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Far from the hipster web entrepreneurs of Tech City in Shoreditch, boarding school buddies Kenton Ward and Frank Di Mauro believe they are building the UK’s next big online name in a sleepy corner of Kent.
“We would like to become a well-known global ticketing brand,” said Kenton from Bookitbee’s head office in leafy Hever, better known for its 13th-century castle than digital start-ups.
“We have got big plans and it is a question of making sure we keep plugging away at it.”
Between 100 and 150 UK events go live on the ticketing website every week, ranging from music festivals to village fetes.
Launched in 2011, the company turned over £5m last year and is on course to repeat that with revenues of £2.5m so far this year.
The operation is managed by a team of four in Kent and another two at an office in Bedford, supplemented by some freelancers in marketing.
Its success so far has been enough to impress the Foresight Group, a private equity house, based in Sevenoaks, which has invested in the company.
At present rates of growth, Kenton and Frank aim to hire up to 30 staff in three years.
“People who have switched over to us from larger competitors say they like that we are locally based and that our customer service is local,” said Frank.
“We can give a lot more personal customer service. We understand them rather than them just being a number in the system.”
While customer service is a plus point, the company’s growth is also in large part down to what they do not offer, which, in turn, saves their customers money.
“One of our clients is a South African comedian,” said Frank. “When he did his tours, he used to do it by selling tickets to middle people who marketed them for him.
“Now he has enough of a following through social media that he can cut them out completely and just sell the tickets using us.
“People who have switched over to us from larger competitors say they like that we are locally based and that our customer service is local...” - Bookitbee's Kenton Ward
“He can then sell tickets directly to his fanbase and he doesn’t have to pay such a high-premium, passing the savings on to customers.”
Although they have been friends since meeting at boarding school in Eastbourne, aged 13, Kenton and Frank’s journeys have been vastly different.
Kenton set up his first company while he was studying International Business with Russian at Northumbria University.
He had the front to pitch the idea for Rent a Slave, an agency providing silver service staff for events, to Richard Branson.
He then worked in publishing in the UK and Russia before returning home to become a founding member of the team behind Foxybingo.com. Another digital marketing company he launched worked for brands like Warner Music and EMI.
Meanwhile, Italian national Frank, who was raised in the Middle East and Africa before boarding school, studied Construction Management at UCL.
After graduating he worked on projects like the Alexandria Library in Egypt and a power station in Leeds.
Then in 1998, he set up a business under his own name designing websites and making custom-built computers with clients in the Middle East and Egypt.
When Kenton saw a gap in the market for an easy-to-use ticket booking system, he gave his technically-minded friend Frank a call and they launched Bookitbee shortly after.
“Complementary skill sets are important,” said Kenton. “I am doing sales and going out there and speaking to people. Frank is operations and much more detailed than I am.
“The two of those together fit well.
“We know each other well enough to know that when something is handed over to someone else that it will get done.”
And the secret to a good partnership?
“The main thing is absolute honesty, regardless of what it might be,” said Kenton.
“If there is anything that festers then it might become a problem. We tend to talk very quickly about a grudge or something another one of us has done which the other one is annoyed about.”
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