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The Holis Market - A Retrospect

Holis Market

If you have no idea what I am talking about, the holis market was my first baby (startup) founded in early 2015 in which the first roots go back to 2013. During my master program I played with various ideas. One idea of a holistic supermarket system with no-line commerce got a lot of attention of people till the sad end of the bankruptcy of the first market store in Linz. This review should illuminate some of the major failures we faced at this time.

The basic idea

The basic idea was naively revolutionary: Bring a financially sustainable, ecologic supermarket (franchise) system into real life from scratch with a talented but inexperienced bunch of people. The concept included unpackaged grocery and a tasty, mostly vegetarian regional kitchen, individual nutrition consultancy and packages, but also cooking workshops and a green food delivery service for small and medium-sized companies at lunch time. Surprisingly, just with less than one year preparation in advance and one year on the market every detail of the business model was in place, minus the financial stability of course. I wanna emphasize that the unpacked and ecologic supermarket system with nearly no waste at the store and on the consumer side was no dream at all.

The big failures

Beforehand, there were many more problems I faced while the startup and market phase than I can list here. But it is the nature of a startup to solve problems very quickly and in an agile manner. An entrepreneur is a problem-solver per excellence. Most of the problems were painful, but not business-critical. So, the next four big failures were the business-critical factors for the bankruptcy of the holis market.

(1) Strategic Partner: Before the holis market opened his doors I were in negotiations with a bigger food trading company to get a financial investment and even more market & marketing know how. In this phase I said no for an early investment, because I believed the perfect time for negotiating was after the market opening when the hype is at its peak and the business model is proven. Maybe I was too self confident, or in other words some can say arrogant. Because of the bankruptcy of the chosen investor the investment never became real. This was a major assumption in our business plan to have a partner supporting in financial resources and marketing know how in the first two to three years. After the opening and the loss of the investor my business partner and I struggled hard to find an alternative. But finding an investor and having all the operative challenges to face was unfortunately an unmanageable endeavor. This is by far the largest factor why the holis market had from the beginning no real chance at all. Of course as entrepreneurs we are optimistic people and tried our best to make our business financially sustainable, but other problems occurred.

(2) Experts: I knew that we would need a partner network with different competences, because although there was a large team and community we had a lack of very basic economy, legal and market branch knowledge. My or our naive and false belief was to keep this areas in the hands of professionals or so-called experts. As in every profession there are well and less skilled people around. And for this reason it is inevitable to try out different partners to find the best ones. But time in startup businesses is ultimately rare. I relied on some of my existing partners too much. Of course, I have to take full responsibility for this choices.

(3) Team: I had the luck that I gathered a lot of very talented and motivated young people around me. It was the time of the foundation of the startup. As I learned afterwards the team was a good start, but it was not fully committed to go the long way. For this reason and of course for the reason that I needed kitchen and market experienced staff the team changed a lot when the market finally opened. The founder team was perfect for the startup mindset, but not for operative running. Instead, the operative team had not that startup mindset as I thought in the beginning. In a startup you need very specific qualities, and I learned just a few people in our society have this founder gene. A lot of pressure is daily business and as a team member you have to adapt very fast and change and try different things, and the key talent is to do this autonomously. The speed was high and I had in all this no or rare time for personal matters of my team and my employees. I regret this. It would have been important to work more on the people and the team side. So, my advice in here is very clear in a startup. Grow very slow, because growth in staff needs time.

(4) Location: It is not a coincidence when most startups go into the online or digital worlds, because in the real world you have to deal one way or another with the location of your business, especially you are in the consumer business. And good locations are expensive, mostly so expensive that just high-level brands can afford it (and very often to be in the red zone). But the holis market had no A-location, more a B or C. But now comes the joke, also this location is expensive, because you need to attract people to this not perfectly suited location. And the costs to turn a customer to your location is high, e.g. marketing costs, personal resources and time that is a rare good in a small business. At the end there is no new wisdom coming from me. How to be successful with a (local) business? Location, location, location! At the end we started to initiate an online delivery service with green bike transport as also planned in our business plan, but as it was quite successful it was also too late.

How to avoid this failures? I bothered my mind for a long time with this question. For sure, some or many mistakes were avoidable. But when it comes to the big failures that lead to the crash, I am still sure that solutions were quite difficult. Of course, one solution would be the change of the business model itself, but also this would have been complicated, because of agreed public subsidies and crowdfunding money to put exactly this idea and concept into real life. To be honest, if I would have had the experience of now, I would not started the holis market at all. Maybe another business, but not in this market branch.


The holis market was sold after the bankruptcy to a guy in Vienna. The package included the interior, the groceries, but also the brand and the social media channels. So I expect that the market will continue to live in another place in a different shape. I will not be related to this new hypothetical market as for me that chapter is closed for once and for all. I wish the leaders all the best for the new holis market in Vienna. The unpackaged movement in Vienna, Graz, Munich, Berlin and so on is still alive although there were some negative examples. Unpackaged has some good chances in small movements aka Tante-Emma-Laden. If there is success on a larger scale, as in the dimensions of a holis market or a standard supermarket the future is not clear. To my mind, there must be a stronger hand to support such an initiative for a longer period of time with resources. It would be a change of people's thinking and routines needed, and according to neuronal sciences such changes take longer than a few weeks or months.

At the end there is not much left do or to say. Anyway, I just wanna thank everyone who supported the idea, the concept and the business. I invested a lot of energy - nearly 24/7 - to make the dream come true. I am very sorry for everything and everyone who lost their money or their trust in me, my former team, or the idea itself.

I do not regret it at all, although it was a painful experience, but I think it was my duty to do something to make our - still beautiful - planet a better place for future generations.


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