In 2014 Joonas Ahola had had enough. For seven years he had run a successful catering company across Finland, but one thing kept bugging him: the time spent on quote requests. Tailoring replies to every inquiry took time, but typically only 10 per cent led to sales. Ahola’s solution? Move industries and bring the whole process online.
“The customer experience is improved when you use an automated online system. Customers don’t have to wait 48 hours for an email reply anymore,” argues Ahola, who founded MeetingPackage.com the same year. “Our mission is to make booking offsite meeting rooms as easy as booking hotel rooms. Eventually we want to kill off the old-school quote request.”
The company is off to a good start. Since launching its meeting space marketplace MeetingPackage.com in September 2016, it has reached an inventory of over 250 000 meeting rooms in 120 countries. They can now be searched, compared and booked online by organisers globally.
The service is complemented by a booking engine which meeting venues can embed directly to their websites, and backed by 2.6 million euros in funding.
From set-top boxes to Forbes
Ahola got hooked on entrepreneurship early on. He started his first company at 14, importing set-top boxes to Finland as part of a young entrepreneurs’ programme. At 16, came the aforementioned catering company and finally MeetingPackage.com.
“It was a leap to the unknown, to software. I didn’t have any previous experience with it, but I knew the event industry. And now I can even code,” Ahola, now 26, says with a laugh. “You can learn anything when you put yourself into challenging situations. I always want to take things forward.”
The same attitude is applied to MeetingPackage.com. According to Ahola, it is the only booking platform to integrate directly with Oracle’s Opera event management software. This is no small feat, as Opera is used by hotels around the world. Another industry-first is coming in the summer as well when MeetingPackage.com launches dynamic pricing for meeting room bookings.
And the industry has taken note. In January 2018, renowned business magazine Forbes picked Ahola for its ‘30 Under 30’ European e-commerce and retail disruptors list.
“For me, it felt like winning. It affirms we have done something right and our journey is only starting,” Ahola enthuses. “It is a recognition to our whole team, even if it is my face on the list.”
Race to the top
It is a team that can be best described as international: 30 employees from 13 different countries. This reflects MeetingPackage.com’s growing global ambitions. The startup already has an office in the UK (although run from Finland) and local ‘ambassadors’ in the Czech Republic and Italy.
“We don’t want to be a small Finnish player, but we want to do everything big from the day one,” Ahola explains. “We aim to establish a local presence in France, Germany, Spain and Sweden during the first half of the year.”
The latter half of 2018 will focus on setting up operations in Northern America.
MeetingPackage.com is moving fast, but it is all part of Ahola’s gameplan. Although the company only has local competitors at the moment, it recognises things change fast in technology:
“This is a fast track game, you need to run to stay ahead. That is the goal for all of us, our investors and the team,” Ahola summarises. “We want to disrupt this market globally and be one of the top three meeting services by 2020.”