Auckland IT scene: Nurturing innovation

GrabOne seizes momentum with online discount deals

All five finalists in the company of the decade category in this year’s Hi-Tech Awards are Auckland-based – Rakon, Endace, Orion Health, Datacom (established in Christchurch) and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.

But will the city continue to foster innovative IT companies? This week Computerworld features a number of Auckland’s emerging ICT entrepreneurs.

First stop is GrabOne, located in the central suburb Parnell.

GrabOne founder and CEO Shane Bradley (pictured above) emerges from a busy cubicle landscape in the airy Parnell building where his company resides and invites Computerworld into a conference room.

Bradley, who positively radiates energy, left school after the sixth form and has been self-employed ever since. In 2004, he started online business directory that was acquired by Yellow Pages in 2009. After that, he started IdeaHQ, which launches businesses using the existing online platforms Bradley’s team has built, as well as investing in other companies.

IdeaHQ has invested in, for example, independent film opinion site and online men’s magazine Getfrank, while it owns 100 percent of free online auction site and the one-day deal site GrabOne.

Bradley got the idea for GrabOne when he was overseas looking for a business model to replicate. One that caught his eye was US company Groupon. “What I liked about it is that it is pretty much a no-risk situation for businesses,” he says.

GrabOne features a heavily discounted deal online every day. As soon as the minimum required number of buyers is reached the deal is activated and a voucher for the deal is sent to the buyers. There is no upfront cost for businesses. It takes a commission on sales, but companies don’t have to pay money in the hope that it is going to work, he says.

GrabOne launched in June last year and it took off “like wildfire”, according to Bradley. “There were five of us then and now there are at least 70 people in the business. We have hired on average two a week,” he says.

He rattles off some impressive numbers: In March, the site did $3.2 million worth of coupon sales. To date, nearly 820,000 items have been sold on the site. He says in one week recently 16,000 people signed up to the site.

Finding the right staff is always a challenge, especially when you are in a growth phase, he says. It can be difficult to pull the whole “tribe” together and get everyone to work as one unified team when you’ve got new people joining every week.

“I don’t think there’s anything better in business than having a really good team that is set on the same goal; you can achieve so much. Once you get it, it is brilliant.”

GrabOne is not settling for local growth. The company is launching in Ireland in May and based on how that goes, Bradley will look at moving into other markets around the world. GrabOne entered the Australian market quite late compared to its competitors but is still having success, having recently added four more staff to the Australian office. This gives Bradley the confidence for launching into more markets.

“It’s a pretty busy market. To be honest, this model has been copied more times than any other internet model in the world, there are more than 2000 Groupon-clones, as they are called, in China alone,” he claims.

* Tomorrow Computerworld talks to online gaming company SmallWorlds.

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