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An ex-Paddy Power marketer wants this startup to become 'the Airbnb for business'

As part of our weekly Startup Spotlight series, we profile Popertee.

Image: Tupalo.com

DUBLIN STARTUP POPERTEE plans to roll out its pop-up shop booking service in London later this year – and it hopes to entice department store behemoth John Lewis to put its vacant units on the platform.

The company, which currently only operates in Ireland, says it will soft-launch the booking platform in the UK capital this September.

Popertee was founded in 2016 by ex-Paddy Power marketer Lucinda Kelly, who tells Fora the idea for the company spawned from her interest in Airbnb’s model, which she thought could be replicated in the retail industry.

Although it has only been in operation for a year and a half, the young company’s business proposition is already undergoing a reboot as it pursues a “more scaleable” opportunity in the data analytics sector.

“It’s a little bit deceptive – when you go on our website you see what we are doing, versus what we are building,” she says.

At the moment, Popertee appears to be what Kelly calls a “simple platform” where companies and marketing agencies scout for pop-up retail venues around Ireland.

“We’re running almost a concierge service to validate the proposition,” she says. “We match brands directly with spaces”, adding that the company looks after the legal agreement and rental transaction in exchange for a total 10% commission.

LK 2 Popertee CEO Lucinda Kelly Source: Fred Rood/Popertee

Artificial intelligence

However behind the scenes, the company is developing a technology that uses artificial intelligence to match venues with the specific demands of retailers and brands looking for short-term lets.

“Brands and agencies wanted to understand footfall demographic information and neighbourhood insights when pre-booking,” Kelly says. “We realised there was a much bigger, more scaleable business opportunity there.”

Popertee started buying data from social media companies and telcos to help it build a property search engine that spits out fine-tuned recommendations for pop-up spaces based on clients’ requests.

“For example, let’s say you have Amazon coming to Ireland – they’re looking to promote a new Kindle and they’re looking to target males aged 18 to 35 in shopping centres,” Kelly says.

The marketing agency would use Popertee to seek out venues that can cater for that specific demographic.

90401326_90401326 Stephen's Green Shopping Centre Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The company closed a €500,000 seed round a couple of weeks ago to help build out that model. It has already been backed by Enterprise Ireland and NDRC.

The bulk of the half-a-million euro just raised will be earmarked for hiring new staff, Kelly says.

The startup has grown from a solo operation with help from friends to a five-person team with four interns in the last 18 months.

Several employees and advisors have followed Kelly from Paddy Power. Head of product and operations Joe Packenham is former head of operations at the bookmaker, while director Edgardo Savoy was previously at Paddy Power and has served as chief technology officer at Lastminute.com.

“There’s a really strong team that we’re building out,” Kelly says.

Well-known brands

Despite its short history, Popertee has already worked with an impressive line-up of well-known brands in Ireland.

It helped find a venue for Heinz Baked Beans’ pop-up café in Dublin and was also involved in Italian beermaker Peroni’s ‘House of Peroni’ campaign, as well as sourcing spaces for car brands Citroen and Volvo.

Kelly says the company is currently in talks with John Lewis in the UK in the hopes of putting vacant shop space it owns up for rent through Popertee.

She stresses that Ireland is very much a “test market” as the company looks to break into the much tougher British sector.

Kelly identifies Appear Here as a major competitor on the other side of the Irish Sea. The pop-up shop provider closed a $12 million series B round in May.

“They’re more like a hybrid estate agent,” Kelly says. “They’re doing really well.”

‘Experiential’ marketing

Popertee is riding on the so-called ‘experiential marketing’ wave, which it expects to continue growing over the coming years.

Kelly says marketing firms have begun to significantly increased their spending on the campaigns, a buzzword for Instagram-friendly PR stunts. She attributes that growth to changes in consumer appetites.

“When you look at online,” she says, “it’s about getting from A to B as quickly as possible and getting customers to take out their credit card and make a transaction. What’s lacking is an experience.”

A pop-up venue gives branding gurus the opportunity to give their clients a physical experience in high footfall areas, which Kelly says helps increase “loyalty with the brand”.

When asked about the company’s future plans, she says it is looking at revisiting its original Airbnb concept and extending its offering beyond traditional retail space.

“We believe in five years’ time that it’s not just about retail units or about warehouses,” she says.

“It’s almost going back to Airbnb but for business. But smart Airbnb where you rent out the side of a building or a spare room in town, or a window at the side of your shop. Brands and marketing agencies are looking for new types of spaces.”

For now, the startup is also looking to bulk up its advisory board.

“I think it’s important that we bring some really seasoned experts on board across retail, property, ad-tech,” she says. “We need to think about a chairman. They will help shape us in where we want to be.”

This article is part of a weekly series featuring Ireland’s most promising startups. If you would like to see your company featured email news@fora.ie.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Daniel McCarthy was head of operations at Popertee. Joe Packenham is head of product and operations at the company.

Written by Conor McMahon and posted on Fora.ie

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