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Wimdu - A story of Airbnb's clone

Wimdu, founded in 2011 in Berlin, started out as an online marketplace where people could lease or rent short-term lodging. Wimbdu doesn't own any lodging, but is a broker and receives commision for every booking. In less than 100 days, they offered 10,000 properties worldwide. By 2012 Wimdbu claimed they were the biggest social accomodation website from Europe. But behind their existence and success is a lot of controversy.

Shortly after it was founded, the company received $90 million in funding (the largest investment in a European startup ever), from two investors who were no strangers to the cloning of successful tech companies. The infamous Samwer brothers were known for creating European clones of popular American internet services, copying their website and then attempting to sell the company back to the original. This exactly happened with their eBay clone which they sold to eBay in 1999, and Groupon clone CityDeal which they sold back to them in 2010 for around €100 million. 

Wimbdu was known as the clone to Airbnb. 

Airbnb was not happy with Wimdbu, and even called them out (but not by name) in an email sent to over 100k hosts, saying they were imposters and ''scam artists''. They criticized their business model saying that they are copying their website and poaching from their community, duplicating personal profiles, descriptions and photos from Airbnb listings without permission. 

Later, Airbnb representative Christopher Lukezic, said they had 572 reported cases of these “competitors’ employees soliciting Airbnb hosts in their homes and, in many cases, going so far as to scrape host’s personal profiles and listing their homes to populate their site without the hosts’ knowledge or consent.”

Even though Airbnb was criticizing them, at one point they considered acquiring Wimdu, but finally decided against it. In an interview for TechCrunch TV, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky and Sequoia Capital partner, Airbnb board member, and former Zappos COO Alfred Lin explained why. 

By 2011 Airbnb was primarily an American company, but it became clear to them that becoming international was very important because in their essence they are a travel company. They started investigating if Wimdu's strategy is going to work, and it became clear that there was one thing they did very well - they had local people in local offices. They tested this strategy and realized it actually works. They needed local presence, because people wanted to meet in person, and not just over the website. 

Brian ended up going to Berlin to meet up with now former board members od Wimdu to discuss if they were going with plan A - buy Wimdu, or plan B which was non existent. Without knowing what plan B was, they decided to go with it. They explained it as they'd rather go with plan B and maybe win or maybe lose, then inherit this company that wasn't mission based. It wouldn't be Airbnb and he wouldn't want to be a part of this company. “I'd rather loose and keep our soul, then win without it”. They thought they'd win because they had a long-term mission. Their community loved the experience, employees loved working there, they had better customer care. The key to going global was product and community, but also local culture so they opened local offices around the world and hired local teams. It didn't turn out too bad for Airbnb as they raised some $3.38 billion. In the end plan B worked out very well and they now offer 2 million listings worldwide.

Wimdu continued with their business model, and by June 2013 they offered 100,000 accomodations in 150 countries. But inside the company there were some shifts. In 2014 two founders, Bleckwenn and Dreiling left the company at their own request, and took a position in the advisory board. Everything was going well for them in the next year. They increased their number of bookings by 31% and expanded to other European countries.

In 2016 they merged with their rivals, 9flats. 9flats CEO Roman Bach said he was excited about joining forces to create one of the largest businesses within the online accommodation industry. “The combined company will enable us to create an even stronger value proposition for our guests and hosts, while simultaneously accelerating growth and improving long-term profitability.” The two of them combined offered about 500,000 global listings. Even though it sounds like a perfect match, it's speculated that the merger with 9flats was to save Wimdu from shutting down.

Only two months after the merge, Danish company Novasol (one of the largest European vacation property managers) owned by Wyndham Worldwide, signed a deal to buy Wimdu. Wyndham Worldwide then sold Novasol in 2018 and as a part of a in-house clean up, Wimdu was one of the first to go.

Idea-theft is common among startups, and there are clones everywhere. If there is a market free to be taken, a clone can be faster to reach it than the original. But rarely both survive. In this case, Wimdu got cut-off and Airbnb is showing no signs of slowing down.

Wimbu is one of the company cards in our Hospitality Scenario that comes with the Playing Lean 2 game

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