Carl Pihl of TicketingHub tells us about a complete tour booking platform engineered for growth.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Carl Pihl: Thank you for asking; everyone in my family had COVID in different locations at different times. We were worried about my stepfather, who ended up at the hospital but are relieved he made a healthy recovery.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded TicketingHub.
Carl Pihl: I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. In school, I was trading baseball cards, then started selling mobile phones in the late 90s to make some pocket money and started my first venture at the age of 16.
I saved up for months to buy a scooter (motorbike), but my parents found them dangerous, so they called my bank and froze my account. From that moment, I decided I will never be dependent on someone else and needed to make my own money!
Fuelled with ambition, I decided to start working as a promoter for nightclubs, but I was only 16! I had to hustle my way in, took my American passport, scanned it, changed the date of birth, printed it out, and plastified it like the French ID cards where I was at the time, and it worked! A few months later, I was already running my own nights and making good returns.
Fast forward a few years; I started a company called Lost in London, which organized the social program (events, attractions, tours) for Language schools in London. We rapidly grew to a team of 14 people; things were going well, but our whole process was manual; we printed tickets in the office, send them to the schools who would sell them to the students. The problem was schools never had the right amount of tickets; there were too many different types of tickets, so we tried to digitalize this process.
We built a virtual concierge for schools to login and sell tickets to their students. We bought a license for MiniCards in London, which had access to over 200 hotels and hostels, and released our new system to schools and hotels.
It was an incredible few months; we doubled our sales thanks to real-time inventory and access to new markets, but shortly after, attractions started invoicing us for the tickets we never sold. Little did we know students were photocopying our tickets now A4 instead of stubbed and being let into the attractions on our dime.
We almost lost the business, called all the attractions we worked with asking for a barcode which they couldn’t’ supply us with which is when I realized how antiquated this market was, so I sold my shares in “London in London” and started building TicketingHub: a complete tour booking platform engineered for growth.
How does TicketingHub innovate?
Carl Pihl: TicketingHub is changing how Tours and activities will be booked and consumed tomorrow.
We’re constantly innovating, adding complicated features yet keeping things simple for everyone to use. My favorite thing to do is the Mom test (http://momtestbook.com/). If my mother can do it, then my clients can too.
TicketingHub is simple enough for any business owner to use yet powerful enough to grow a large company’s sales.
But we’re more than just a reservation software; we partner with our clients! We listen to their pain points, try to understand their processes, and see how we can use technology to automate things for them at no extra fee.
When I asked clients why they signed up, the common answers were: “the simplicity of use, the flexibility of your system and the team”. I strongly believe that alone you will go fast, but together we will go far.
Our customer experience is probably the best in the industry. We constantly add features that save our clients time and help them automate their business. As an example, we managed to supercharge our clients’ reviews on TripAdvisor or Google by sending SMS feedback requests instead of emails which increased their reviews by over 20%!
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Carl Pihl: Given we’re a reservation system for the travel industry, we’re probably the most affected by the pandemic!
At first, it was panic; we had a negative revenue because TicketingHub refunds the booking fees when our clients refund their clients. It was crazy, we really didn’t know what to expect, how long it will last, and we still don’t know when this will finish.
But something magical happened, we started getting lots of enquiries from large businesses that needed to quickly change their booking systems due to the new government regulations.
Their outdated booking engines were not able to offer the flexibility we offered, which was a blessing, so they signed up, but we still had a problem… We take a transactional fee, so if our clients don’t sell a ticket, we don’t make money… So how did we solve this?
These large organizations were used to paying a very high monthly fee for their booking engine, so we decided to change our pricing model and worked out a monthly fee which gave us a fixed monthly income.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Carl Pihl: Luckily not, our team are all freelancers working full time, therefore furlough doesn’t’ help companies like ours, but some of our developers got recruited by Google, and when we discussed it together we decided together that it would be a more sensible move to go to them till we have better visibility on what will happen.
Other than that, the team and some of our suppliers (Spreedly, Hubspot, heroku) have been extremely supportive during these times by reducing their fees, and I’m grateful to have all of them working with us.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Carl Pihl: We use Hubspot for this, and it’s a great tool, it has everything you can ever dream of, but you really need to know how to make it work for your business and spend time and resources on making it work for you. The Pandemic gave us time to analyze our requirements and implement them.
Éric was at the forefront of bringing modern digital content strategy and came to help us with extremely clear pragmatic advice that we implemented, all explained here.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Carl Pihl: Yes, we enrolled for the Bounce Back Loan in the UK, which is a 50K government-backed loan. It’s great to see the government support business in these difficult times. It’s definitely not something that’s going to save our business or industry, but it’s definitely alleviated some of the cash flow pressure and provides us with a safety net.
Your final thoughts?
Carl Pihl: Nothing is easy in life; if it was, then everybody would be successful.
Always remember a quote from Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Work hard, make mistakes, learn from them, get back up. It’s all about trial and error. Don’t give us, and your hard work will pay off.
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