EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists: Sean and Leona McAllister, PlotBox
Company plots further success after winning over cemetery managers with its tech
Sean and Leona McAllister say PlotBox can save cemetery operators up to 80 per cent on core processes. Photograph: Richie Stokes
Co Derry-based PlotBox is bringing the digital revolution to the death industry. The cloud-based software gives cemetery managers control over all their operations, using location-driven data. Sean and Leona McAllister, the entrepreneurs behind the business, say PlotBox can save cemetery operators up to 80 per cent on core processes and help them streamline how they do business.
Furthermore, the public can search and find death records, headstone pictures and grave locations through Discovereverafter. com, the company’s genealogy website. This is set to relaunch shortly and will also offer immersive cemetery views, flower delivery and other services.
The McAllisters founded the company in 2011 and started by mapping over 200 graveyards in Ireland before expanding to the UK and the US, which is now its biggest market. PlotBox employs 13 people across the island of Ireland, in India and in the US, and expects to hire more staff this year.
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?
Sean, who had a land surveying and engineering firm, was asked to carry out a land survey on our local parish graveyard in 2009. This work included checking the information on gravestones. This gave us an insight into the fragmented nature of the data in cemeteries and prompted us to develop a solution.
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique.
Our biggest USP is our unrivalled cemetery mapping solution. We provide data migration, mapping and software, along with hosting and support. The records can also be shared with the public, generating revenue for the cemetery.
What was your “backs-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Deciding whether to try and break into the US market as soon as we did. We were advised to stick to our home market first, but gut feeling made us decide to go for it. We are so glad we did.
What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?
On our first research trip to the US, our first meeting was with the director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, who coincidently needed new software and digital mapping for its cemeteries, the largest of which is 213 acres. We eventually won that contract, which gave us great credibility.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
Cash flow has been the most important as we’re a young company.
We’ve also been working hard on marketing metrics to see where our leads are coming from and testing different channels such as email campaigns and customer referral schemes.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
In the past year, 65 per cent of our revenue was from the US, with the rest from the UK and Ireland. We’re looking at expansion to Canada and Europe.
Describe your growth funding path.
We have raised investment this year from venture capitalists and angel investors in Northern Ireland and the US.
We are closing off our seed round at the moment and anticipate an A round in 12 to 18 months.
What was your biggest business mistake?
Being too protective of the product in early days in a way that could have hindered us from scaling. We since realised that making things more open will help us scale.
What “red tape” most hampers growth?
There is far more red tape in the UK and Ireland than in the US, because we must deal with local authorities, which have a procurement process to go through that affects our sales cycle. This was a key reason for us targeting the American market.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
Our goal is for PlotBox to be the best-practice software of choice. We want to revolutionise bereavement management.