Delma & Grant Dunoon, Co-founders, TryBooking
Slow and Steady Wins
In an industry obsessed with growth hacks and viral hits, the husband-and-wife founders of Australia’s leading self-serve ticketing platform remind us there are no shortcuts to success.
With 60,000-plus event organizers, and more than $1 billion in ticket sales, TryBooking makes success look easy. But the numbers only show half of the story behind Australia’s top self-service ticketing platform.
To get the full story, you’d need to rewind about 25 years, and rather than finding co-founder Grant Dunoon at the helm of a software company, you’d find him at the controls of a Boeing 727 as a commercial airline pilot. At the time, he started to learn software coding to help his parents solve a big frustration in their motel business.
From there, he partnered with his wife Delma Dunoon to launched their first business: payroll software company WageEasy. To be sure, not every couple has the right dynamic to go into business together, but it’s been a recipe for success for the Dunoons.
“We’ve got complementing sort of roles and backgrounds in terms of what we bring to a business,” Delma says, “and we’ve been able to work together, and I think it’s quite a successful partnership that we’ve actually had for about 25 years over two different businesses.”
The couple combined those individual strengths, and added on years of patient learning and experimentation to build up two companies that have risen to the highest echelons in their respective markets. And 25 years in, they’re just getting started.
Starting (and Exiting) Their First Business
Truth be told, neither Delma nor Grant had any business or software background when they launched WageEasy. But after 15 years of working away on that business, they had about 50 percent of the entire Australian hospitality sector using their software, from local pubs to large hotel chains.
“But the first 10 years was what I would consider to be fairly average results,” Grant admits, “and that was because we sort of really just didn’t have the understanding.”
Sound familiar? Many new business owners can relate to the situation of having a stellar business idea and a loyal customer base, but not being sure of exactly what they’re doing or having the chops to scale that business.
One advantage of being a more experienced founder is being able to look back and assess strengths and weaknesses. Delma points out one advantage they had in the early days: “We had the technology, and we had the know-how. We understood what the clients actually required; we serviced those clients very well.”
While that deep understanding of their audience served them well, they had an Achilles Heel: marketing and sales.
That is, until they brought on a business consultant. He helped the Dunoons put together a business plan, and during that process, Grant took a peek at what books the consultant was reading—and began reading those books, too.
The results? The Dunoons went from winning about one out of every four sales to winning three out of every four—they tripled their conversion rate.
“Our competition at that time couldn’t beat us,” Grant says.
Not long after, the competition approached the Dunoons with an offer to buy WageEasy.
“We sold that company and took our knowledge of business and actually rolled that over into what was to become TryBooking,” Grant says. “And instead of taking 10 years of knowing nothing, we actually hit the ground running and built that up extremely quickly.”
Trying Again With TryBooking
So what’s the story behind TryBooking? At the time of the Wage Easy sale, the Dunoons were heavily involved in their young children’s activities, from basketball to sailing to a local playhouse.
“We were volunteering, as all parents do, with their children,” Grant says. “And what we found was that we were spending a huge amount of time fundraising, organizing people, taking registrations, and we came across the idea that if we could automate some of those processes, we could actually get rid of a lot of the hassle involved in that.”
The Dunoons had just started their new TryBooking product but hadn’t yet conceived the use case for community groups and sporting groups until their own kids signed up for a basketball team.
One day, when Delma went to drop off her team’s registration, the treasurer complained that 80 hours of her life had been wasted on managing all of the paper forms that were coming over her desk.
That gave Delma an idea. “I happened to approach her and said, ‘You know, we’ve had this product running for just under 12 months. What do you think?’” Delma sat down with the treasurer and gave her a demo of TryBooking to show her how it could help.
That next season, the treasurer went from what used to be 80 hours of work down to about four minutes.
“A smile was on her face,” Delma recalls, “and the best thing that really came out of the conversation was not only the time saving that she actually made, and she was happy to stay in that role for a lot longer, but the club itself was … just floating along the red, and within a season or two, we actually went to nearly $38,000 into the black.”
That’s right, a youth basketball club went from just breaking even to turning a five-figure profit thanks to switching from manual processes to the TryBooking platform.
“The only reason that they could put that down to is that we’d actually put some processes in place with the club in collecting payments,” Delma explains. “Instead of people saying to the treasurer, ‘Here’s my form, and I’ll drop the money in to you later,’ which must have been happening quite a lot … there were lots of people who were actually playing and not registering properly and paying.”
For years after that, the team had cashflow it was able to invest back into the club and the community. The experiment of TryBooking with the basketball club was a success that surprised even the Dunoons.
“That was something that was unforeseen in terms of the benefit that they were going to get out of investing and putting TryBooking in,” Delma says.
As TryBooking grew, the Dunoons found that it helped all sorts of organizations, not just local sporting groups. “It didn’t matter what sort of community group we were actually dealing with,” Delma says. “We were finding it was the common problem over and over again that everyone was struggling to find quality volunteers, people who were willing to give up their time, people who had the skills or had the ability to be able to do the jobs on hand.”
And by listening to their community and working closely with it, Delma and Grant gained footing with TryBooking, an online platform for selling tickets, managing registrations, and hosting fundraising.
Something that may surprise founders is that the Dunoons have bootstrapped both WageEasy and TryBooking, 100 percent, not once taking money from VCs. This has freed them from the external pressure from investors for rapid growth and extreme scale.
But that’s not to say bootstrapping doesn’t come with its own challenges. For the first three years of WageEasy, the Dunoons did not take a wage themselves, and with TryBooking, it took about the same amount of time.
And that’s a lesson Grant wants aspiring founders to take to heart.
