Judith Huisman is Co-Founder of Meetingselect, a Naarden-based startup streamlining the way businesses book, manage and pay for meeting and event spaces.

Meetingselect’s Saas software allows companies to automate the costly and time-consuming processes associated with meetings management, providing access to more than 500,000 locations across the globe.

In short, Meetingselect allows any employee to easily book meeting spaces around the world, and meeting planners can book the best accommodation that fits within their budget.

The platform also gives Procurement teams access to live data, the best rates and conditions with the use of an automatized approval process. HR teams can also monitor employee safety when working remotely, and finance departments can make use of the integrated global payment and invoicing solutions

“Since we started the company, we have had the ambition to transform the traditional hotel industry by providing a seamless digital solution for arranging meetings and bookings.

“Of course you could already book hotel rooms for individual use online, but if you wanted to book a conference room, meeting room or workspace, you still had to contact by phone or email.

“We approached this from a few different angles. One was from an enterprise perspective and involved asking Travel Managers and Procurement departments how they steered booking volume with contracted business to their preferred partners, something which they rarely had a solution for.

“We also wanted to address the issues encountered by meeting planners. They were often relying on Google and not finding the correct information. They preferred to stay in direct contact with the venues, but there was no obvious solution to do so.

“For the hotel industry, there wasn’t the technology to easily answer proposals instantly online, so that was another thing we wanted to solve.”

How Meetingselect’s Saas software is breaking old habits

While the early days of Meetingselect’s revolutionary Saas software were hindered by a reluctance to veer away from old habits, fast forward to the present day and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The first couple of years were pretty hard because meeting planners were so used to picking up the phone and communicating via email. However, the last couple of years have seen us scaling extremely quickly because nobody wants to do that anymore.

“People like to get out of the office. Meetingselect’s platform caters for that in the most streamlined way possible. We’ve eased the booking and payment processes and also provide in-depth data in regards to duty of care.

“In the past, when it came to risk-avoidance it was often the case that you knew which country or city your employees were going to, but you didn’t know exactly where they were meeting.

“So when those meetings had been booked by employees themselves, there was no way of knowing their exact location in extreme circumstances like a terrorist attack, or a volcanic eruption which is something we’ve actually had to deal with in the past. Lockdown restrictions regularly changing in different countries is another thing we closely monitor at the minute.

“You want to easily manage and control this whole flow; where are my people? What has been booked? What needs to be cancelled? What are the cancellation policies? Where can we make savings? We offer all these efficiencies, cost reductions and process optimisations for both bookers and hotels.”

A leap of faith

Before launching the business, both Judith and her Co-Founder Anouk Roohé had just received promotions, so stepping away from those roles to launch something brand new could understandably have raised a few eyebrows.

“We actually took a pretty big risk in starting this business. Anouk and me, set up the company just after receiving great appraisals at our previous jobs. We knew each other from working for international hotel chains and we had both just gotten a jump up the ladder.

“We set up the company by ourselves and at that time it was really cool because we had to acquire capital to build the platform.

“So up we went to the bank with our business plan, they told us they fully believed in it and said they’d give us the biggest starter loan possible with one condition. Of course you also need to find your own equity, so we had to pitch to several investors as well.”

“To get prepared, we dived into the show Dragons Den in 2007. The series wasn’t shown in the Netherlands at the time, so we watched all the episodes on the BBC to get ready and prepare our own pitch resulting in the desired outcome.”

Startup funding never stops

Having the desire to scale and innovate must be matched with suitable funds, something which should be seen as a non-stop process.

“We continuously keep innovating and adding value to our product, but the hardest challenges came with actually growing due to access to capital.

“Something that we’ve realised since working with Techleap, is that the strategy should be that you’re always raising. That’s something that we’ve learned and something that we will use forever. Even when you don’t necessarily need it, you should always be ready and prepared to continue building.

“Anouk and I were very proud at first, we as two female founders got these great multinational contracts, this great team, opened up offices in other countries, all with the money we made ourselves, revenue that the company had generated.”

