Namibian startup rainmaker wants to be the back-end of African tourism

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Namibian startup rainmaker is aiming to become the back-end of the African tourism industry with its digital platform that helps hospitality and tourism businesses gain and maintain an online presence.

Founded in 2016, rainmaker wants to help traditional destination management, hospitality and tourism businesses compete against the increasingly dominant online travel agents by getting them online and helping them thrive there.

It does this via its VISTA Destination Network Open Platform and Ecosystem, which makes technology available to small, medium and independent hospitality and tourism businesses.

“By seamlessly connecting all relevant stakeholders in terms of their rich content and real-time business transactions such as availability, rates, bookings and payments, rainmaker creates competitive advantages for the local in-destination businesses, enabling them to provide instant gratification to the consumer, comprised of in-depth destination experience and personal assistance,” Thomas Müller, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of rainmaker, told Disrupt Africa.

First, rainmaker sets up and optimises a company’s entire Google environment, and builds them an online presence. It manages and takes care of a customer’s digital reputation on over 200 platforms like Google, TripAdvisor and Holidaycheck, which are seamlessly integrated into its property management system. It also creates and manages highly targeted digital advertising campaigns for clients.

This level of support has seen it gain more than 50 paying customers.

“We tripled our revenue in 2017 and more than doubled our revenue in 2018. In both 2017 and 2018, we generated a small profit, despite our heavy investments in the development of our platform and services,” said Müller.

This success, he feels, is because it is providing a vital service and filling a huge gap.

“The main challenge for the many small, medium and independent – often mom-and-pop shops – hospitality and tourism business is, that they often don’t come from the industry. And that means they are not IT geeks, not marketers and often also not hoteliers. This makes it very difficult for them to juggle with the many “do it yourself” applications on the market in order to manage their business,” said Müller.

“Therefore, only 15 per cent of such businesses in Africa use any kind of software or technology to run their business. We overcome this hurdle and enable even the smallest business with a low level of sophistication to participate in the digital and integrated world of today’s hospitality and tourism landscape and therefore no longer be disadvantaged and on the global giant’s mercy.”

rainmaker has been entirely bootstrapped from the very beginning, with Müller the only one to have injected any cash.

“The company has no loans or other liabilities and so far everything has been financed from the positive cash flow created,” he said.

This has both advantages and disadvantages.

“The seeming disadvantage is the speed, as our development is obviously very slow compared to the market speed and always adapts to the cash flow. On the other hand, it enabled us to think all details through to the very end and adjust along the way to finally have created a perfect architecture, platform and products that really fit the need of our target market in every detail,” Müller said.

“With a high-speed development, due to the availability of funds and resources, we would most probably have made many mistakes due to the fact that we would not have had the same time as we had now.”

rainmaker started with growth in Namibia as its first objective, and Müller said the country has been an excellent test market.

“Now we are ready to scale and expand into other African destinations or even into other continents,” he said.

It recently opened a South African satellite office in Cape Town, and plans to expand into between 15 and 20 other destinations in Africa within the next five years.

“This obviously exceeds our capability as a bootstrapped owner and cash-flow financed company, and we therefore believe it is now the right time to look for a strategic or financial investor assisting us with this growth path,” Müller said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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