“It does take a fair bit of time to get your business up and running. A lot of businesses, as you know, fail within the first year, and that’s, I think, because people expect that they’ll have something up and running very quickly, and it just doesn’t happen. Our first business took about four years to get to a point where we started to turn a profit.”
With the funds from the sale of WageEasy, the Dunoons were able to hire four staff at the start of TryBooking, predominantly in marketing. They then brought on a software engineering team, which grew to up to 20 people at one point.
Will the Dunoons ever consider raising VC funding? “That’s something that may come in the future,” Grant says. “It may not.”
TryBooking is growing happily in Australia and has recently done a licensing arrangement in the UK. But there’s still work to be done on their home continent before the Dunoons set their sights abroad.
“We’re just a little bit cautious about launching out overseas until we’re really sure that we’ve got the Australian market secured,” Grant says.
Making Word of Mouth Work for You
Another deviation from the startup world norm is just how grassroots TryBooking’s marketing approach is. Forget Google AdWords, Facebook, or Instagram—TryBooking relies heavily on good old word-of-mouth marketing.
“We’re a little bit almost old school when it comes to [that],” Grant says. “We’ve actually engaged marketing companies to work that through with us, and we’ve not had very good results.”
He says every time they’ve fallen back on their “tried-and-tested methods of hands-on, getting out talking to people,” they’ve not been disappointed.
In fact, the highest proportion of TryBooking’s sales comes from word of mouth. Early on, Grant and Delma identified key influencers in the space and asked them to use the product. From that, they got their testimonials and approached smaller organizations who knew those big names.
“We’d market to those people and bring them onboard,” says Grant, “and then we would work backwards and just keep working through the marketplace.”
Even at its current size, TryBooking maintains a very hands-on approach with its customers.
“We’re a little bit different in terms of how software companies work,” Delma explains. “We actually encourage people to make contact with us.” TryBooking publishes its phone number on the site, and anybody can pick up the phone and give them a call.
“We believe that it’s actually more important to have a strong relationship with your customer now,” Grant says. “For every one of those customers that calls in and then has a good experience, then they’re more likely to go away and tell two or three other people that they’ve had a good experience with TryBooking. And so over-servicing those customers is not an expense, in our view. It’s actually part of the relationship, and it’s also part of our marketing success.”
That hands-on approach also gives the team valuable feedback. “That’s a really good opportunity for us then to look at, ‘Well, why did they need to call us to ask us how to do something? What is it that is in our product that is not meeting their needs or not obvious that required them to make that call?’”
Mastering Branding and Sales
A struggle for many new founders is learning how to sell, and the Dunoons were no exception. They recall back with their first business, WageEasy, launching a huge direct mail campaign that went to about 20,000 businesses. Afterward, the phone rang off the hook with people wanting to learn more about their payroll product—but those leads just didn’t convert.
“If we had the phone ringing off the hook like that today, we would have converted just about all of them,” Grant says. “But we didn’t do that. So I think the biggest challenge for anybody is the lack of … true sales and marketing.”
Another challenge for any new business is brand awareness. This is something the Dunoons learned by talking with customers.
“We’d meet people along the way, and they’d say, ‘I’ve never heard of TryBooking,’” Delma says. “And the next time, you’d meet them two weeks later, they’d say, ‘Well, it’s really funny. We’ve actually used your product, and now that we know who you are, we’ve used it three times in the last two weeks.’ And they had actually been touching it over that time without recognizing who the product was.”
So they decided to put a little bit more branding into their product, but not too much.
“One of our philosophies was that we actually didn’t want to put TryBooking forward,” Grant says. “We wanted to put our event organizers forward. So our whole philosophy was, it’s not about us, it’s about them. … That philosophy sort of worked for us in some regards, but on the other side of it, you know, it probably worked against us a little bit in the sense that we just didn’t get enough brand recognition with the consumers.”
Learning to Let Go: Hiring Your First CEO
For the first 20 years or so of their entrepreneurial endeavors, Grant and Delma have had their hands in all parts of the business, from marketing to customer service to finance. Grant himself served as the CEO of both businesses from the start.
“As a startup, everything falls back on the founder,” Grant says. “You’re having to be a jack of all trades.”
But then your business grows to a point where you need to assign dedicated people to each of those roles to take your business to the next level. And that’s the point TryBooking reached when it decided to hire a CEO and CTO.
What was it like handing things over to somebody else? “To actually have somebody else come in that was of such high caliber that could add to the conversation was quite a relief or a weight off your shoulders,” Grant says. “It’s been a fantastic experience.”
Delma agrees. “There’s no problems in being able to step back and … let the reins go, to some degree, whilst they carry it on into the next stages with us.”
But is it possible to find a leadership team that will care about your business as much as you do?
“I think it’s how you structure it,” Delma says, “I think that it depends on the person that you actually find.”
So if you’re concerned about motivating your newly hired CEO, you can consider things such as stock ownership or performance-based pay.
To New Zealand and Beyond: What’s Next for TryBooking
As big as it’s already become, TryBooking has no plans of resting on its laurels. In 2017, they launched an app allowing users to more easily scan tickets, and later announced its expansion to New Zealand. The Dunoons also have an interest in expanding to the theater space.
“Now, the theater space is very, very crowded,” Grant admits, “because everybody obviously that creates a ticketing or an event registration system immediately sees the theater space as being the target to go for.”
Grant says he hopes to appeal to those theaters that no longer want their customers to pay $5 or $6 to do a booking when they could do it for 30 cents with TryBooking.
“And if nothing else,” he says, “that’ll force the competitors to actually bring their pricing down and become more efficient in the marketplace, which we feel would be a good thing anyhow.”
But they’re in no hurry. If there’s anything the Dunoons have learned, it’s that good things take time.
