UCL Innovation and Enterprise


Masters students’ project proves a good deal in the industry du jour

1 November 2011

UCL alumnus and finance expert Jonathan Mackey decided to start his own business in a recession – and chose the daily-deals industry, with its strong market growth and rapid innovation.

In a crowded arena, Jonathan wanted to differentiate Go Groopie from the competition, and HELO asked two Masters in Management students, Karina Kokambayeva and Athmika Thikkavarapu, to help him. They recommended a niche service with limited deals, quick response to customer communications and specialisation in specific areas. Karina and Athmika have been able to apply the marketing experience they gained to their career development back in Kazakhstan and India.

Go Groopie

From salsa classes to spa breaks, ten-pin bowling to teeth whitening, the daily-deals industry caters to all tastes. At first glance it appears to be a saturated industry, and, says Jonathan Mackey, founder of Go Groopie, his initial reaction was not to get involved. But Jonathan (UCL Mathematics, 2000), who has a background in finance, was keen to try something new, even – or especially – in a recessionary environment. He says: “There were plenty of risks and question marks regarding the longevity of the business model. That being said, market growth was strong, as was the demand from both the consumer and merchant market.”

Jonathan was aware that Go Groopie needed a “sanity check.” He explains: “It’s a young industry, one that’s innovating rapidly. It’s easy to make assumptions. We needed a customer perspective, that would verify – or not – our thought processes.” He approached the HELO team at the suggestion of a customer, and they matched the start-up with two Masters in Management students, Karina Kokambayeva and Athmika Thikkavarapu, who chose to work on the project as part of the requirements of their dissertation.

Karina and Athmika analysed the industry, looking at competitors’ offerings and conducting customer surveys to find out what daily-deals providers were doing right – and wrong. Karina says: “We found that people wanted a niche service which offered just one or two daily deals, which could react immediately to customers’ queries or complaints and which could build expertise in certain areas such as entertainment or travel.” Jonathan adds: “Their findings corroborated what we suspected. The customer responses to the surveys were particularly valuable. That’s something we would never have had the time to do.”

The Go Groopie team is now “phenomenally busy”, says Jonathan, and every day more people are signing up. Meanwhile Karina and Athmika are back in their respective home countries of Kazakhstan and India. Karina is looking for a job in marketing, having changed her mind about pursuing a career in communications. Athmika is working in the construction industry. She says: “I am able to apply what I learnt on the Go Groopie project – scrupulous planning, organisational and time management skills – directly to my job, even though it’s in a completely different field. I think those capabilities are universal and I can take them wherever I go.”