Marta Esteve: Talent, intuition and resolve – a winning formula for entrepreneurship

Copyright: CompassList

She founded her first two internet startups during the dot-com era. Today, Marta Esteve is considered one of the most influential and successful women entrepreneurs in the Spanish startup ecosystem 

As a child, Marta Esteve dreamt of becoming an astronaut. At the age of 13, inspired by her entrepreneur father, she decided business ownership would be a more exciting path to embark on. She graduated in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the Autonomous University of Madrid and, in 1997, obtained her International MBA from the University of Louvain in Belgium.

Although she never landed on the moon, Esteve took risks with pioneering entrepreneurial journeys, founding, and leading internet startups during the dot-com bubble. Passionate, resolute and, above all, a tireless entrepreneur, she has many aces up her sleeve.

Esteve started her professional life as a treasury assistant at Coca-Cola in Belgium, a position that she left two years later in 2000 to return to Spain. There, she and her husband, François Derbaix, co-founded Toprural, the first travel marketplace for rural vacations in the world. In 2002, the couple started Rentalia, a search engine for holiday home rentals.

Both Toprural and Rentalia grew exponentially until 2012 when both startups were acquired by vacation rental marketplace HomeAway, and subsequently sold to Idealista, Spain's leading online real estate platform. A month later, Esteve founded SoySuper, a one-of-a-kind online supermarket that allows users to compare prices and shop from six different Spanish supermarkets.

Regarded as a well-traveled entrepreneur and successful veteran in the management of online companies, Esteve is an active mentor and investor in tech startups within the Spanish ecosystem.

Ahead of the Internet game

It took a real leap of faith for Esteve to found an online company in the early 2000s. It was the dawn of internet startups, which had previously only really been created at universities and research centers and had only just started becoming a possibility for the masses.

On February 2, 2000, Telefonica, Spain's biggest national telecommunications company, launched ADSL on the market, resulting in better internet navigation speeds. In 2000, just over 16% of the Spanish population had access to the Internet; by 2017, this figure had surged to 85%.

Entrepreneurs and internet enthusiasts saw an indisputable opportunity in the dot-com ecosystem. Although many businesses failed because of their over-ambitious and perhaps premature ideas, many others were able to ride the wave of this great economic and social change.

Esteve belonged to the latter group of entrepreneurs, who were able to make sense and take advantage of the internet boom. “I was really attracted by the possibility of forging my own path and creating things that add value and ease to people’s lives,” she recalled.

Seeing great potential and market opportunities in the online travel marketplace, Esteve and her husband started Toprural. "There was a need not only for rural vacations but also for holiday homes,” she explained.

Although Toprural was focused only on rural rentals, owners of other types of vacation homes were soon contacting Esteve about placing their property on the online marketplace. Moved by what seemed like a great market opportunity, the couple subsequently founded Rentalia. With no programming skills, Esteve managed to kick off both projects by teaming up with talented programmers.

A firm believer that a multidisciplinary team with in-field experience are crucial to the success of startups, Esteve said: "The most important thing when starting a new project is to understand the real needs (of consumers), attract a good team, and be fast, patient and responsive."

Esteve’s strategies have been always driven by a customer-centric approach to business with a strong focus on adding value. “I would always recommend focusing on your clients first and not over-relying on external investors," she said. The best source of funding is ultimately your customers."

Betting on transparency, UX

In 2012, she launched her latest startup, Soysuper, to facilitate online grocery shopping. The platform aggregates over 108,000 products from six of Spain's largest supermarkets – Alcampo, Carrefour, Condis, DIA, El Corte Inglés, Eroski and Mercadona – allowing customers to create shopping lists and compare the prices of products in order to choose which retailer to buy from.

“I’ve always done grocery shopping online and it seemed to me that pages could be much more user-friendly and (the buying process) faster. We worked hard on usability, speed, images and page content,” Esteve explained.

To monetize its platform, the company has been investing in big data and analytics for business-to-business accounts, resulting in the creation of Soysuper Solutions. This service provider lets brands increase their products’ visibility while obtaining information on prices of similar products, market trends and consumer behavior.

Soysuper has an annual turnover of €120,800. It employs 14 people, comprising seven full-time employees who work in IT and content creation and seven freelancers who provide front-end, UX and digital marketing support.

In an ecosystem where growth counts more than profits, Esteve is currently striving to rapidly increase the company's user base and the number of affiliated supermarkets, challenging herself in a sector that is digitalizing at a very slow pace because of its complex logistics.

"When you create a company from scratch, you are a challenger and you have to explore new paths where others have not yet gone," Esteve summed up. 

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Edited by Celine Lim

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