- Lessons learned from more than 20 years of experience as entrepreneurs
- The defining action that tripled their conversions and led to the sale of their first company
- The one marketing strategy that has allowed them to massively scale their business (it has nothing to do with social media or advertising)
- How to hire trusted C-level executives to take the load off your shoulders as you grow
Full Transcript of Podcast with Delma & Grant Dunoon
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I’m coming to you live from hometown Melbourne, Australia. I hope you’re having a fantastic evening, wherever you are around the world. Good morning, evening, and good night. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to share you earbuds with me. If you are new to the Foundr podcast, we interview some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our generation, founders, you name it. People that build business that are number one or two in their industry who received tremendous amounts of success. And I just try to pick their brains for you to try to unpack and learn from their lessons, and their mistakes, and experiences so you can build and grow a successful business much faster.
So what’s been happening in my world? A lot of planning, lots of targets and goal setting, and lots of products. I’m really excited about the future with Foundr, we’re working on some truly game-changing stuff that no one’s ever done before, and I’ve got such an amazing team, I’m so excited. That’s kind of what’s happening in my world. I’ve got some personal health goals as well that I’m working on. I really really want to get back in shape, so I’m going to be pushing hard for those. And then yeah just kind of planning, that’s everything that I’ve got going on. I’m really excited for us to eventually set up an office in the States, which is coming hopefully some time this year which is a bit of big kind of I guess goal of mine which I’m working towards. And yeah, we’re working on some crazy content guys. Premium, free content, you name it, we got so much cool stuff coming.
Let’s talk about today’s guest. It’s actually guests with an ‘s’ at the end, because you know, one thing I try and do is always trying to mix things up where I can, and Jo works in the team that does the scheduling, and interviews, and pitching and stuff that she found Delma and Grant Dunoon. They have an amazing company called TryBooking.com. What I found really really cool about these guys is they’ve been building SAAS companies for a while now. Probably longer than most of us have been building technology companies. But they are very very oldschool in their approaches to generating sales, generating leads, and also just getting customer feedback, building customer support, and really just building a great product and scaling that product. And really working out where your niche lies.
So this is going to be an interesting one and just a great perspective for anyone that does not want to use any of the tactics and strategies that we share a lot about, around lead generation, email marketing, social media. All these other stuff, these guys don’t do any of that and they’ve built a very very large business especially here in Australia, and they’re looking to expand internationally. So a lot of great lessons here in this one, a bit of a different one. But you guys are in for an absolute treat. Alright, so that’s it from me. If you are enjoying these episodes guys, please do take the time to leave us a review, helps us more than you can imagine, and as a fellow founder, I know you must have other friends that are founders, please do share this podcast with them, tell them what they’re missing out on, make sure you download it, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. Alright guys that’s it from me. Now let’s jump in the show.
First of all Delma and Grant, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. The first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job? How did you guys get your job?
Delma: It’s going to be difficult being a couple here. I’m going to hand that one over to Grant. Do you want to start that one Grant?
Grant: Okay. Alright. Maybe just a little bit of our background. I started life out as a pilot, and flew for an airline called Ansett, back about 15 years or 20 years ago. During that time I actually started to learn software coding, and my parents had a motel, so we actually were looking at what sort of software we could write for the motel. Payroll at that stage was actually one of the most difficult things because of all the word interpretation. So I ended up writing a payroll software and turned that into a business. And we grew that over 15 years before selling that, and then moving into just product selling. We’ve started to try booking, and moved into TryBooking. So it’s sort of a varied career. Delma’s background, which I’ll let her explain.
Delma: My background, I came from a very technical background in industry. And then met Grant, and from there, the partnership was built, and we could say that there was a better future. We’ve got complementing sort of roles and backgrounds in terms of what we bring to a business, and we’ve been able to work together. I think it’s quite a successful partnership that we’ve actually had for about 25 years over two different businesses now. TryBooking has been by far the most successful that we’ve actually had. So that’s sort of how we came about, and we can talk a little bit more in a few moments about how TryBooking came to life. But we’ve had different roles within both businesses that complement each other.
Nathan: I see. So you guys had no background at building a software company with the payroll software?
Grant: That’s correct. We were pretty well – when we started, the first payroll program that we wrote was actually in DOS. That was just around the turn of windows started. We actually had very little business experience at the same time. We founded that company, spent the best part of ten years growing WageEasy, and we built up quite a big following in the hospitality sector, and we were just branching out into the retail sector. During that period, we spent this part of – It took us 15 years, but the first ten years was what I would consider to be fairly average results, and that was because we sort of just didn’t have the understanding.
We actually brought in a business consultant to actually help us put together a business plan. As we were going through that with him, I actually spend time looking at what books he was reading, and I started reading those books. We sort of went from winning about one out of every four sales to winning three out of every four presentations that we did. It was sort of a turning point at that place, and that’s when we got our business processes, our marketing, customer service, everything sort of all came together then, and our competition at that time couldn’t beat us. They actually came to us and made us an offer. So we sold that company and took our knowledge in business, and actually rolled that over into what was to become TryBooking. Instead of taking ten years of nothing, we actually hit the ground running and built that up extremely quickly and took that business knowledge.
Nathan: I see. Interesting. Before we move on and talk about TryBooking.com, I’m really interested, because you know, you’re a pilot, and Delma – I’m not sure of you background, but you guys – don’t take this the wrong way, but you guys are absolutely killing it in the software space, and you’re doing some really cool stuff, and maybe a little unassuming, right? I wouldn’t have expected you guys both to be doing software in the past 20 years. I’m curious when it comes to WageEasy, how much traction did you guys have in the marketplace,? How long did it take? Can you give us a bit of an idea around customer size, traction, like how did that exit come about?
