Online golf reservation startup Golfreserv sets sights on Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia

  • Has 1,000 golfers using the platform on a monthly basis
  • Initial name of Golfbogey rejected by golfers and golf courses
Online golf reservation startup Golfreserv sets sights on Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia
Golfreserv founder and CEO Prathib Sooria (sitting, first from left) and his team

GOLFRESERV Sdn Bhd, an online golf reservation company, is on track to set a wider footprint in Southeast Asia (SEA), partly helped by its partnership with Tune Labs.

Currently, users can use Golfreserv to book their tee times at selected golf courses. For now, the service is available for 74 golf courses in Malaysia and six in Indonesia (Bali and Batam).

"We hope to have stronger presence in Indonesia, as well as to expand to Thailand and Vietnam over the next 24 months," said Golfreserv founder and chief executive officer Prathib Sooria in an email interview with Digital News Asia, recently. 

The company made headlines recently, after it secured an undisclosed sum of investment from Tune Labs, a startup incubator backed by top Malaysian entrepreneurs Tony Fernandes, Kamarudin Meranun and Lim Kian Onn. Fernandes and Kamarudin arem also founders of budget carrier AirAsia Group.

Golfreserv was also a recipient of Cradle's CIP500   which offers successful applicants a grant of US$119,000 (RM500,000). 

On the Tune Labs partnership, besides providing Golfreserv with funding, Prathib says that the partnership allows the company to overcome one of its biggest operational obstacles  building credibility.

"One of our biggest challenges in the golfing industry is a credibility issue among golfers and golf course operators who have had some bad experiences with other online golf reservation companies. Our partnership with Tune Labs helps us counter this issue and we now have plans to further user acquisition with the Tune Group of companies to promote golf tourism in the region," he says.

Origin and potential
According to Prathib, his original idea wasn't about setting up an online golf reservation company -- Golfreserv was a result of Prathib's pivoting.

"The company was founded with the initial idea of assisting with reservations for under capacity facilities, such as badminton courts, football fields, and others. However, we pivoted the idea to target the multi billion dollar industry that is golf and to focus on one particular niche market after getting some insights from industry veterans like Coach and Grow Programme's Dr Sivapalan Vivekarajah, 500 Startup's Khailee Ng and (Tony) Fernandes," he said.

"Furthermore, after participating in the Malaysian International Golf Symposium and speaking to golf course managers, and conducting an online survey for golfers, we managed to validate the idea of online golf reservations."

Initially, Prathib named the company Golfbogey because he felt that "the URL would be catchier".

"However, we were continuously rejected by golfers and investors because a 'bogey' is not something golfers strive for or want. Then Douglas Khoo (from Qunar) suggested Golf Reserve as it boils down to what we do, golf reservation. Hence, the name Golfreserv," he explained.

Today, Golfreserv serves more than 1,000 golfers on a monthly basis and the number is growing significantly month on month. 

The fact that smartphone penetration in Malaysia is well over 50% (thus making it easy to use his service) and that its service is only available at 74 golf courses, gives Prathib all the reasons to believe that Golfreserv has a lot of room for growth.

Currently, Malaysia has more than 200 golf courses. Assuming each club/ course has a regular 100 golfers a month (conservative estimates), it would mean that the addressable market is 20,000 golfers. Clearly, more can be done by the company to grow its current base of 1,000.

Monetisation and profitability
For now, Golfreserv makes the bulk of its money from commission. (It takes a cut from every transaction made through its platform).

However, commission may not be the only way the company makes it earnings. Many other portals that offer listing/ reservation services charge companies a fee for priority listings  one thing that Golfreserv has yet to embark on.

"At this stage we do not have any plans to charge golf courses for priority listing on our platform. We plainly display the earliest available slot to play golf, so as to provide the utmost convenience for travelling golfers intending to make reservations," said Prathib. 

Nevertheless, the company believes that if all goes according to plan, it will be profitable by the third quarter next year.

"The company is not profitable yet. As for our Malaysian operations, we forecast profitability by third quarter 2017. There are a couple of reasons behind our forecast. For instance,our bookings are increasing at a 30% growth rate and with a 39% repeat booking rate, and our golfers now also make bookings for more players more frequently.

"Our team is also kept very lean, and operational costs are kept as low as we can without jeopardizing our position as a market leader. For example, as part of our collaboration with Tune, we need not worry about office rental, as an office space and miscellaneous other utilities have been allocated to us to use free of charge," said Prathib.

Meanwhile, he added that talks with potential investors of a new round of funding is ongoing.

"We have already initiated our new round of investment and talks of further investments are promising."

Related Stories:

AirAsia cofounders launch SEA startup incubator, accelerator

I'm an old-fashined guy: Tony Fernandes on investments

Tune Labs makes 'strategic investment' in travel-planning platform Touristly

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