Business Technology

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“We strive to harness the power of the smartphone”

6 Mins

Name: 

Stefan Menden

Role and company:

CEO and co-founder of JustBook

Employee numbers: 

60

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

JustBook is a free app that offers same-day hotel deals across Europe. Through us, hotels can market otherwise empty rooms at the last minute, enabling travellers to benefit from discounted rates.

Operating on a smartphone platform only, we work with hotels directly to ensure that we offer our customers more compelling deals for their hotel stay that night than the deals available online. We can offer top-rated hotel rooms at prices up to 50 per cent cheaper than the cheapest prices offered by online travel agents.

What’s the big vision for your business?

We are striving to harness the power of the smartphone to support people’s desires to be more flexible when travelling. We aim to change the traditional model, which has, before now, penalised travellers for same-night bookings.

This is mad given those rooms would otherwise be going empty. We also hope to be the first place consumers turn to for their mobile hotel bookings, which means working hard to source the very best daily deals we can and broadening our offerings to more cities around the world.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

We operate in 40 cities in Europe (and are expanding every week!). Currently, our users can make mobile hotel bookings via the JustBook app in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Spain (among others). In the UK we operate in six cities – London, Brimingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Oxford.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

When JustBook launched in January 2012, the leading German online hotel booking site threatened our hotels, warning them they could not offer lower mobile-exclusive rates with JustBook or else they would face penalties. We took this abuse of market dominance to the Fderal Cartel Office, which resulted in a landslide victory for the price freedom of hoteliers and the innovation of smaller start-ups.

Had this not happened, we would not have been able to establish JustBook as the mobile option for hotel bookings. A case like this could have been a tremendous setback to a start-up but, as I learned, it’s also a great opportunity. In this case, JustBook received a lot of media attention which reaped dividends for our brand awareness in Germany.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The mobile internet hasn’t even started to gain momentum. People still think of m-commerce as doing “online-things” on the mobile. Similar to how people once thought of online merely as an extension of bricks-and-mortar commerce. The power of mobile is in the here and now.

We strongly believe that people will increasingly consume time and location-relevant services on the mobile – last-minute hotel bookings with JustBook, ordering your taxi with Hailo, using Google Maps to navigate on the go, booking your restaurant with Urbanspoon and tagging music with Shazam. There is plenty of change ahead of us!

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Savvy investors are aware the mobile industry is booming and that new, innovative ideas within this market could flourish with the right support. At the same time, marketing mobile-only brands is still in its infancy – like online marketing was 12 years ago. So mobile marketing is still expensive and unprofessional. That needs to change.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I am a company builder – not a manager. At start-up stage companies need someone who can get people excited about an idea and line up potential investors. I try to stir up this excitement in my team, but then I give them as much freedom as I can so they can work creatively, effectively and independently. As the saying goes: some crack under pressure, some turn into diamonds.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

I am a true foodie. My favourite treat is a weekend getaway to a nice hotel and getting to know a great restaurant.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

I am sceptical whenever government tries to interfere too much with business – even if they want to help. To help businesses prosper, there should be tax incentives for business angels and early-stage investors and legislation should be simplified to make it far easier for start-ups to set up shop. I am no big fan of cash handouts by governments.

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