Grant: Yeah. With WageEasy, we had – I think probably at that stage around about sort of 50% of the hospitality market using our product in that range, in everything from your local pubs, right through to some of the large hotels chains in Australia. And that was – we’re normally an Australian product because of the word interpretation.
Delma: And the tax laws of Australia basically.
Grant: Yeah. But it was sort of a space. The real story there was that you know, we went along for – It took us 15 years before we exited that business. But the first ten years of that were really what I would call bumbling along. Sort of thinking you know what you’re doing. It wasn’t until we made that change with bringing that business consultant in, and then really sort of going through that process and understanding not so much market, not so much business plans, but more about building the business, getting the marketing right, and positioning the product in the market so that we could actually – then we started to literally double the business fairly quickly, when previously we were sort of only getting a 20% growth right. Once that happened, then of course our competition was either “we were gonna grow and take out our competition” or they came to us early enough and made us an offer.
Delma: I think Nathan in those days, what we really had is, we had the technology, we had the know how, we understood what the clients actually required, we serviced those clients very well, and there was one area of our business that we probably lacked a little bit in, and that was the marketing sales side of it, which is what we honed our skills on. From there, once the TryBooking concept was born and we were ready to run with that, and the payroll had drifted. We’d sold that one off and then it drifted away, we were pretty well highly skilled in all areas of the business between the two of us.
That meant that when we launched, we knew exactly what we were actually trying to do, we knew exactly how to take it to market, and we had the skills that we brought from that other business straightforward. Not only do we have the tech, Grant did the tech and helped on the marketing side of it, I was ready with all the customer service, and sales side went just well, and I did the finance side of the business as well. So between the two of us, we were highly skilled across all areas of the business for that second round that we were already drawn with.
Nathan: Interesting. And between WageEasy and TryBooking.com, did you guys take a break? You know, do a bit of a Sabbatical or-
Grant: No. What happened was we were at that stage doing the WageEasy payroll, and at that point in time, we also had children, and I think Delma will tell the story better than I can.
Delma: Yeah. Our kids were very very young at that stage, and I think there was – Grant left me, I was held with the chattels of the business to takeover and stay with the old business. Meanwhile we had the TryBooking actually up and running in those days as well, and I had a very finite period of time between finishing up one, until I got the phone from him one day, and he said “right your time is up, time to come back now”. I think there was probably about a three month window between both of those businesses. I had a little bit of time to juggle the kids and just a bit of time out before we actually went for going to it again.
Grant: What got us onto the idea of TryBooking is that, with our children we were taking part in their basketball, their sailing, their involved in a local playhouse, they are also doing some of the activities at school. What we were doing is we were volunteering, as all parents do with their children. What we found was that we were spending a huge amount of time fundraising, organising people, taking registrations. We came across the idea that if we could automate some of those processes, we could actually get rid of a lot of the hassle involved in that.
Delma: To the point though, we had just started to launch the TryBooking product, and we hadn’t actually even thought about it being used for some of the community groups such as sporting groups, and the kids had just started to play basketball. I remember dropping in my team’s registration to the treasurer at that point, and she used to lament about the fact that ideals of her life had been given away to managing all these paper forms that were coming over her desk. She could have up to $80,000 of cash sitting in her house at that time that registrations came through. That was the point that I had just joined the committee, because I was looking for something extra to do to help out with the kids, and I had to approach her and said “You know we’ve had this product running for months, what do you think?”. And I sat with her and showed her what it could do, and how it could help her.
Well in that next season Nathan, she went from what used to be 80 hours down to about four minutes of work. The smile was on her face and the best thing that really came out of the conversation was not only the time saving that she actually made, and she was happy to stay in that role for longer, but the club itself was bumbling along – you know just flooding along the rig. Within a season or two we actually went to nearly $38,000 into the block. And the only reason that they could put that down to is that we’d actually put some processes in place for the club in collecting payments. Instead of people saying to the treasurer “here’s my form and I’ll drop the money into you later” which must been happening quite a lot, and she was just – it was just so time consuming that there were lots of people who are actually playing and not registering properly and paying, that they were slipping looking through the gaps.
The club actually turned itself around, and for years and years and years after that, we actually then had this tremendous cashflow that we were able to then put back into the club and the community and the coaches, etc. So that was something that was unforeseen in terms of the benefit that they were going to get out of investing and putting TryBooking in, which no one had actually foreseen. It didn’t matter what sort of community group we were actually dealing with, we were finding it was the common problem over and over again, that everyone was struggling to find quality volunteers, people who were willing to give up their time, people who had the skills or had the ability to be able to do the jobs on hand. This is where TryBooking came from. It didn’t matter what our kids are were joining or sort of not someone to sit on my hands and say “I’m not going to give a hand”. Somehow Grant used to come home and he would say to me “Could you stop putting up your hand a little please”. We were just getting involved at all sorts of different levels, and everyone was faced with the same problem. We actually introduced TryBooking to a lot of these organizations and they flourished from there.
Nathan: Interesting. You guys really knew your target customer. Tell me, when did you guys start TryBooking? When did you start it?
Grant: We started TryBooking in 2006. We started that when we had the previous payroll business. We spent about six months on that and then we got the offer on the previous business, so we actually put that on hold, whilst we sold the other business. And then we pulled that project back out of the drawer, and set about creating a new team of people, and then launched that – it took us about two years of development, and then we launched that basically in 2009 – late 2008 to 2009.
Delma: It was mid 2008, we launched. So we’ve been going for nearly ten years now.
Nathan: Yeah wow. How’s it been going? From my research, just reading about how you guys have grown TryBooking, what is interesting is you guys bootstrapped – are you still bootstrapped to this day?
Delma: We are.
