Keith Donaghy and Denis Finnegan are the double act behind BookEntertainment, a Northern Ireland-based startup that wants to make it easier for those organising events to hire bands, DJs and entertainers of all sorts.
Finnegan’s experience is in digital marketing, while Donaghy has an entertainment background having started out as a DJ at the tender age of 15. In 2012, he set up his own entertainment agency and 18 months ago teamed up with Finnegan to create the BookEntertainment platform which was soft launched to entertainers last August and to the public in early January.
“As an entertainment agent most of my day was spent checking the price and availability of acts and emailing quotations to customers,” Donaghy says. “This process was cumbersome as a lot of entertainers have day jobs and don’t respond until the evening. This can really delay things and customers end up frustrated by the slow response times.”
The idea for BookEntertainment was hatched when Donaghy and Finnegan met at a business network event. “Denis listened to me talking about my business for a bit and then asked why couldn’t something like booking.com for hotels be applied to bookings for entertainers? Of course he was right. It could and that’s how this all started,” Donaghy says.
“We then spent about two years designing the system exactly as we wanted it before outsourcing the software development. To put it very simply, we have automated and streamlined the booking procedure to make life easier for both entertainers and the public. At the moment if you’re an entertainer you either have to join an agency – and hand over control of your act – in order to get gigs or you have to advertise directly to get leads. These leads can then take time to materialise into solid bookings.
“BookEntertainment is a direct service. It provides event planners with real-time information on availability and pricing, and puts entertainers in full control of their gigs. When booking an entertainer customers need to know if the entertainers are any good, whether they are available on their chosen date and if they are within their budget. We answer all these questions instantly, saving the customer time and money,” Donaghy says.
The company’s main competition is the traditional booking agent who typically manages a portfolio of entertainers and acts. However, Donaghy says, the evolution of technology means their days are numbered, as entertainers will increasingly use platforms like his to take bookings directly.
The BookEntertainment site is now live in Northern Ireland, and a dedicated site for the Republic will be launched later this year. Donaghy already has a sizeable group of Southern-based entertainers on his books and says that the single biggest reason people book entertainment is for weddings. “Very often they need more than one type of entertainment for their big day,” he says. “They may want ceremony music, then a band followed by a disco and maybe a magician for the kids. They can get it all in one place with our platform.”
Just under 800 acts have registered on the platform so far. It is free to sign up and BookEntertainment makes its money by charging 15 per cent commission on confirmed bookings. The bootstrapped company, which employs three people, has spent around €45,000 on the project, most of that coming from the founders, with some support from Invest Northern Ireland.
Donaghy says that first-mover advantage is the company’s trump card, added to the fact that anyone seeking to copy its model would have to build the software from scratch. “There are sites that claim to be booking platforms but in fact they’re usually tied to specific agencies – our platform is open to everyone – and they don’t have the functionality to check availability in real time, which we do.”