team internationally.
Finally, I recommend not dwelling too much on startup networking events. Although all the efforts that are being made in Luxembourg are praiseworthy and necessary to develop the startup ecosystem, attending too many events can represent a huge distraction from the core business, so be very selective.
What are the next milestones for Clubee?
In the short term we plan to establish a more significant presence in the foreign countries already targeted. Our medium-term goal is to conquer other markets. And as usual, we strive to make our product better every single day to be able to help our clients as much as possible. They are our main focus after all. We want to make a true difference in the sports industry.