Grant: We are yes. We haven’t taken any of VC funding yet to build the business. That’s something that may come in the future, it may not. We’re sort of still growing fairly happily in Australia. We have double licensing arrangement into the UK, and we are looking at other markets now. But at this stage, we’re purely Australian. We see there’s still a lot more growth to happen in Australia. So we’re just a little bit cautious about launching out oversees until we’re really sure that we’ve got the Australian market secured.
Delma: And Nathan if we talk about the Australian market and you know, I think we’ve turned over – our turn over in tickets sales is in excess of a billion dollars now in that time. In any one week we have about ten thousand events actually running on us. They’re a range of different organizations. So you know these – the product is used fairly widely and fairly extensively in terms of where we sit right at this point in time.
Nathan: Yeah that’s fascinating. When it comes to the early days, I was reading you guys bootstrapped the business and you didn’t take a wage or you didn’t draw from business for over three years.
Delma: That’s correct. Yeah.
Grant: One of the things about you know – and like you said before this podcast, it will be aimed at people are wanting to found their own business, and you know one of the things I hope I get to take away from is, it does take a fair bit of time to get your business up and running. A lot of business as you know fail within the first year, and that’s I think business people expect that they all have something up and running very quickly, and it just doesn’t happen. Our first business took about four years to get to a point where it started to turn a profit, and with TryBooking, it took about the same amount of time again.
Nathan: And it’s gross or net?
Grant: Well, I mean talking about profit, the bottom line is if you’re talking about taking a wage, we weren’t able to get a wage out of the business until about the fourth year. So you can still take you know – when we say we’re turning a profit to the the point of I suppose paying tax.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. Interesting. Out of curiosity, during this period of the four years, did you guys hire many staff? What did you – like especially TryBooking, I’m looking really curious. What did your team look like for the first four years? Because building software is very expensive. Bootstrapping it, you need engineers, etc. I’m curious from that point.
Grant: Yeah. If we just go sort of one step back, and we got back to when we started off with WageEasy, and we were literally I was – we were bootstrapping that business out of our wages. That was a very slow process. And so with the TryBooking, because we actually had the funds from the sale of a previous business, we could then save that. In the first business, we actually – because we were bootstrapping it with our own wages, we couldn’t afford to take staff on, so we were doing everything. With the TryBooking, we actually had the funds to bring on four staff to begin with, and they were predominantly the marketing people. So they came onboard. We set up a team of software engineers, and that was just obviously before the JFCs, when JFC was around 2008, 2007. So we setup a software engineering team. We grew that software engineering team up to 20 people, and then we run that for about two years.
As the product became mature, we then the software engineering team back down to about six staff. And then we brought on the marketing team, and we then started to market heavily into basically the community groups at that stage. Also, the idea was we would also be marketing into the arts industry as well, but predominantly we went into the – we set our targets as the community base. The reason we set out pricing point at 30 cents a ticket was basically because we wanted to see if we could make a change in the industry. At that stage, the industry norms around that time were somewhere between $5 to $7 on the outside. And we figured that if we can be more efficient and really change the industry, we should come in at the pricing point of around 30 cents. That should start to rock the industry a bit.
Nathan: That’s some massive under cap.
Grant: Yeah. And because we were targeting community groups to begin with, we figured that 30 cents had to be cheaper than a volunteer. Even community groups that are very tight on wanting to save money and they start to save 30 cents, you know that is still money. But I think as Delma has just explained, we had seen in our basketball group that they actually turned a profit for even a low volunteer run. The reason they were able to do that was because they’re getting more efficiencies out of their processes.
Nathan: Yeah. No, I see. Okay. Interesting. When you had to downsize the engineering team, was that difficult? How did you navigate that?
Grant: When we brought them onboard, they were brought on as contractors to begin with. So that we actually could downsize at the appropriate time. They came onboard knowing that it was a six month contract or one year contract. We had hoped that we probably would have been able to carry the team of 20 through a lot longer, but it was just becoming ridiculously expensive. We just needed to get the product out to market, and we had to get it into people hands and make sure it was actually getting a proven concept because it was a fair investment to make, and you don’t want to be wrong.
Nathan: Yeah. No. When did you know you had a proven concept?
Grant: Probably about – in the first – once we launched in the first year, I think we went from sort of zero to about I think it was a total of – actually in the first six months we averaged about I think 60 clients. In the next six months, we added an extra 150. And then after that we started to – you know we added about three or four hundred the following year, and then it went up to a thousand, and then it went up to two thousand, then went up to four thousand. This year I think we’re going to add something and we are very close to a roundabout twelve thousand new event organisers which of course are running multiple events.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Awesome. Can you give us a little bit of an insight to the traction you guys – you said you’ve done over a billion dollar ticket sales. I’m really curious like how big is your team? It sounds like you’ve captured a big part of the Australian market especially in the community space. Can you give us some insight around how far you’ve taken it as well?
Delma: Our team at the moment is just over 30 people. That’s a mixture of our software developers, our marketing team, and through to our customer service. One of the big things that we’ve always played like very strongly on is that you can’t actually have software if you – if people can’t use it or they don’t have the ability to have someone that they can lean on or call for support.
We actually have quite a large customer service team that are actually handling client queries and doing the training and hand holding, and sharing experiences to make our event organisers workload easier and their setups easier. If you have a look at our team of 30, I think there’s about six customer service – six or seven customer service people actually just working at account managing all of those clients that we’ve actually got. We’re a little bit different in terms of how software companies work to nowadays Nathan and that is we actually encourage people to actually make contact with us. We publish our phone number, and it’s possible for anybody to pickup the phone and actually speak to any of our people throughout the day. We find along software companies who were putting email out there, and it’s all time remote device, some sort of email – that makes us a little bit different. That’s probably why we’ve had some level of success and that is you know, you can’t run events and give people an experience if they’re experience of trying to get to that event and make that event work isn’t working for them. We lend a hand and utilise those services fairly highly.
