Boxever: Taking On The Giants Of Big Data Analytics

Via The Sunday Business Post: The story of data analytics company Boxever is testimony that a small company with big data can take on the giants.

Established in 2011, Boxever tracks travel consumers’ buying habits using data science and predictive analysis to bring airlines closer to their customers.

Chief executive and co-founder Dave O’Flanagan said Boxever sees the world differently to its competitors, which include tech behemoths IBM and Oracle.

“The big guys sell products to all those companies, but they’ll sell a horizontal product. We have a very customised product that we deliver to organisations,” said O’Flanagan.

“We believe in our proposition where we’re focused specifically on travel. Our product is preconfigured for some of the challenges that we understand really well.

“When we compete with the big guys they say ‘it’s going to take a couple of years or 18 months to get our system up and running in the organisation and make it effective’. We say we can do it within 12 weeks.”

Boxever’s strategy is working. Its client list of 14 includes Asian airline Tigerair, online travel company Edreams Odigeo and Air New Zealand.

It is backed by US venture capital firm Polaris Partners, the company behind Dogpatch Labs. Other backers include Frontline Ventures, Bloom Equity, Delta Partners and Enterprise Ireland. Headquartered in Tara Street, Dublin, the company employs up to 60 staff between Dublin, London and Boston.

When Boxever secured the Tigerair contract in 2013, O’Flanagan said it was an affirmation the company could go toe-to-toe with its biggest competitors.

Originally from Durrow in Co Laois, O’Flanagan began his career in numbers at 17 years of age in Trinity College Dublin where he studied mathematics. As the syllabus became heavily theoretical, O’Flanagan realised he was “much more hands-on and much more of an engineer”.

“I like to make things and build things. Maths has a huge computer science aspect to it. When I was growing up I always played with computers and wrote programmes,” he said.

Boxever-Dave-O'Flanagan Dublin-Globe

After four years as an undergraduate O’Flanagan stayed in Trinity to study for a Masters in Computer Science. Two years later, in 1999, he started his first job as a software engineer in Broadcom Eireann, a Dublin-based research company, established by Trinity, Eircom and Ericsson, that closed in 2001.

O’Flanagan’s excitement for start-ups was sparked when he started working for a small Irish company, Cape Technologies. It provided software solutions and advisory services for telecommunications companies.

“I came in and worked on developing some of the software. I worked with some of the customers and sales and I got full exposure to the full gamut of a start-up business. I got to know how exciting it was and also how challenging it was,” said O’Flanagan.

His last job, before he decided to set up Boxever, was as product development manager for travel software firm Datalex.

“Datalex have a tonne of great brands around the world. At the time I was head of their R&D and delivery and given my maths and stats background I was really surprised at how much a lot of these big global brands struggled with basic understanding of who their customers are and why the customers buy what they buy and how that could change the way they market and sell to their customers,” said O’Flanagan.

With an entrepreneurial father who sold articulated trailers, O’Flanagan liked the idea of being able to control his own destiny in business. “With hindsight I should have started it earlier, but there’s never really a good time to start,” he said.

But soon O’Flanagan realised he needed help to develop his idea. When he was accepted to take part in the digital accelerator NDRC LaunchPad, he invited Alan Giles and Dermot O’Connor to join him as co-founders.

Boxever’s first customer was Norwegian carrier Widerøe. Others followed. Now there are two things Boxever is focusing on: scaling and innovating.

“We’re starting to look at other opportunities, like for people who sit in the cabin in the airline they sit down at their seat and we will be able to deliver their name and details to the staff,” said O’Flanagan.

“If they see the passenger has had their bag lost twice in the same month, they might want to comp them a free seat. It’s enabling the information to be in the hands of the people who can make it most effective.”

O’Flanagan said big data has created the opportunity to sell uniquely to each customer.
“One person might want a specific type of seat. They might want a specific type of meal. They don’t want insurance, but they will take a taxi from the airport. Everybody should get a unique package that’s right for them. I shouldn’t have to untick insurance every time because they should know I have insurance.

“They should know that I stay in the Premier Inn when I go to London. It just makes things easier.”

O’Flanagan said that as technology develops towards personalised marketing, the next big question is whether companies are going to use this technology correctly.

“Ultimately there’s a point to whether it becomes intrusive and it becomes of value to the customer. I think that technology more and more will test these limits and the question will be what brands will choose to interact and how,” he said.

Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.

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