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.
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