Grant: Yeah. One of the things I would say contributes to the success of our business, and this is what we got from our previous business is that the relationship that you have with your customers is very very important. A lot of business that want to sell a product to a customer and then sort of all must forget about them. We believe that it’s actually more important to have a strong relationship with your customer now. Even though we’ve got 12,00 to 15,000 event organisers that will be joining TryBooking this coming year, we want to understand their needs because what happens is, for every one of those customers that calls in, and then has a good experience, then they’re more likely to go away and tell two or three other people that they’ve had a good experience with TryBooking. And so, over servicing those customers is not an expense. It’s actually part of the relationship, and it’s also part of our marketing success.
Nathan: Yeah. No. I think that’s really smart because I agree. Like we pay for fifty different SAAS with Foundr, and it’s very very rare that we can get on the phone with somebody, let alone a Skype call.
Grant: The other things is you know, and it sort of comes back to sort of product evolution. And that is when a customer calls in, they’re going to give you feedback on your product. It could be a call that says how do I do something. That’s a really good opportunity for us then to look at. Well why do they need to call us to ask how to do something? What is it that is in our product that is not meeting their needs or not obvious that require them to make that call? Now, a lot of customers will call in just because they like to know you’re there, and they like to touch you just to sort of make sure. Because at the end of the day, they’re gonna be selling your tickets, and they’re gonna be putting their money through TryBooking, so they want to make sure that they’ve got a level of comfort. But apart from that, we want to actually understand what it is that they’re not understanding in the product. Because of that, we then look at whether we need to change some wording, or whether the workflows went right. We keep evolving the product so that we can keep basically stripping out those types of calls and making the product stronger and stronger as it goes on. So it’s actually – in one part it’s marketing, one part of it is understanding what the product is going to need. It’s a combination of things, and that’s why having that relationship with those people is very very important to us.
Nathan: Yeah. So you’re using it as a feedback loop as well.
Nathan: Interesting. When it comes to this target market that you guys are going after, do you guys think that you would go after other target markets also? Not just the local community, clubs, what’s the plan there?
Grant: We’re expanding as I’ve touched on, I think we’re looking at the theatre space. Now the theatre space is very very crowded. Because everybody obviously that creates a ticketing or event registration system may at least sees the theatre space as being the target to go for. What we’re hoping to do is, as TryBooking builds in the marketplace, those theatres see that you know, why should their customers have to pay $5 or $6 to do a booking when we can do it for 30 cents. And if nothing else that will force the competitors to actually bring their pricing down, and become more efficient in the market place, which we feel would be a good thing anyhow.
Nathan: Yeah. No that’s very very smart. You guys don’t have I guess right now pressure for rapid growth or extreme scale riding on you. You guys are just self funded. I’m curious how come you have chosen not to take VC funding thus far, and what might change that decision?
Grant: I think in Australia we’ve been able to grow the business and it’s continuing to grow. So the next stage for us would be in the international markets, and that will happen probably in a year or two time. At that stage, we then have to make the decision “are we going to self-fund into those countries”, or “do we take on VC funding and hit those countries very very hard”. We sort of don’t have an answer to that question at the moment. we’re just going to keep going the way we’re going and I suppose at this stage, it would probably be more focused on Australia. That’s our goal. And just continue to build the product and make sure that we can cover every market in Australia that would need this type of product.
Nathan: When it comes to making that decision, how do you decide? Like how would you work out what to do?
Grant: I think we have to – We actually got to tone in the water at the moment, because we’ve done a licensing arrangement into the UK. We’ve had an opportunity to see how that’s progressing. It’s still very very early days for us in the UK, so we haven’t had enough of that I suppose – the feedback to get ahead around it properly. We are very conscious that a lot of companies that do go overseas have failed in the past. There’s a track record of that happening. I suppose when we do make that move, we’ll be doing it on very strong footing, rather than sort of making it you know “let’s just go and see”. We would want to make sure we know exactly what we’re doing firs,t and that will probably mean bringing on advice.
Nathan: When it comes to I guess the sales process, because it sounds like you guys are doing really really good job with I guess working with local organisers and tapping into this market. What’s been the most effective strategy to – besides of course having a great product and word of mouth, what’s been a really great strategy? You guys have that viral component behind the software as well. When you sell a ticket, people will be able to see that use TryBooking. What’s been the kind of catalyst to really get that really cranking?
Grant: Yeah. From what I believe is that you establish a relationship. So early on, we went out and we approached a number of the stakeholders that we believed were influencers in that area. We got them onboard and we got them using the product. We got their testimonial. Once we got those testimonial, then we could go back out to people that would know them. For example if we’re talking sporting clubs, we could go out to the sporting clubs that would know who they are. Then we would market to those people and bring them onboard. Then we would work backwards and just keep working through the marketplace.
In today’s world where you know I suppose a startup believes that they can you know jump on do a Google adword or a Facebook advertising and that they’re going to make their fortune. We’re sort of a little bit almost old school when it comes to – we don’t believe that – we’ve tried all those. We’ve actually engaged marketing companies to work that through with us, and we’ve not had very good results. Everytime we fallback to our tried and tested methods of hands on, getting out talking to people, and building it – we’re almost building it customer by customer, and getting their testimonials and getting their word of mouth. Because I’ll go out and tell ten other people if they really really like you, and then that grows. It doesn’t take long if you work on those strategies. That’s really been the fundamental core to what we do.
Delma: And most of our sales nowadays, the highest proportion of our sales come from word of mouth, Nathan. So it’s about keeping that reputation very clean and clear. And that message very clear as well in marketspace that’s given us the tremendous growth.
