Handiscover is truly an impact company, with unique technical solutions covering B2C, B2B, and B2G. In this interview, our founder Sebastien Archambeaud shares the start up-story of Handiscover and the vision for the future.
What is the story behind Handiscover?
– I started Handiscover 2015 mainly thanks to my son. He has a muscle disease and needs a wheelchair to get around. Everyday life works pretty well… But our family loves traveling, and we soon realized how challenging it was to find accommodations adapted to our needs. It was also surprisingly common to find that the information found was invalid or poorly updated. When I started the company I simply wanted to solve this problem. Handiscover’s first service was a booking site for accommodations, with a rating system (based on our own developed scorecard and algorithm) and travel guides in order to inspire our community to dare travel.
– There are so many more families than ours that suffer from this poor access to accurate accessibility information that should be a basic function in our society. Over 20 percent of the world’s population has some form of disability, so there is huge market potential. And as the population grows older, this figure will increase. These families are as eager as anyone to enjoy normal daily life and be able to discover the world. My aim is for my son Teo to have an independent life, so I’m into this long-term.
Tell us about your background.
– I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last 15 years and in the tech industry on several occasions. I have also worked in large international corporations in sales and marketing. Just before I founded Handiscover I was a consultant and privately handled the disruption it was for our family as Teo’s muscle disease gradually developed. Navigating everyday life and figuring out how to go about the things we wanted to do. This eventually became my driving force; the whole world can’t be perfect, obviously, but I have a hard time accepting the fact that we can’t get the information we need to plan things. Information is key, much more than accessibility per se. For example, if I know that a place like a restaurant or a museum we want to go to doesn’t have an accessible toilet, then we can at least make plans accordingly, finding one before the visit. Hence for us at Handiscover, information is the key.
How did the company tackle the emergence of Covid?
– By 2020 we had a working marketplace tech platform and were up and running with accommodations and hotels (handiscover.com). Luckily, as the travel industry froze, we were already prepared to take the next step and had financial safety due to grants and investors. During Covid, our company took the opportunity to build a broader business, looking more at other industries and society at large. We used the effective method VPC (Value Proposition Canvas) – mapping problems, needs, and solutions in various industries. So 2020–2021 was really focused on developing and building a B2B and B2G platform, and building the brand. Developing new tech solutions takes time.
– Last year, 2021, we developed our B2G solution, a white label app for public spaces that municipalities can subscribe to (SaaS model) called AccessCity, see www.accesscity.tech
– During spring 2022 our in-depth solution for B2B clients, Handiscover Accessibility, was onboarding its first customers. The idea is to gather very comprehensive and granular accessibility data in all areas of life (housing, shopping, working, traveling) so that the level of physical accessibility can be communicated to people with different disabilities and needs. The point is therefore to show the data, not just collect it.
– In Handiscover Accessibility we have an entirely new and comprehensive technical solution on the market – a large, structured and robust cloud-based system made easy to use. There have been various initiatives by organizations, small companies and municipalities before that have tried to tackle the accessibility data issue, but nothing has proven possible to maintain or scale. A company like ours, with business logic, is needed. Our product is quite unique and sets a new standard we believe.
Can you share some challenges and wins along the way?
– Being a pioneer is always a challenge, but also really exciting. As a start-up in this area, the main challenge is funding. Fortunately, when we secured our EU grant in 2020 we gain with that some runway – the application and management around it are really complex and time-consuming, but really worth it. Historically we always lived with a short runway, meaning spending an enormous amount of time chasing funding but succeeding thanks to our amazing investors and angel investors.
– Describing the needs of accessibility and our product to investors and clients is another challenge. There are not so many other companies to benchmark against and involving a client in a whole new area is not easy either– when you don’t know the pain it’s hard to see the gain. If you haven’t experienced the challenges in society first-hand – as a person with some kind of disability – it’s a bit of an awareness curve to go through. It’s a process, and every new supporter is a huge win.
– Another one is building the company from scratch at a rather high pace – both the core product, solutions, and the company in itself. We are going from being a development-focused company to becoming a more sales and service-oriented one, entering our first markets. It’s a huge shift. We are always keen on involving the clients in the journey, and the insights from our own team – so the product has been iterated quite some times.
– Also, start up-life is a bit special, we have rewritten and expanded the idea quite some times during these 7 years. These build-up years are over and we can enter into a more long-term mindset. We are ready for growth, we have great operational systems in place. The company culture is really about being innovative, adapt change, and being open-minded and flexible. I’m really proud of our diverse and dedicated team. We are a hybrid company, at the moment we are 9 nationalities and have employees with different kinds of disabilities.
What are the key learnings so far?
– It was a bit of a shock to realize that 95 percent of all the accommodations that said they were mobility-friendly didn’t pass our validation at first. So, a lot of information out there is poor, inadequate, or incorrect. The need for information and knowledge about accessibility and special needs is huge.
– The legal compliance in accessibility and building standards is really black and white, either or. It can leave the consumer with special needs with far fewer available options. Additionally, venues often fail to embrace the different kinds of impairments. Everything isn’t about mobility, we need to face the actual needs of all consumers. I like to compare it to the Rolls Royce – not everybody wants it, can afford it, or even appreciate all the different features in it. It can be enough with a far less exclusive option. That is when the information is so important. Being able to make the choice of a place, for example, a hotel, that is not the top-notch version but has other advantages that are more prioritized. That could be location, price, or something else. The level of independence and multiple options is what it’s really all about.
– I actually think the legal compliances should also involve accessibility information. Today it is only focused on building norms. And, of course, accessibility should tackle all different kinds of disabilities. If we make accessibility a given part of the sustainability reporting standards we will come a long way.
What are the plans for the future?
– We have a huge ambition to be the leading player in the world regarding granular accessibility data, with a high level of information so all customers and consumers can do conscious choices. As we expand, we will face the complexities involved due to different legal compliances and cultures in various nations. Our platform will be upgraded to be even more scaleable depending on the industry or specific situations, so we can validate various buildings, places and environments in a sufficient way, mapping the whole world effectively.
Do you have any last words for the readers?
– Sure! I want to share our view on the levels of accessibility. We are not here to judge or validate, but to help our customers to deliver inclusive and accessible experiences for everybody, and also inform and communicate about them while helping them to improve their accessibility step by step. So it all boils down to that initial driving force, my own frustration and understanding that this area is in great need of change – but also the reality that the only way forward is to take it one step at a time.
Read more about our B2G solution here