FareHarbor: The Clever $300 Million Bootstrapped Vertical Software Business


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In 2011, this guy created booking software for boat tours.

In 2018, he sold it for $300 million.

He kept all the money because he never raised a dollar.

The story of an amazing software business you've never heard of.

Meet FareHarbor.

Booking software that 20,000 tourism operators run on.

While other competitors raised $20-30 million rounds, they bootstrapped and doubled revenue every year.

They took a clever approach.

Let's dive in:


Brothers Lawrence and Zach Hester grew up in chilly Minnesota.

When Lawrence visited Zach at school in Hawaii, he tried to reserve a surfboard and kayak online.

He found there wasn't a simple way for these tourism businesses to accept online sales.

So they built it.

First Customers

They sold their first customer without a product.

Over 12 months, They got to 25 Hawaii-based clients including parasailing, snorkeling, and horseback-riding companies.

They met with all prospects in person, even if it meant hopping on a plane.

It worked.

Pricing Innovation

They realized tourism was transactional. These weren't repeat end-consumers.

Instead of charging for the software, they gave it away for free. They charged end-consumers a 6% transaction fee.

FareHarbor made $100s to $1,000s per month from each operator.


Instead of saying hey you need a website to these busy tourism operators.

They would build a website and get it all set up to take orders for them.

"In the early days, it was about building a business. It’s about having revenue. It’s not about playing startup.”


They hired young salespeople right out of college and paid them a tiny base salary but half the first-year bookings for the operators they signed. It was great money.

One slept in a van and drove around Hawaii until he booked every single operator in the area.

All Hands On Deck

When a VC-backed competitor went under they swooped in.

90% of the team came to the office through the July 4 weekend.

20 air mattresses were brought in.

But they needed more time.

Get Creative

Other competitors tried to buy the failing company. They got turned down.

Instead, FareHarbor offered $100k just to keep the lights on for 7 days. They agreed.

In the end, FareHarbor snapped up 340 of Zerve's 549 clients and 90% of all its transaction volume.


FareHarbor scaled to $50 million in revenue while doubling every year.

They went on to sell to Booking. com for $300 million.

Since the brothers never raised money, they got to keep almost all of it.