“As a learning from my own experience, I would reach much further for funding. It can be in many different ways. It could be investment capital, it could be new deal structures with banks, there are so many different funding strategies to attract capital into your organisation.

“We were obviously happy and proud that it wasn’t really necessary for us because all of our profits went straight back into building the company. With that being said, now I see this very differently. You can scale much faster if you have a higher wallet, as you’re not being held back by decisions so often.

“When we first emerged, the market wasn’t ready. If you look at our industry now, it’s worth $450bn and not even 10% of all meetings and future workspace bookings are made online. That means there’s 90% potential to grow. We’ve already capitalised on that and because of this, we’re now a market-leader across Europe.”

Educating the hospitality industry

While it has obviously worked out as a positive for Meetingselect’s Saas software, the hospitality industry’s reluctance to utilise the latest tech sooner than now is something that Judith still finds unusual.

“I still find it very surprising that it has taken such a long time for the hospitality industry to embrace the best technology. For them it’s a technology investment and therefore perceived as a big cost, so in a way it’s understandable because maybe the margins are lower than other industries.

“However they can be so much more efficient and therefore increase profit margins by using our technology because it saves massively on working-hours, helps hotels and venues to generate leads and provides a better user experience to their customers.

“We’re still building that awareness, we’re frequently hosting speaker sessions to educate the hospitality and meetings industry on how they can earn more margin on meetings,and group hotel bookings.

“On the other hand, what doesn’t surprise me is that the desire to book workspaces in the wake of the pandemic has skyrocketed. From the meeting planners point of view, they just want to have this portal or platform where they can easily book a space that breaks up the monotony of working from home, or somewhere they can book to conveniently meet a colleague.”

Adding value in the hiring process

Striking the balance between attracting the best talent and working within your budget is a difficult ask for any business, but rings even truer when talking about startups and scaleups. While it can be tough to always meet salary expectations, there are other avenues to explore as a way of boosting your proposition.

“Attracting talent has always been an incredibly important part of our business model, especially now we’re scaling and opening up new offices in other countries. We like to have the best talent with a focus on customer-centricity. It’s that piece of the hospitality DNA that’s instilled within our organisation which makes it so successful.

“We also need to bring in the best tech talent. However, because we’re a scaleup-startup, we can’t always offer the salary someone might expect. To combat that we try to offer a lot of additional value. So on top of offering this great culture, people that join Meetingselect also receive stock appreciation rights in the business, so we can create an incentive that way.”

Trust your team and reap the rewards

Judith explains how the culture at Meetingselect is built around five core pillars. She also says there is a big emphasis on mutual trust which allows the team a more flexible approach to the working day when necessary.

“We’ve decided on five pillars within our organisation which are important to us. These help build and develop the company into one we can always be proud of.

“Growth, client-centricity, equality, innovation and fun are the five pillars.

“You spend a lot of time with your colleagues, normally at the office, so one has to enjoy it to be successful it has to be fun. I think we as founders have really brought that to the fore. Combining that with our client-centricity and optimistic growth ambitions helps us build this culture we really want to be recognised for.

“We also have a lot of ambitions moving forward in terms of innovation and improving our customer experience, so that again stems back to those core pillars.

“What we have always tried to achieve is this environment where everybody feels trusted with their work.

“We understand the responsibilities that come with being a parent or having friends & family lives, so if people need to leave during the day and finish up at home in the evenings, that’s completely fine.” (Read our People and Culture Scaleup guide)

“Meetingselect is a female-founded company and we embrace diversity in all flavors, from male to female, from young to old, CSR oriented, people with a great distance to the labor market up to international workforces with different backgrounds.

“Due to our open and flexible corporate culture we indeed have lot of females working for us from various international backgrounds. Our Tech, Project Management and Commercial Teams are managed by female directors. However we believe in the right balance, and we also have great male directors in our team, like our CEO Martin Bergonje. So unusual right? male directors, male CEO? Let’s just get the job done with the best diverse team.”

