Karen Löhnert had to file for bankruptcy for Sleeperoo. Now companies in the outdoor industry have joined forces to continue the sleeping capsules – with a digital approach.
The sleeping cubes are already in Danish holiday resorts of the new owner Tiny Hygge. Sleeperoo
Karen Löhnert can breathe easy. In March, the founder had to file for bankruptcy for her tiny house startup Sleeperoo after planned financing failed. Now, almost four months later, the Hamburg native has found several buyers who are joining forces in the course of an asset deal in order to continue the brand and tent-like sleeping capsules of the DHDL startup.
The new owners, each with 50 percent of the shares, are the Danish outdoor supplier Tiny Hygge and the newly founded company Sleeperoo Share GmbH. Behind it are several companies from the leisure and tourism industry: These are the Viennese creative agency Active Agent, which is responsible for the majority of the investment, and the subsidiary Heiuki, which operates machines for renting kayaks and stand-up paddle boards (SUP). The Austrian SUP provider Glory Boards and the event consulting company OCT Outdoor Consulting are also involved. The parties involved have agreed not to disclose the exit sum.
Bumpy announcement of the exit deal
There had been confusion in the run-up to the announcement of the takeover deal. In a first public announcement, the Danish half of the owners forgot to fully list the other half and also did not agree on the timing with Sleeperoo Share GmbH. Founder Karen Löhnert therefore initially sent a warning about the “false report”.
Despite the complex ownership structure, the Sleeperoo brand should remain and be continued as an independent company. However, both buyer sides are redistributing responsibilities: It is planned that the Austrian partners around Active Agent founder Felix Hiebeler will take care of operational tasks related to the operation of the Sleeperoo sleeping capsules in the future. This includes, for example, the marketing and further development of the concept via Heiuki rental stations as well as customer support.
The Danish co-owner aims to help supplement the Sleeperoo offering with additional accommodation. Since Tiny Hygge operates three holiday resorts with small wooden huts on the coast of Denmark via its subsidiary Tiny Seaside, the mobile sleeping cubes should also be set up there, says managing director Ulrik Rasmussen in an interview with Gründerszene. This should also increase the convenience for the customer. The Sleeperoo cubes, which have often been set up in remote places in nature, such as on alpaca farms and wineries, do not have shower cubicles, toilets and kitchenettes.
50 sleeping pods are scheduled to go back into service this summer
Since the holiday season is already in full swing, Managing Director Felix Hiebeler wants to quickly increase the offer in the next few weeks. Tiny Hygge and Sleeperoo Share GmbH divided up the total of 75 sleeping cubes, says Ulrik Rasmussen. According to Hiebeler, there are currently 25 Cubes in Denmark and 15 in Germany. “We want to set up another ten to 15 cubes in July, we still have around 30 in our warehouse in Austria,” says the managing director. So far, no new overnight stays have been booked with Sleeperoo, as booking operations will only be resumed online later this week. With the opening of insolvency proceedings, founder Karen Löhnert had completely shut down the portal in March. Löhnert assumes that the previous top locations, which were on farms, by the water or in the mountains, will continue to be cultivated in the future. This is also confirmed by Managing Director Rasmussen in an interview.
These startups already had to file for bankruptcy in 2023
In addition to the Danish resorts that will be equipping the sleeping capsules from now on, Hiebeler also wants to use Sleeperoo for its SUP rental service Heiuki. The early 20-year-old speaks of synergy effects: “We have distributed Heiuki at 70 locations across Europe, always in cool places by the water, just like Sleeperoo. We can complement that perfectly. A Sleeperoo Cube can go wherever one of our Heiuki machines is located. As a result, the customer receives an offer straight away.” The outdoor entrepreneur also intends to digitize the operation of the sleeping cubes. In the future, digital locks are to be integrated so that checking in and out on site is no longer linked to one person.
Outside of the DACH region, Hiebeler already operates its kayak and SUP rental stations as a franchise model through external partners. He wants to do the same with Sleeperoo: “We want to bring Sleeperoo more in the direction of a license model.” Karen Löhnert also emphasizes that she would have raised her startup on her own, but a transfer to a franchise model was always the goal – also for nicer accounts. The Hamburg startup had its first franchisees in Germany and Ireland. In general, the new owners want to split their expansion projects geographically: Tiny Hygge will be responsible for the northern European market, while the Sleeperoo Share GmbH team wants to push ahead with expansion in central and southern Europe.
New owners did not want to take over the Sleeperoo team
Löhnert’s journey with her startup is now over – just like her 13 employees who were not taken on as part of the asset deal. Löhnert is relieved that the process has now been completed and that her idea will be continued. Originally, she had wanted her team to remain in place despite the emergency sale. “I had the idea, but Sleeperoo was the team, we established it together,” says Löhnert. Together they would have built up know-how and many relationships in the tourism world. It therefore made no sense for her to continue as a founder under different leadership. “Especially since I was always driven by the topics of sustainability and impact. You can’t expect someone who takes over the business to be in the same context of values,” says the founder.
Felix Hiebeler justified the decision not to take over the Sleeperoo team by wanting to implement his own new ideas and also being provided with “sufficient manpower”. Although the managing director is still in contact with Löhnert, both seem to have opposing views. Hiebeler: “After there were conflicts – we want to implement the model differently than Kathrin Löhnert wanted – it turned out that we said we wanted to continue on our own.”
Löhnert now wants to take a break and relax. The entrepreneur does not rule out starting up again in the future – nothing is concrete yet.
In 2017, the trained travel agent founded her sleeping capsule startup in order to create a climate-friendly alternative to long-haul holidays with unusual overnight stays outdoors. A year later, Löhnert appeared on the TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen”. At that time, the founder convinced the investor Dagmar Wöhrl, who returned her shares a little later because the two did not agree on the future of the business model. The company financed itself through income from bookings – and initially benefited from the emergence of tiny houses. Sleeperoo charged at least 130 euros per night. Löhnert drove six-digit sales, but also high losses.
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