VIDEO: Co-Founders of Booking Boss discuss their journey & partnering with Expedia
We sat down with Renee and Andy Walsh, husband and wife co-founders of online travel booking system, Booking Boss. In 2015 they gain national attention when they raised a $2M round from prominent investors including venture capital firm Acequia Capital, and the startup’s revenue has grown over 45% year-on-year over the past 18 months, which founder Renee Walsh says was key to attracting investment.
Booking Boss has just landed a partnership with online travel giant Expedia, a deal which will see its offering expand around the world.
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Q: What were you doing just before you founded Booking Boss?
We've actually had our own business for a long time. We started up our own business called Code Name Tuesday in our mid to late twenties and we expected to be multi millionaires and retiring in six months. We realised there was a lot of hard work involved with having your own business. And I think one of the challenges in our consulting business was that a lot of people request you to actually to do the work. So to scale that type of business was actually quite challenging for us.
"So we always sort of dreamed of what product could we create? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a product? "
And a lot of our clients were tour operators so understanding a lot of their business strategy, what challenges they were facing, and given the experience on the other side we knew the challenges that the OTA’s and the Aggregators who are facing selling travel activities, so we sort of realised wow this could actually be something that we create. So we did.
Q: Renee, at what point did you move from your corporate role back into working for Booking Boss full time?
I actually moved back into working for Booking Boss full time when we got some seed funding so it sort of gave u a little bit of breathing room to be able to focus on Booking Boss as our sole business and also ensure that I could, we could, feed our child. And when I came back into Booking Boss we had two, so we have got two children now. So it was really important for us to…I mean everyone’s journey is different and we have made big sacrifices but that funding allowed us to both focus on the business and really start growing it. And I think that was when we noticed such a big shift in what we could achieve and it has just gained momentum from there.
Q: Andy, how did you see the product changing at that point?
Wow. What was interesting was we had a very fanatical core base who were helping drive the product and as we expanded, we are doing everything from Zoos to V8 Racing cars to sky dive companies and the requirements, you think it is all appointments in that calendar, but the requirements keep blossoming and blossoming and changing and shifting. So pivoting and moving around those requirements was mind blowing; just the little things. I am trying to think of a good example but I am coming up dry now.
I think a good example is moving from your small activity operators that have one bus or maybe ten kayaks and so the inventory management is relatively contained, through to working with a large zoo where you are managing all of the entry ticketing plus the in park experiences. So the inventory management for people to be able to feed a giraffe or pat a koala or whatever it is that you can do inside the zoo that is a paid activity, that only runs one hour a day, every 15 minutes, different people. So there is a whole host of different requirements but I think that transition from core activities to attractions was probably the biggest one. We are still developing the product out for that enterprise sector. There is a lot more we could be doing.
Q: How long did it take you to learn that maybe a channel wasn’t working as well as you thought it might?
We have three month targets and obviously we plan the year from a marketing perspective but we break that down really heavily.
"So if something is not working in a month, then we change it but really we have looked at three months of data to get a really good indication of what was working and what wasn’t working. "
Then we sort of dialed up some things and dial down some things to see.I think it is an ongoing process, we are always learning and as we expand into different international regions Facebook is maybe not going to necessarily work in China or Indonesia. So we are learning about that on a local level as well which is really interesting. So it is a constant journey: we are learning all the time.
Q: Andy, how are you connecting with customers?
Me personally, I’m lucky because I like to get very hands on with them. It was probably three or four weeks ago, we were in the Hunter Valley and we dropped in and had a word with Hunter Valley Cadillacs (hi guys). It was just great just to sit down, figure out where their pain points were, where it solved it, if there were any holes in it. So it is really nice to be able to connect with those guys and really have that level of understanding what their problems are but that is definitely where I fit is just being able to side with like I say again with the whole fanatical customer thing, I keep a finger on the pulse of all the guys.
" I take a look at the sales stats, I just make sure everything is good, ask them “New feature? Feedback? Yes,No?”
Even in developing some of the new features we have coming up very shortly, all of our major customers are in the loop; many of the minor ones are too.I don’t particularly enjoy the whole concept of voting on features because that leaves out the execution part of the discussion. It is all well and good saying, “Yes we would like this feature” but how do you want to execute it, how is it actually done? All the nitty gritty isn’t there. So being able to say, okay this is a key area we want to improve, this is what we demo to potential clients and clients and they come back with feedback and it is fantastic. Being able to keep those guys on the rail and giving us the feedback we want to develop the product is mind blowing, like they know they need this, they know it can transform the way they do business, I am a big fan of face to face contact if possible, but phone, email. We talk to our major customers probably every week by phone, but all of that.
Q: So let’s talk a little bit about the Expedia partnership. How did that come about? Did you appeal to them? Did they come to you?
It is very interesting in the travel industry flights and hotels and even restaurants now it is an expectation that you book online and you get instant confirmation. And so our category even though it is part of the travel industry is really very far behind in that expectation and as a result we haven’t really had the visibility that other categories in travel have had with the big OTA’s and what not. And no one really knew how to crack that either. As a large OTA like Expedia to try and get access, to think you have got to manually call 10,000 operators to get their product information, and then you have got to manually call to check their availability. You are never going to get scale in that instance. And so that is why no one was really sure how to crack it all or what to do. But technology and progression and people understanding what they need to do, the conversation became an obvious one.
"I think even a year ago at Focus Right, the CEO of Expedia just over a year ago said, “Oh no we are not going to go into travel activities” and literally a year later they flipped. "
So we have been having these conversations for many years, since the very beginning of Booking Boss because that was always our intention given our background of working with Last Minute and Red Balloon, we knew we needed to connect the industry to really get scale and to allow this industry to be as prevalent as flights and accommodations and restaurants now is. So that was always our intention, but interestingly enough because this category was the poor cousin, no one really had API’s or even an interest in that yet and they certainly didn’t want to connect into a young start up with five clients, which is fair enough.
So as we have got scale and then they have seen the opportunity, the discussions have become a lot more real, we are adding new connections every month with different OTA’s globally. I think we are up to our 250th connection, so Expedia is obviously a great part of that. We were one of four globally chosen to connect into Expedia and be part of the development of their API for this category. So we are really chuffed with that.