Nathan: Yeah. No. I like that, because all other people that would be listening to this, they’re probably on my camp where all of our growth has come from online, and all sorts of crazy growth marketing tactics and strategies and stuff like that. You guys are going really grassroots which I think is really smart. And doing your biz dev. I think this is really smart. This builds a really strong relationship as well and – truly, it’s a really good interesting perspective because a lot of people that we speak to, they tend to go kind of my side of the table. So one thing that I’m curious with as well is – talk to me about the challenges guys. Like you know, one thing that one of my mentors has taught me is it takes seven to ten years to build something of true worth or significance. So you guys have done that with both companies now. Definitely with TryBooking. What have been the challenges that hasn’t been all that easy?
Delma: That’s a very good question.
Grant: Yeah. I think with – I mean back in the payroll days, we were one of the first out there with a word interpreter. And probably our biggest challenge with that product was, we just didn’t have the business acumen when we started that business to really understand what we had. I look back at the missed opportunities that – you know for example we did a mail draft to about 20,000 businesses. When you could do it in those days, you can do the unaddressed mail relatively cheaply. The phone rang absolutely off the hook with people wanting to know more about the payroll product and not having any resources or sales people or any skills, we just didn’t convert. I just think today,. “wow gosh if we had the phone rang off the hook like that today, we would have converted just all of them”. But we didn’t do that. I think the biggest challenge for anybody is the lack of true sales and marketing. Marketing is a very wishy washy area, and it’s hard to sometimes quantify your marketing results. That is really probably more of the sales area, and is being able to make sure you can convert and bring – and onboard those people properly.
Nathan: Interesting. Anything that you would like to share Delma?
Delma: I think I just reiterate what Grant was saying. It’s probably the biggest challenges we’ve actually had is probably finding along the way some of the right people. We’ve doubled with some of the new technology like you – we were looting to before. We’ve tried the new ways of doing the social media to try and find new spaces, new people to come onboard, and we’ve tried a number of the new online ways doing things, but we’ve just have not quite – probably the challenge is at this point it seems a bit to voodooish for us in some ways. We just can’t some of the results that we should be able to get on the online side of things. We still find that the challenges that we’ve got is nothing like actually speaking to people. Actually using some of more traditional methods to find your new client base, to find your new opportunities there. So I think embracing and finding how to take – the biggest challenge for us has always been at this point is how to take these new marketing opportunities, and really turn them into something that brings tremendous amounts of new clients to us, for the type of product that we’ve actually got. There’s nothing like the word of mouth and just having that reputation just lead itself.
Grant: I think also just adding to that is you know with TryBooking, it’s pretty easy to understand who the potential user of the product would be, and so therefore, it’s fairly easy to go directly to that person in the marketplace. You know whether they be in the sporting club, or in a event organiser, or someone that organises dinners, or does charity or fund raising. Those types of people can be fairly easily quantified and then once you understand who they are, then you can actually get to them, speak to them, and talk to them. Whether that be through a phone call, or an email, or a letter, or brochure. With the Facebook and those types of advertising we – as the data gets better and better, then we may be able to target that type of person directly more easily. That may change the way we do our marketing in the future.
Delma: Nathan, it’s really a interesting point too that even though we’ve got this tremendous number of people that are actually using our product and have done for ten years, it’s quite common we come across people who will say to us “TryBooking, I’ve never heard of you before”. So I suppose one of the biggest challenges we’ve got is that over that initial period of time, we went out to the market in terms of being a product that was a partner for a lot of community organisations, even though we were widely used. We probably were – we’ve worked it out in the last couple of years that we have to brand our product a little more to what the consumer actually sees there. So we’ve done a little bit more that – just slightly putting some branding onto our product, because it was so common that we rock into – you know we’d met people along the way and they say “I’ve never heard of TryBooking” and then next time you’d meet them two weeks later they’d say “Well it’s really funny. We’ve actually used your product now that we know who you are, we’ve used it three times in the last two weeks.” And they had actually been touching it over that time without actually recognising who the product was. When that was being sait to us in the last couple of years over and over again, we thought “hey you know what, we just need to put a little bit of branding on this so that we’re making that branding opportunity just work a little bit more for us”. That was a challenge that we hit and done in a couple of years ago that we’ve been trying to address.
Grant: Yeah. One of our philosophies was that we actually did not want to put TryBooking forward, we actually wanted to put our event organisers forward. So our whole philosophy was “it’s not about us, it’s about them”. We want to have our event organisers and people that use our product front and center, rather than have TryBooking ambush their events so to speak. That philosophy sort of worked for us in some regards, but on the other side of it, it probably worked against us a little bit in the sense that we just did not get enough brand recognition with the consumers.
Nathan: So that’s something that has changed now so if someone’s using the service, they will know. And if somebody is administering a ticket, they will know that it’s powered by TryBooking, right?
Grant: Sort of. We’re not – we don’t want to put TryBooking front and center. We don’t want to be branded so that it’s obvious, so that philosophy still sticks. But we’re conscious that having that philosophy is not an – it can be detrimental to our branding. So we’ve got to look at addressing that. We are taking measures to address it, but not at the expense of having that go against our original philosophy of putting our event organisers front and center.
Delma: So this is coming through now.
Nathan: Interesting. So we have to work towards wrapping up guys, but one thing I’m really curious about is besides you guys – you mentioned that you had a business consultant that helped you with the first business WageEasy, how are you learning? Because this is kind of I guess very grey, unchartered territories. Building a software business at this scale, how are you working out and knowing what to do in avoiding in making the right decisions? Because I think to build a successful business and continuing to grow that business is a series of making the correct decisions and making the right moves. How are you guys working that out? Do you have some people, or consultants, or anyone that you’re learning from? Or I’m really curious.
