Build­ing an e-com­merce em­pire from the ground up

From hum­ble be­gin­nings in some­one’s garage, on­line travel group Trav­elGround has grown into a huge busi­ness in just eight years, pro­cess­ing thou­sands of ac­com­mo­da­tion book­ings ev­ery week.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - By Jessica Hub­bard

for many, the move to e-com­merce and, more specif­i­cally, on­line travel has been a re­cent trend driven by smart­phone adop­tion and grow­ing dig­i­tal savvy. Yet the en­tre­pre­neur­ial duo Mar­cel van de Ghin­ste and Jonathan Womer­s­ley iden­ti­fied the op­por­tu­ni­ties within on­line travel in 2009, when e-com­merce was still in its in­fancy around the world. As am­bi­tious 25-year-old grad­u­ates, the pair launched Trav­elGround Group with just R12 000 and an avail­able garage. By their own ad­mis­sion, they had lit­tle idea of what they were truly get­ting into…

Since launch­ing Trav­elGround.com in 2009 and grow­ing it or­gan­i­cally, the young team have in­tro­duced LekkeSlaap, South Africa’s first Afrikaans leisure ac­com­mo­da­tion-book­ing plat­form.

This year saw them ad­ding a third ven­ture to the mix, WorkTrip­per, which is de­signed en­tirely for the busi­ness travel mar­ket. The app en­ables users to find key fea­tures and ser­vices, such as flex­i­ble can­cel­la­tions, ne­go­ti­ated rates and WiFi, from over 12 000 es­tab­lish­ments across the coun­try.

The three on­line travel sites within the Trav­elGround Group now at­tract over 750 000 unique vis­i­tors a month and process thou­sands of book­ings each week.

fin­week caught up with Van de Ghin­ste and Womer­s­ley to learn more about their e-com­merce jour­ney and fu­ture plans.

What did you do prior to start­ing your own busi­ness?

Jonathan was an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent. Mar­cel was a sound en­gi­neer. Nei­ther of us had any sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore, so we cer­tainly had a lot to learn!

Where did the idea come from?

In try­ing to book ac­com­mo­da­tion for our­selves, and find­ing no good re­sources for do­ing so, we thought there must be a bet­ter way. So we set out to build the best way to find and book ac­com­mo­da­tion in South Africa.

What mo­ti­vated you to turn it into a busi­ness?

In those days the com­pe­ti­tion was not nearly as in­tense as it is to­day. There was a gap in the mar­ket for a de­cent ac­com­mo­da­tion-book­ing prod­uct, and we de­cided to give it a try.

How did you make your first sale?

Af­ter months of de­vel­op­ment we first launched our web­site in Septem­ber 2009. The an­tic­i­pa­tion was both ex­cit­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing. Of course, it didn’t start with an avalanche of book­ings, but af­ter a few

Mar­cel van de Ghin­ste and Jonathan Womer­s­ley Founders of Trav­elGround Group

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