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From a jungle in Sri Lanka to Silicon Valley: How a CBS start-up grew from near closure to three-digit growth in one year

(Photo: Chabber)

In March 2018, the founders of the CBS start-up, Chabber agreed that they would give it one more shot before throwing in the towel. At the end of May 2019, they set off for Silicon Valley to try and enter the American market. “I can’t recall experiencing anything this intense,” says co-founder Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen.

News |   17 Jun 2019

Anne M. Lykkegaard

Journalist

On a stone step in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle on April 16, Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen sits with an iPhone in his hand. The poor internet connection is making it difficult for him to be part of a highly important Skype interview.

In Scotland stands Sebastian Løvgreen in his best hiking gear, ready to explore the highlands. And in Denmark sits Ronni Jørgensen. They too try to connect to the Skype chat. The interview that the three founders of the CBS start-up Chabber have planned is with a guy from the Silicon Valley-based accelerator, Y Combinator. An accelerator known to have taken companies such as Dropbox, Airbnb, Soundbox and Airhelp under its wing and helped them to become really big.

“The internet connection was so poor, I couldn’t hear half of what the guy from Y Combinator said, and I only picked up some of the things my co-founders said. So when I hung up, I had no clue where things stood,” says Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen and explains that they had one day to coordinate the logistics of being in four different time zones in order to make the interview happen.

The founders of Chabber at Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. (Photo: Chabber)

So the guys from Chabber – a start-up that connects freelance kitchen personnel and waiters with event agencies, hotels and private users – just had to wait for an answer. An answer that could result in a visit to Silicon Valley and a second interview with Y Combinator. The step before getting funding worth 150,000 dollars and access to the American market and everyone else who’s been through Y Combinator.

And so the answer came.

‘You can come to Silicon Valley for a second 10-minute interview at the end of May.’

“If accepted by Y Combinator after the second interview, the next step is to move to the U.S. within four days and stay at Y Combinator for three months and launch Chabber in the U.S. Immediately, we started thinking about how we would manage the Danish and newly started Norwegian market,” explains Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen.

Goodbye Danske Bank and Deloitte

Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen and Sebastian Løvgreen graduated from CBS in 2017, and during their studies they had student job positions at Deloitte and Danske Bank. But something didn’t feel quite right.

“In a drunken stupor at Distortion in 2015, we decided to do a start-up. We just started to write down every single idea and spent six months talking back and forth about which one we should pursue,” says Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen.

Both of them come from families of restaurateurs, so they themselves had experienced their fathers calling and begging them to cover shifts during peak season or for staff who were off sick. And this was where the idea for Chabber started.

“We went to the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship and in July 2016, we launched the beta version of the platform. This meant that we quit our jobs at Deloitte and Danske Bank and became waiters again. And we actually did jobs through Chabber to make it work in the beginning,” explains Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen whose mother said to him:

“Valdemar, you know it’s okay if you don’t succeed, right?”

It gave us an enormous confidence boost that they actually liked Chabber and believe that it can be big

Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen

Slowly, Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen and Sebastain Løvgreen get companies on board and freelancers who start to connect and help each other out. But in March 2018, things aren’t quite going according to plan.

“At that point, we’re four founders and two student assistants, and we’re about to throw in the towel. But we decided to give it a last shot and push up the price of our service. That, combined with the start of the spring season, seemed to do the trick,” explains Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen.

Today, Chabber is a company of 25 employees. The platform in Denmark counts 1,000 customers and about 13,000 chabbers, as the freelancers call themselves. They’ve teamed up with Claus Meyer and are slowly getting a grip on Norway and plan to expand the service to Sweden and Holland this year.

“People continuously ask us what we do besides Chabber, and I get kind of annoyed and say: ‘Dude, this is a full-time job and what we do for a living,” says Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen.

Hello, Sillicon Valley

Ronni Jørgensen, Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen and Sebastian Løvgreen arrived in Silicon Valley the day before the interview on May 29. In total, 500  start-ups were invited for a second interview, but only 100 would leave Y Combinator with a 150,000-dollar deal. That’s one percent of the number of applicants. And it all depended on the performance in the 10-minute interview.

“We had a pretty good feeling that we were in. They were really cool, asked a lot of great questions, and we also had time to joke around a bit,” says Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen and continues:

“We were told that we would get an answer at 6 PM. At 6:30 we still hadn’t heard anything. We were going to the airport, and when our plane departed at 8:30 we still hadn’t heard a single word from them. Lucky, we managed to get connection to the Wi-Fi during the flight, and we got an email from them with a rejection.”

Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen explains that the Y Combinator team liked the Chabber team and the idea, but thought there were more growth opportunities in Europe before entering the American market.

“Although we didn’t make it this time, they encouraged us to apply again. It gave us an enormous confidence boost that they actually liked Chabber and believe that it can be big,” he says.

When asked what it would mean to Chabber if they got accepted to Y Combinator, Valdemar Gaarn Rasmussen breaks into a big smile.

“It would be huge. We’d not only get a headstart in a huge market, we’d get the Y Combinator ‘stamp’ on the company. With this, you can literally kick in the door of every investor, more or less,” he says and assures that Chabber is ready to give it a second go at Y Combinator when Norway, Sweden and Holland are up and running.

“The U.S. has always been our dream,” he says.

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