Delma: Nathan great questions. In the last couple of years we have actually taken on some senior management to the team as well. And we’ve got a good network of people that we know over the years have got great business acumens as well. So there’s a great network that – we think senior management team that we’ve taken on. We’ve been installed a proper CEO now, and we’ve also got a CTO that is coming, which has just lifted some of the workload for both Grant and I. And with those two guys that now work with us, they come with an extraordinary amount of experience that we’ve been able to work as a good team moving forward. That’s pretty much how we – moving ourselves forward.
Grant: Yeah. As a startup, everything falls back on the founder. So you know you are the CEO, you are – in the case of software business you are the chief technology officer, you’re in charge of marketing, you’re in charge of business development, and you’re also doing finances role. And so you’re having to be a jack of all trades. As the business continues to grow, you get to a point where suddenly you’re spending a third of your time being a CEO, a third of your time developing product, and a third of your time in the marketing. Delma was spending a third of her time doing marketing and sales, a third of her time doing back office and finance, and then a third of her time with the customer service. When I say a third, third, third you know, I should know – knows more business owner works an eight hour week – a day I should say. So you’re tending to spend those twelve to thirteen hour days just to get all those jobs done. As we’ve been able to grow the business now, and we’re getting ready for the next stage, whether that be international, then you need to bring on a team of people that are dedicated to each of those roles that can lead and develop teams underneath them to actually take the business to the next level. That’s the process we’re going through at the moment.
Nathan: I actually find that quite interesting that you guys have brought on CTO and CEO as well. How does that feel? Is that difficult because you have to let them make a lot of the calls?
How does that work?
Grant: I think from my perspective, I mean as the CEO of WageEasy, and then going into TryBooking to be the CEO there, that’s the better part of nearly 20 years in that role. So to actually have somebody else come in that have such high caliber that can actually add to the conversation was sort of quite a relief or weight off your shoulder. To me, it has been a fantastic experience. Delma will probably explain how she’s felt having the marketing people coming in.
Delma: Well even the senior management team that we actually have Nathan, it is such a huge relief, and have we been able to let go? Yes. We’re still very mindful though that we’re reviewing, and with them in all the way. Because we’ve got years and years of experience too that we have on developing these markets, and developing the clients, and understanding the what the clients need. It’s a matter of picking the right people for those roles in the company for example. I must say that the team that we have onboard are incredibly respectful. We have gotten no problems in asking for guidance or advice when they need. Because they realize that both Grant and I actually have a tremendous amount of experience, and a tremendous amount of client understanding that is going to take them quite a number of years. I think when you have got the right level of respect, and you have also picked very carefully the right team members – we call it getting the right people on the bus with us, there’s no problems in being able to step back and let those – let the rains go to some degree whilst they carried on into the next stages with us.
Grant: You have to be able to let those parts of the business go. For example, being obviously product development is something that I’m very passionate about. But having a CTO come in now, It’s actually more of a wonderful learning experience, because what he brings to the role is his years and years of knowledge, and he has had the opportunity to do that a hundred percent of the time. Where I only had an opportunity to do that only third of my time. You start to bring that expertise in, and suddenly that business can now go to the next level. It is a good experience.
Delma: And we are accelerating because of it now, because we’ve got very defined roles. It’s a matter of setting up a structure when you do bring on the senior management that you have. We have time structurally made together, and it is at a much higher level now, in terms of building and defining the business.
Nathan: Interesting. A couple last questions, and this might be a hard one to answer but I have to ask it, because I’ve always wanted to ask anyone before. When you bring in leadership team, especially CEO into your business, do you think it’s possible to get them to care enough as much as you?
Delma: I think it’s how you structure it Nathan, to whether they care well enough. I think that it depends on the person that you actually find. So far it has been incredibly respectful and caring in terms the growth of the business. But you can put some measures in place to ensure that actually – and encourage that to happen as well.
Grant: I think probably when you’re bringing on someone who is a professional CEO, they are coming with a wealth of experience. I suppose they are able to do things smarter, where before we just had to them putting the nose to the grindstone. As long as they can continue to do it smarter, and better, and the business is growing, I think that is a good thing.
Delma: I think they also – if they are the right people and you choose them well, they’ve got a reputation that they – this won’t be the only CEO role that they actually have in life, they will move on to another one. It’s their reputation as well. But like I said, you can put special structures and incentivisations in place to nurture that along the way as well.
Grantt: Yeah. Just a matter of having everyone’s interest in alignment. And once you got that in alignment, then basically they have the same interest as what we do.
Nathan: Awesome! Okay well look. Guys last question from me, it’s been an awesome conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with you, and I really appreciate your openness and honesty. Where is the best place people can find out more about TryBooking or any of your other work?
Delma: Well I suppose that’s just go to our website, www.trybooking.com. That’s very easy.
Grant: The reason Delma was having a bit of a laugh about that is because we were overseas and my son who was – I think he was ten at that stage got chatting to some americans. He was a man in the airplane as well, and he asked them, when they found that they flew with United Airlines, he said, “how did you find united?” And I looked at him quite blankly and said “www.unitedairlines.com”. Difference in the Australian way of saying things, that’s why we had a little bit of a laugh.
Delma: Jump online, we’re online all the time. Just go to TryBooking.com, and that is TryBooking with a “y” and you will actually find our product and you will see our where we are evolving from there.
Nathan: Awesome! Look, thank you so much for your time guys. I really appreciate it.
Delma: That’s great. Thank you very much.
Delma and Grant: Thanks Nathan.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Delma & Grant Dunoon
- Learn more about TryBooking
- Like TryBooking on Facebook
- Follow TryBooking on Twitter
- Connect with TryBooking on Linkedin