EY Entrepreneur of the Year emerging category: Dave O’Flanagan, Boxever

The company offers a data solution so travel firms can improve the customer experience

Dave O’Flanagan, chief executive of Boxever

Dave O’Flanagan, chief executive of Boxever

 

Dave O’Flanagan is chief executive of Boxever, a data science company that combines big data and predictive analytics to give airlines and online travel agents insight into each customer.

O’Flanagan previously worked at airline ecommerce company Datalex where he saw a need in the travel industry to enable organisations to better understand the huge volume of data they had about their customers.

They could then improve their customer’s experience and increase revenue by creating personalised offers for customers.

Boxever was founded in 2011 by O’Flanagan, Dermot O’Connor and Alan Giles.

The trio created a cloud-based solution that uses big data and predictive analytics to determine what each customer is likely to respond to. This would then automatically generate tailored messages and offers across any marketing channel, including web, email, mobile, call centre and even inflight.

The company works with some of the largest travel brands in the world, including Air New Zealand, eDreams Odigeo, Ryanair and Tigerair. It employs more than 50 people in its offices in Dublin and Boston.

In 2012, Boxever secured $1 million in initial funding from Delta Partners, Tribal VC and Enterprise Ireland.

In 2014, the company raised $6 million in a Series A funding round backed by US-based Polaris Partners and Frontline Ventures.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business? I’ve worked in a number of small companies that sold to large, global organisations in telecommunications and travel, and every single one of these organisations struggled with data and insights about their customers.

I was on a call with a very large airline and they told me that that they didn’t know if a customer booked with them more than once in the same year – that was the lightbulb moment that prompted me to really think about starting Boxever.

What was your “back-to- the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it? In our first year, we lost two key sales deals in the space of a week, and we were convinced that we had won both.

We had put everything into closing them and had even started hiring to deliver them. It was a crushing defeat for the team and took a lot for us to pick ourselves up after it.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans? Boxever was born global. All of our customers, except for Ryanair, are international in places like New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and all over Europe.

There are not many opportunities close to home, so we expect this to continue.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business? Starting Boxever. The decision to leave a stable, well-paying job and embark on a risky, non-paying venture was a big decision for me personally as I had a mortgage and a young family with another child on the way.

It was a risk, but with hindsight it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make? Entrepreneurs need to be commercially focused from the outset.

Focus on selling your product, and if you’ve never done it, you need to learn to do it.

Only when customers start buying your product can you know if you’ve got a viable business.