Using COVID as a springboard

Like so many others, the pandemic signalled a notable setback for the business initially. With that being said, plenty of positives have been taken, sizable progress has been made and as restrictions begin to ease, the future looks incredibly bright for Meetingselect.

“COVID has obviously had a huge impact on us being in the meetings industry. We had to face thousands of cancellations, despite that, it has also been a very good opportunity and not many people in our industry would say that.

“We managed to raise our series A in the midst of the pandemic and gave us a chance to look forward and plan for the future. We used the time to innovate and as a result we’ve delivered great solutions including virtual and hybrid meeting solutions, innovated further with the meeting booking platform which includes an unrivaled choice of workspaces engines and we also launched our distanced seating solution.

“Basically, we created an algorithm that calculates how many people a space can host while maintaining social distancing. This has been extremely popular amongst hotels who would otherwise struggle to figure this out for themselves.

“We noticed around September time, when restrictions were slightly lifted in various countries, our bookings actually grew by 145%, making that our best September ever. Why? Because there’s such a huge need to come together and meet in-person again. COVID has taken over for so long and people are desperate to get out again, we’ve already seen in certain areas where lockdowns aren’t as strict, bookings have shot up.

“We’re also seeing the ‘bleasure’ effect. So that’s business combined with pleasure. People like to have fun with their colleagues. There are so many who started working at an organisation mid-pandemic who have never even met their colleagues, so peer-to-peer learning during small meetings and team-building is becoming more important than ever. In the United States we’re seeing a trend that organisations rent out hotels exclusively to kick-off again, and we facilitate all of these.”

The end of the office as we know it?

Another pandemic-triggered shift hit as businesses switched to a working from home model, a trend that has almost definitely changed our perceptions of the ‘traditional office’ for good.

“There are already quite a few reports that point towards a change in the way businesses utilise their office space. The Global Workforce Alliance predicts that 30% of employees at an organisation will work at least two or three days from home per week. Other organisations are saying they won’t even have a permanent office anymore.

“There’s a corporate perspective to having an office and an employee perspective. The corporate side is all about brand-building, and providing your team with somewhere to get together, innovate and create ideas.

“For employees, an office is somewhere for mentoring, managing, peer-to-peer sessions and face-to-face contact. So the traditional office won’t necessarily become obsolete, but it will become more experience-centred as opposed to just being a place of work.

“You go to the office to have fun, connect, network and to work together in teams. So it will definitely still exist, but it will be in a completely different way.

From startup growth to international expansion

Entering a foreign market is an incredibly exciting time for any startup, though it does bring with it a whole new set of challenges. Judith says some of the best advice she’d received was to use your own staff when expanding.

“Recently we had this session hosted by Techleap with an entrepreneur and he mentioned the importance of using your own staff when expanding to another country. Train them before moving over there, get them as prepared as you physically can for that new setting.

“How does that country operate? Where is the best place to stay? What you should be aware of in terms of culture? Where can you find access to Capital?

“Keeping this in mind when building your team will serve you well too, if you expect expansion plans to be on the horizon, ensure you’re hiring talent who have ambition to move to another country.

“I think that’s some of the best advice in terms of scaling. We’ve always followed our customers when expanding into new countries. We are actually in the process of that now, opening an office in France because we’re following the needs of a couple of corporate clients.

Why Rise?

Finally, we spoke to Judith about her experience so far with RiseTechleap’s own acceleration programme in the Netherlands dedicated to startup and scaleup growth.

“What really inspired us to join Rise was the access to knowledge, particularly when it came to expansion and scaling hurdles.

“We see so much potential, it’s so nice to have access to this awesome network of ambitious, enthusiastic, experienced, entrepreneurs with the most marvellous and splendid business ideas.

“Some have already been through this journey on more than one occasion, so tapping into that know-how and applying it to our own business model is extremely useful to us.”

Join our Rise programme

Rise is your one time opportunity to connect with other founders and create together a strong peer community where you can share learnings and get inspired by one another. During the programme, you’ll be able to ask all your questions to seasoned entrepreneurs and gather deep, honest insights about scaling a startup successfully.

© techleap All Rights Reserved