Tech start-up of the week: GroupLeader.com

31 May 20147 Shares

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Pictured: Bob Haugh and Fergal O'Brien, founders, GroupLeader.com

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GroupLeader.com is a new travel technology start-up based in Dublin and co-founded by Bob Haugh of Travel Department and Fergal O’Brien. They have developed a new platform that delivers a ‘one-stop-shop’ for group travel organisers to book the best hotels, ground transport providers, tour guides and much more.

GroupLeader.com also allows group-members to choose the best partners and also to buy as a group and pay separately, explained co-founder Fergal O’Brien.

“While the hotel industry allows for the automated booking of less than ten people through booking engines and Online Travel Agents, groups of ten or more are typically treated differently. These ‘group’ requests need to be screened individually and a bespoke price created for the group’s requirements at that point-in-time. So, planning a group trip is still very hands-on and time-consuming and consequently the ‘groups’ market has been underserved online until now.

“We are targeting anyone who organises a group to travel anywhere in the UK and Ireland at the outset and then launching in mainland Europe later this year.

“Group organisers could be anyone like a football team captain, a mini-rugby coach or a church choir leader and similarly groups can be as diverse as a bunch of golfing or cycling friends, a school or University class trip, a large family reunion or even corporate groups. Groups typically make up 20pc of a hotel’s revenue alone so the market is considerable and there are few players offering a holistic offering like ours encompassing multiple partner types.”

The founders

O’Brien has lived and worked on four separate continents, creating successful advertising campaigns and content for numerous blue chip and start-up clients.

He first worked in digital when it was called ‘online’. During the dotcom boom he worked for Organic, a large global agency in their London office and subsequently moved to broadcaster ITV where he produced and directed news, lifestyle and sponsored features.

Six years later, he decided on a career change and attended business school in Cape Town and New York as part of his MBA. He returned to Ireland in late 2009 and co-founded a small clean tech start-up which ultimately failed and subsequently worked in a digital agency for a couple of years before meeting Bob Haugh.

Haugh founded Travel Department almost 20 years ago and has grown it to become Ireland’s biggest escorted holiday provider, bringing 40-50,000 passengers around the world each year.

In 2011, Haugh co-founded digital travel start-up ClickandGo.com which provides its customers with flexible packaged holidays and sold a stake in it to Independent News & Media last year.

For many years Haugh thought about how an online platform was needed to make organising group activities easier. After organising a golf trip with his friends, he decided it was an idea worth pursuing and, following a chance introduction to Fergal, they decided to pursue the goal of setting up GroupLeader.com together.

The technology

The process is simple; an organiser planning a trip sets up a profile on GroupLeader.com and sends a request to a selection of shortlisted partner hotels meeting their requirements. GroupLeader.com provides a mobile responsive platform to find and book hotels, ground transport, tour guides and much more.

“No more trawling the Web for days trying to contact the right suppliers. GroupLeader.com puts the group organiser directly in touch with the best hotels and travel providers for groups,” O’Brien explained.

“GroupLeader.com’s partners will offer the best available rates for each group every time. As the group organiser deals directly with the supplier on the platform, they will receive a competitive quote specific to their exact requirements.

“The GroupLeader.com dashboard allows members to easily communicate with the group. They can view supplier shortlists and manage bookings, payments and online documents such as rooming lists all in the one place – removing the difficulty of organising and managing group members, and making group decisions more transparent.

The group chooses a hotel and each member pays their share of the cost into GroupLeader.com which then forwards the combined payments to the hotel.

The platform facilitates the simple division of payments, meaning no messy spreadsheets are required to work out who owes what and no more chasing money owed by group members. Group members can pay their portion of the cost individually by card or PayPal.

GroupLeader.com also makes group travel really easy for its partners, providing a new channel to receive qualified group travel requests. There is no cost to sign up and no contract commitment, only a low commission rate charged on confirmed bookings.

The Expedia for group travel

“The ultimate goal is to become the go-to brand for group organisers globally – to be the Expedia for groups,” O’Brien explained.

“We have spent the last 12 months with the research, design, development and testing of the platform. There are so many customer types and so many partner types that can use our platform that we feel we are only getting started with our initial offering so deployment of new features and functionality is ongoing.

“We started recruiting hotel partners a few months ago and have grown to nearly 1,000 hotels in the UK and Ireland now, including big brand name chains like Jurys, Bewleys, Maldron, Clarion, Radisson and Holiday Inn to name a few. 

We have now started acquiring our first few customers including a 14-person University reunion in Oxford; a golfing trip for 24 to Sligo; a US business school group of 60 travelling to Dublin for the Web Summit; and an overseas mini-rugby tour of 100+ (kids and parents).

“Once we get some traction in the marketplace to prove our concept, we will be looking for investment.”

Chicken and egg

O’Brien said that recruiting partner hotels was very difficult at first. “We needed suppliers before we had customers but, at the outset, hotels wanted to know how many customers we had, before the platform had even been built – a chicken and egg situation for us!

“Building a marketplace meant convincing our first few partners was difficult but, with a lot of hard work we were able to get the first few on board and this has become easier since.”

Like many of his current generation of start-ups O’Brien says he and the team are encouraged by the ecosystem of start-ups, advisors and other players in the market who are very generous with their time.

“The team at Enterprise Ireland have also been a fantastic help too. In addition, we’ve had some great advice from fellow entrepreneurs who have developed consumer marketplaces and this has been invaluable.”

In conclusion O’Brien has three pieces of advise for tech start-ups in Ireland right now:

1.     Do some independent research to make sure there is a market for your idea, whether this is a basic squeeze page or a Google survey.

2.     The nature of start-ups is essentially trying to prove a hypothesis so getting proof earlier rather than later is invaluable in terms of time and money.

3.     You will need to travel down a lot of roads to figure out whether they are cul de sacs or not but, by crowdsourcing answers and solutions, you will spend less resources finding out whether they’re dead ends or through roads. 

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com