Our start-up of the week is BookingHawk, an online booking and diary management system built in Dublin.
Why might you use the services of Dublin start-up BookingHawk? “It is suitable for one-to-one appointments, classes and one-off events,” explained Niall Smith, founder of BookingHawk.
“It is extremely flexible yet it maintains a clutter-free and easy-to-use feel. The online booking space is full of competition.
‘Flexibility and clever design are at the centre of everything we do’
– NIALL SMITH
“For our flat rate of €11.14 per month, our customers are getting all of the features that are typically only available with a premium subscription from our competitors.”
Smith explained that to date, the system is being used by B&Bs, sports pitches, physios, nutritionists, chiropodists, holistic centres and Pilates instructors.
“It is also in use for meeting-room booking and wedding-dress-fitting scheduling. Flexibility and clever design are at the centre of everything we do.”
Smith explained that virtually any business that takes bookings over the phone can benefit from signing up to BookingHawk.
“However, we are mindful that we need to be realistic and world domination cannot happen … at least not overnight. Our growth is directly linked to the size of the team.
“The system is built and live, but it is only going to grow if we can spread the word. We’re in the process of studying each market segment and qualifying it. We will aggressively pursue the market that is most lucrative. After that, it’s a matter of rinsing and repeating.”
Smith is the sole founder and his background is purely technical.
“I have worked as a software engineer with AOL and Guidewire. I spent time working for Deloitte as a senior consultant. As well as these roles, I have worked as a contractor for Australian government departments.
“Starting up BookingHawk has really pushed me to develop my non-technical skill set. I really enjoy meeting with people and using BookingHawk.com to help solve the issues that they have in day-to-day business.”
Currently, BookingHawk is a participant in phase two of the New Frontiers programme.
“The programme allows interaction with some very knowledgeable professionals in all areas of business development. It has been a very positive experience and has strengthened and focused the business.”
A business owner or event organiser can go to BookingHawk.com and click ‘Take Online Bookings’. Once they register, they have their own business or event profile page.
They then link to this page from their website or Facebook page. People can then navigate to the BookingHawk.com page for that business and see the available dates and times.
A couple of clicks later, the booking is complete and both the business and the customer get a confirmation email.
Smith said there are lots of practical features built in.
“For example, discount codes, SMS reminders, online payments, automatic refunds, self-managed cancellations, customisable booking questions, multi-location management, event/group bookings, to name but a few.
“The system has proven a great way for businesses to eliminate their no-shows, reach new customers and move with the times.”
Smith is clear in his focus for what he wants BookingHawk to become.
“I want this business to have a positive image, a trusted reputation and to create jobs.
“I want to recalibrate expectation when it comes to what should be expected in terms of customer support. People are tired of reading user manuals, phoning call centres and generally being taken for granted once they purchase a service of any kind.
“BookingHawk is free to use for 30 days. After that, it is €11.14 per month with no contract. Users leave whenever they like. We want to see our customers succeed and do everything we can to make it happen. We recognise that business owners want to spend as little time as possible configuring their software systems.
“The ultimate goal for BookingHawk is to become one of the main players in the online booking and diary management space. Already, we have had unsolicited interest from businesses in Northern Ireland, Germany, South Africa and the US.”
Alive and kicking
Smith said BookingHawk is primed to grow.
“The system itself is live and performing terrifically. We recently emerged from our early-access phase and are ready to exponentially scale.
“There are currently not enough hours in the day for all of the work that we have. New features, clever innovations, sales calls … the list seems endless. “Though we are not actively looking, if the right investor approached us, we would have no difficulty with injecting cash into the areas we have already identified as actions, which would quickly scale the business. We will get there, it is just a matter of when.”
While the platform is a fait accompli, getting business going was not without its frictions, from technical challenges to business obstacles.
“For example, there were two businesses in the same town that were about to go live with the booking system. When one found out about the other, they flipped the lid! I tried to explain that you wouldn’t get rid of your phone just because your competitor had one but that fell on deaf ears. But every challenge is a learning opportunity.
“I am always asking myself what I could do differently the next time. It is a constant evolution of approaches and opinions. It’s pretty different to the black-and-white, good old days of simply writing code.”
Plenty worth investing in
Smith said the start-up scene in Ireland is taking shape. “I have seen and read about many new ideas amid the Irish start-up scene. We really have some talented and innovative minds.
“As fashionable as it is to give out about government and politicians, the State has some excellent supports in place. Of course, it could always do more but there are good supports available.
“As for the bad press the country got lately when a high-profile VC fund pulled out, I don’t buy the reason that there is nothing worth investing in within Ireland. From the top of my head, I could give you at least 10 solid start-ups with great potential.”
His advice for fellow founders is to make sure they have access to good technical advice.
“From my experience, getting involved in a start-up will require you to become comfortable with continually pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Regardless of what stage you are at, whether it is an idea or a fully developed product, I strongly advise you to approach your Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland.
“I advise anyone that is non-technical with a technical product to get somebody technical on their side whom they trust before they set out to build their start-up.
“Starting a new tech business is a tough path and the odds are stacked against you. But, to paraphrase the poem, yes you may fail … but what if you succeed?”
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