It is one thing to become a leading player in a particular industry sector, but quite another to take what you've learned in that space and achieve a similar level of success in a completely different field. One company looking to do just that, though, is Irish travel tech firm Boxever.
The Dublin-based company, which was founded by Dave O'Flanagan, Alan Giles and Dermot O'Connor in late 2011, has developed a big data and personalisation platform which is primarily used by airlines and travel operators.
Boxever has built up an impressive customer base in the sector over the years with companies that include Emirates, Air New Zealand, eDreams Odigeo, Jetstar, Flybe, Finnair and Aer Lingus.
But while it still sees plenty of growth potential in the sector, the company is also focused on expanding its core offering beyond the travel space to include financial services and utilities.
It recently rolled out its solution for a leading European insurer, one of the first in a number of deployments that the company is involved in outside of travel.
“We feel there is still a lot of runway providing our solutions to airlines,” says O’Flanagan, Boxever’s chief executive.
Accidental pun aside, O’Flanagan isn’t joking when he outlines the opportunities for the company that still exist in the travel sector.
“We’ve got 21 customers and there are 600 airlines globally; out of these I’d estimate that there are at least between 200 and 250 that are of a size that could benefit from using our technology,” he says.
“However, 18 months ago we started looking at what are the right growth opportunities for Boxever and, while going deeper into airlines is certainly one of them, we were also receiving interest from outside of the travel space and realised this is something we should follow up on,” O’Flanagan adds.
While it has achieved great success with airlines, Boxever didn’t start out just to work in that sector. Indeed, it was only while based at NDRC and looking at refining its proposition that it picked out airlines above other options as its go-to-market choice.
“We developed our technology to be sector-agnostic. We wanted to build a product for everyone but opted to start off selling it into airlines. This was a smart move at the time as it helped us narrow our focus, increased investor confidence and allowed us to build up expertise in a particular sector,” says O’Flanagan.
"Doing this meant that we were able to go in and win against the likes of Oracle with Air New Zealand. We couldn't have done that if we'd been selling to everyone in every sector. Specialising allowed us to be in rooms we probably wouldn't have been allowed in otherwise," he adds.
Boxever’s technology enables traditional companies to become more customer-centric by getting the best out of data they already have. Part of the reason why its solutions proved so popular with airlines early on was that they were so bad at knowing their customers.
Few had any real understanding of who was buying tickets with them, partly because most didn’t sell direct to consumers at that time, but also because any data they had was stored in different places. However, as online bookings were becoming increasingly popular and the need to boost ancillary revenues more necessary, airlines had to get to know their customers better.
O’Flanagan notes that this is still the case for some airlines with less than 40 per cent of bookings made online in most parts of the world.
He adds that many financial services companies are also struggling to get acquainted with their customers. These include the insurance firm it has just rolled out its platform for, which wants to communicate more effectively with customers around pensions.
“Much of what we’ve learned being part of digital transformation initiatives for airlines is extremely relevant to companies in the financial services space. Banks, for example, are busy looking at airlines thinking they are doing an amazing job at communicating with customers and creating strong brands, and they think they can learn from them,” he says.
O’Flanagan adds that companies in the financial services sector have little option but to engage better with customers given the pressures they face from a rising number of smart fintech start-ups and initiatives such as the payments services directive 2 (PSD2).
This legislation, which came into effect earlier this year, effectively forces banks to open up their interfaces to third parties.
“What we’ve developed for airlines is highly transferable and so we feel extremely confident going into other industry sectors,” says O’Flanagan.
“We’re in a great place to own the financial services space and have an advantage over fintech start-ups in that we already have a great brand and an impressive client list.”
Another practical advantage for the company is ease of access to multiple clients.
As with everyone else we're finding it bloody hard to find people, as everyone wants people with data expertise
“Airlines are great but there are generally only one or two per country, so over the years we’ve been criss-crossing the globe. In other sectors, though, there are thousands of potential customers that are nearby and who want to learn from us,” says O’Flanagan.
Last year Boxever tapped investors for more cash, having previously raised $19 million in funding. The company recorded a 65 per cent jump in revenues in 2016, a period in which accumulated losses jumped to almost €14 million. O’Flanagan says the company is primarily focused on achieving growth over profitability right now.
As with other tech companies, Boxever has found hiring highly-skilled professionals in Ireland an issue. The company,which currently employs about 70 people, recently opened an office in Madrid as a way around the problem.
“As with everyone else we’re finding it bloody hard to find people, as everyone wants people with data expertise. This meant we had to re-evaluate whether it made sense to keep everything in Dublin. Our solution has been to set up in Madrid as that is good in terms of access to talent and lower costs,” says O’Flanagan.
“But we always wanted to build an Irish company that would be a global success story that remained headquartered here and that doesn’t change. The centre of gravity for us will always be in Dublin.”