30 Digital Champions: The events firm shaking up the way companies do away days

It’s all part of our ongoing Microsoft 30 Digital Champions initiative, one which has brought together companies ranging from footwear retailers to cupcake sellers.

To find out how Chillisauce is improving its offering by implementing digital strategies, we sat down with founder and CEO James Baddiley – who had some very interesting observations.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Chillisauce provides group activity based events. We cover both the B2C market (lots of stag and hen weekends) and the B2B market (lots of team building and company fun days) – which we have provided for pretty much every company in the FTSE 250.

When we first started, the goal was to find and offer unique activities that would be fun to market. We now deliver thousands of innovative, forward thinking and often exclusive experiences and events for over 140,000 consumers each year in over 50 destinations worldwide, from playing football with former professional footballers to shark fishing in the Atlantic Ocean.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

First off it was reaching 100 staff in 2013, and then enjoying double-digit growth every year since we started. Hopefully this year we are on track to hit £20m turnover mark.

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur/business owner, and how does that come across with your company?

I get an idea in my head and want to make it a reality – it’s like a game with constantly shifting challenges. At the same time as you are moving towards your goal, your competitors, market, customers and technology are also fast evolving, so your goal may adjust and it’s important that you don’t set challenges with too large time-scales, as the landscape may have changed so much in the interim that you may end up reaching your goal and finding it redundant.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

When a business is growing fast, scaling it can be challenging. Like many businesses, IT has at times been challenging for us. Building complex systems that continue to disrupt the market has meant it’s taken us a while to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Over time, we’ve learned to always put someone core from the business into any key projects to guarantee it’s a success rather than rely solely on external experts that don’t understand our business and market as well.

(5) How has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

We optimise our digital communications in order to engage with existing and new customers through email newsletters, digital PR, social media and outreaching content. The goal is to share our ideas, products and what we stand for whilst building a community to connect with.

Social media is incredibly insightful but only if it is used in the right way. We have been implementing new social media strategies to increase our brand visibility and get in front of potential customers. From using tools like Facebook and Twitter advertising and tracking all mentions relevant to us, to identifying what people’s pain points are and what they’re actually looking for.

Having a strong presence online is also very important to us, so we focus on SEO and ways to improve our site visibility. Online reviews are also a great asset. Customers are able to search within seconds what previous customers have to say about you and your competitors and this has shown to be a significant factor in their decision making. Your happy customers can share their great experiences with others and help you acquire new leads.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

When you start out communication is not a problem as you probably only ever sit 20 feet from the furthest person in the office, and you will likely meet and chat to everyone in the office in the day.

As you get bigger you find that communication (particularly cross-departmental) becomes a lot more difficult – and you start getting the dreaded “CC all” emails, which causes large productivity problems. We are trying to move away from email in a lot of cases, but it’s so ingrained into people’s mindset that it’s challenging to make the shift.

Have a look at some of our other Digital Champions:

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

Our marketing team tend to work all over the place – we are lucky that there is a shared working site not far from our office and our staff find it a refreshing working environment. Our marketing team are pretty tech savvy and we use a lot of tools to plan our work and communicate more efficiently than traditional email. Most tools today are built for remote collaboration.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Google Analytics to get user data, as well as using tools such as CrazyEgg for heatmaps and Qualaroo for direct user feedback. I’m also heavily involved in the SEO side of our business which is vitally important, so I am always dipping in and out of the analytical tools we use such as OpenSiteExplorer, Moz Tools, SEMRush, Majestic and Google Analytics again.

I also use Feedly and Pocket for my reading lists and I’m a big fan of HipChat and Skype for fast communication.

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(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

The foundation of our business is firmly in the travel sector which means working with a very diverse range of suppliers, from multinational hotel chains to Welsh hill farmers who have diversified into offering outdoor activities.

This means that the levels of technology used by our suppliers varies enormously. This is a real challenge as we need to try and unify information from global distribution systems to pen and paper notebooks into a single system.

Because the range and type of our suppliers is so diverse, it also means that there are a huge number of ways suppliers price their products, which again gives huge challenges in trying to create a unified product costing model to cope with all product costing scenario’s.

In general, we find the the travel business technology options to be very disseminated with a huge number of options overlapping each other, without a single point solution to cover all our needs. As we also deal with “groups”, this also provides large challenges as there is an inherent travel sector quirk that “groups” are operated outside most technology systems and still rely on manual price checking and confirmation.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

We wish to become the household name for all types of group “event” bookings, so that involves expanding into a number of different markets that we don’t currently cover.

We want to make our business a lot more efficient, which involves a lot of technology challenges and hard work. I also think it’s important to keep a bit grounded and not try and do too much at once, otherwise you end up losing focus and doing a lot of things “ok” – but not the “great” that we are striving for.

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