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The founder of Hell and Back has started an Airbnb for... football pitches

Craig Bewley talks about how his business works.

Image: Youtube

GETTING SHOT AT by snipers isn’t something that most people would willingly subject themselves to.

But not only has Craig Bewley got people to do exactly that, he’s managed to get them to pay for the pleasure.

The 43-year-old is the founder of Hell and Back, an obstacle course ranging between 5km and 12km that is billed as Ireland’s toughest physical and mental challenge.

Every year thousands of people descend on the course near Bray in Wicklow, forking out about €60 apiece to spend an afternoon crossing rivers and lakes, climbing hills and mountains and grappling with man-made barriers like 10ft-high walls.

The event has grown rapidly, with thousands of people taking part every year, and now Bewley wants to conquer a new playing pitch – all of them.

Bookapitch is a new online venture that allows organisations like schools, GAA or football clubs to advertise and rent out their sports pitches without the need to spend their time speaking to each and every person making a booking.

Bewley’s twin passions for sport and business both stem back to his youth. The Dubliner is the great-great grandson of Joshua Bewley, who founded Dublin’s legendary Bewley’s café in 1840.

BEWLEYS TO CLOSE DOWN JOB LOSSES FOOD INDUSTRY Bewleys Café Source: Graham Hughes/RollingNews.ie

Rather than take up a job at the café, where his father works as a director, Bewley decided that he would emulate his ancestor and start something himself.

“I could have gone down that road (working in Bewley’s) but I wanted to do my own thing from an early age,” Bewley tells Fora. “My father never pushed me in that direction and I didn’t pursue it.”

Instead, after finishing college in the late 90s, he joined Irish firm Trinity Technology, where he sold software for learning online.

In 2000, Bewley decided that he could sell the software just as well by himself and left the company, but not before he took his former boss, Jonathan Mills, with him.

“My boss was leaving the company, he was one of the owners and he was looking to sell his stake,” Bewley says. “I approached him and asked him if he’d be interested. The timing was right; he said yes.”

Hell and Back

The pair went on to found Prodigy Learnings, a company which distributed exam software for people looking to get certified in programmes like Microsoft Office.

While working in Trinity and setting up Prodigy, Bewley had been playing rugby for several clubs, including Clontarf.

Although turning professional wasn’t an option – “I wasn’t that good” – it did lead to Bewley, his brother and some friends establishing the Irish Tag Rugby Association in 2000.

With both the enterprises making decent profits, in 2010 the Dubliner opted to set up a new outdoor events company, Alive Outside, with many of the same people who were involved in the Tag Rugby Association.

“The recession kicked in. People had more time on their hands and were involved in outdoor activities and trying to get fit,” Bewley says. “Obstacle course racing was becoming popular across the world, so we thought that we’d bring it to Ireland.”

While scouting around for a suitable course, a co-worker mentioned Killruddery House just outside of Bray. The owner was keen on the idea, and Hell and Back was born.

hell and back 3 Hell and Back Source: Youtube

“It is Ireland’s toughest physical and mental endurance challenge. It is a combination of the natural obstacles in Kilruddery, like swamps, rivers and mountains, and the mental challenges, like being shot at by snipers,” Bewley says.

“It doesn’t hurt, it’s more the psychology. There are also things like jumping from heights. You can’t do the course on your own, and most people are doing it with friends or as part of a gym or club. The camaraderie of the event is something special.”

Bewley has done the course and is almost incredulous when asked if he found it tough to be shot at by the course’s snipers – rubber bullets and all.

“No problem! You have to eat your own dog food,” he says. “It is very tough, (but) you can walk or run. You will get through it, it is just about how quick.”

Bookapitch

The firm usually only holds a handful of Hell and Back events during the year, in the summer and spring. “You don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. It lends itself to the summer, and you can’t have events too close to each other,” Bewley says.

Hell and Back events now pull in an average of between 3,500 and 4,000 people, and the company behind it now has turnover of about €1 million with 10 employees.

With the course well established, Bewley is taking a step back to focus on his latest venture, Bookapitch.

“It is born out of the sense of frustration that I saw as a player of sport when trying to book facilities,” he says. “You would never think of emailing an airline to book a ticket, but when it comes to booking pitches it is still very much done through emails and phone calls.”

Bookapitch_Photoshoot (6) Craig Bewley (left) with Brian Cashman Source: Bookapitch

Bookapitch’s software can be used by organisations to manage all aspects of bookings, including payments, online. It also allows members of the public to search for venues on the database and handle all aspects of their bookings through the portal.

Venues pay €100 to use the company’s software and a 5% fee on any booking made. Bewley says that the firm has about 20 venues signed up at the moment and is planning an “aggressive” recruitment campaign over the next few months.

“The majority of leisure centres and schools take online bookings, but they have these fantastic assets. It is a bit like Airbnb, prior to that people didn’t realise that they could rent out their house. This is a similar model.”

Audience

Both Hell and Back and Bookapitch are targeting a sporty crowd, although the latter is firmly focused on businesses at the moment.

“We are focused on venues like schools, colleges, universities as well as clubs, like gaelic, soccer or rugby,” he says.

Despite the fearsome image the company promotes, Bewley says that Hell and Back is aimed at “anyone and everyone” rather than hardcore fitness fiends.

Source: Francis Cronin/YouTube

“Our tagline is ‘get active’. Our market is anyone who wants to be active. For a lot of people it is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it gives you some sort of fitness goal,” he says.

The firm has several obvious counterparts, most notably the likes of the ‘Tough Mudder’ obstacle races. Bewley says that Hell and Back’s mix of natural and man-made challenges, as well as the mental element, is what sets it apart.

“It isn’t just a flat course, there are natural obstacles like the swamps and it is in a very unique location, that would be the main selling point,” he says.

With Bookapitch, Bewley says that rivals are less obvious, and that its main rival instead is current ‘best practice’, which he plans to get around by making the platform easy for businesses to adopt.

“It is about changing the mindset of people who have been doing things a certain way for a long time,” he says. “(Venues) don’t sign a contract with us and can stop at any stage, so the barrier to taking this on is quite small.”

Vision

Alive Outside plans to expand Hell and Back while also looking at bringing other popular international events to Ireland.

“We would probably open up a second weekend – like a concert. If you are booked out on one week you would do a second one, but we want to make sure that we are giving a quality product,” Bewley says.

“We are good at identifying trends. We want to explore other events that are happening outside in other countries that we could adopt in Ireland.”

While he is still involved in Alive Outside, Bookapitch is where Bewley will be spending the bulk of his time for the foreseeable future. While the company has just launched its platform here, a move across the Irish Sea beckons if the expansion goes as planned.

“The goal is to establish a decent space in Ireland and then focus on the UK. Our focus will be on the UK for the next two years, and then by year three we want to be looking at Australia and the US,” he says.

“The vision is to have Bookapitch become the world’s online booking sports system, that’s what we want to achieve. It will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears, (but) I want to stick with it, 100%.”

This article is part of our weekly series examining the nuts and bolts of businesses. If you would like to see your company featured please email news@fora.ie.

Written by Paul O’Donoghue and posted on Fora.ie

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