Startup Spotlight: Make It Social: Group Booking In A Button Click
In a trip’s planning stage, one of the core processes that has still not been automated is – group booking. How many times have you noticed this in travel websites – “For bookings of more than 10 people, call our call center 1800-ABC-DEFG”? How about automating the group booking? And to spice it up, how about adding a social angle to the entire process? Scotland based startup Make It Social is trying to address these critical solutions. Our interview with Make It Social is below.
What’s “Make It Social”? Why was this product needed and what problem are you trying to solve?
Make It Social is a unique piece of software designed to provide a hassle-free way of sharing, organising and paying for a group social event, for example a holiday or school reunion. The problem with organising group events in the past has always been that the designated group leader has to book and often pay for the event up front, before chasing the other group members for their individual payments. This is an old-fashioned way of doing things and can actually put people off organising the event at all. Make It Social solves this problem and enables people to share and pay for events the social way. It is also suitable for anyone, of any age group, and for any group social event.
Tell us how the various segments (airline, hotel, tour operators, cruise etc) in travel can benefit from Make It Social?
All the above sectors can benefit from Make It Social because it allows companies to capitalise on today’s online social world, whatever their product may be. Not only can they offer customers the latest in cutting edge software by providing a Make it Social button on their websites – thereby giving them a competitive edge – they can also increase their social fan base and sales at the same time. One exciting feature is the ability for companies to engage directly with group members perhaps offering add-ons or extra incentives to close sales. As well as this, companies will benefit from the peer-to-peer introductions to their products among customers using Make It Social. Basically companies can get to know their customers like never before, while enjoying the free word-of-mouth marketing which results from happy customers. Finally, Make It Social integrates with a company’s existing website and payment gateway, with little need for extra staff training to operate the intuitive software effectively.
When did you launch the product?
We launched Make It Social at the World Travel Market in November 2012 and we were developing it for about eight months prior to that.
Tell us about your founders.
The company founders are Eddie Robb and Rob Leigh-Bramwell, who are first cousins. Eddie is a former management consultant and Rob was a chartered surveyor but they both decided to leave their previous careers to focus on Make It Social.
Eddie developed a love of travel after visiting New Zealand, Australia, Barbados, the USA, South East Asia, Italy and Croatia. Eddie decided to leave management consultancy to pursue his dream of setting up his own business, which he achieved in 2012. He is a qualified snowboard instructor and was also a finalist in WeDO Scotland’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012.
Rob worked with a residential property developer in West London until May last year, having qualified as a Chartered Surveyor. Rob joined Eddie at Make It Social in June 2012; just a few months after Eddie had developed the concept. Rob has a strong interest in and commitment to sustainability and effective Corporate Social Responsibility.
How is your service different from the event planning features in current social giants like Facebook and Google+?
Some social networks enable you to organise and share events but they offer very basic services which do not include a payment facility. Make It Social takes it a step further in that we facilitate payment plus ongoing liaison between the event attendees and the companies involved. Make It Social looks after the event from the conception of the idea through to completion, and also enables liaison with those involved after the event (for example to give feedback to the company), all in one easily accessible location. It also allows people to interact and get excited about the upcoming event so it becomes more of a social group experience which can extend the attendees’ online networks.
What challenges you face now / faced in the past?
In the past we faced the challenge that, although there were many ways to organise shared payment and many people had tried to do it, it had never really worked properly. So we had to work very hard in order to ensure our working model was right and we have since solved the problem of effective shared payment.
Since then, the testing process has been challenging for us as it is incredibly time-consuming. The product is ready to go but it is still with a few websites to ensure it works just as it should, and we now have some great test partners on board but this also took us some time to arrange.
Did anyone discourage you that Make It Social is not needed and why you still went ahead and launched Make It Social?
No, all feedback so far has been very positive. The only time people have not necessarily understood how Make It Social could help them was when we were not really approaching the right businesses but we have since narrowed down and defined our target markets and audiences.
Any info you can share with us on your funding?
Initial seed funding was sourced from private equity and we are currently negotiating a second round of funding as well as being on the look-out for other funding opportunities. We were also lucky enough to receive grant funding from the Scottish Government’s High Growth Start Up programme.
Who are your competitors?
A couple of other companies are doing something similar but their systems mean that everyone has to pay up front, which can hold up the organisation of the event, and also they are not UK-based, which can put people off using a service. We have every conviction that our system is more effective and easy to use.
What’s the plan for Make It Social for next 18 to 24 months?
We have several aims within that time period, including:
1) The Make it Social ‘button’ will be rolled out on major travel websites to help them facilitate social group bookings. Our focus is not just the travel industry as we intend to branch out into other ticketing and online group sales of products. Sales to new companies and markets would be on the back of strong case study evidence showing improved conversion rates and larger group sizes as a result of using Make It Social
2) Online users in the UK as well as other first world markets will recognise the brand and its function
3) Many clients will be using the mobile app to organise their social lives and holidays, favouring companies which facilitate Make It Social
4) Online registration for the product will allow new clients to purchase the Make It Social software, speeding up installation and product delivery.
How are travellers and travel companies are reacting towards Make It Social so far?
We have received very positive feedback so far, and lots of people/ travel companies are interested as they feel it solves a problem which hasn’t effectively been solved before. When we launched the product at the World Travel Market we had great feedback from companies both large and small, who felt that Make It Social would really benefit both their customers and their long-term business.
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