GroundControl: the beginnings

Written by Joost Lubach

GroundControl, the beginnings

GroundControl was born many months ago, like so many SaaS platforms, as a single software project. The year was 2017, the place was Paris, la ville d'amour, and in my specific instance, la ville de beaucoup de stress. 

(This is a 1000-hour read, so bear with me!)

Chapter 1. The hotel basement

I was asked to build a chat app for some 150 managers – the kind that is quite impatient with technology – as they roamed the streets of Paris as part of a corporate summit. In previous years, they'd split off into groups, and each group would get an assigned guide, in the form of a human being. But this year, the theme of the summit being "digital" (this was 2017 when "digital" was by itself enough as a theme for a summit), they wanted to know if it was possible to have an app guide them. Being an app developer, and a sucker for scavenger hunts, I figured this was a job for me. "Oh, the WiFi won't be the best everywhere, so if you could take that into account, that'd be perfect," they added. No problem, I would just program all the content, directions and times into the app.

Well, clearly I wasn't very familiar with the world of corporate events, summits, symposia and the like. There is one golden rule, and that is that everything changes, right up to the last hour. So there I was, in Paris, in a basement room in the hotel with no windows, using a backdoor in my app to send all 150 participants push messages. Thankfully, the participants didn't notice, and the summit was a success!

In the train back (incidentally, the trains had a huge delay, which we were able to communicate quite effectively to all participants using our app), I drafted the first iteration of what would years later be known as GroundControl. I took some code from a game that I created for a Dutch TV show and the platform was born. First under the name Peggy, later PeerHub and finally GroundControl.

Chapter 2. The years of stress

In the years to come, I successfully applied the formula to a few further events while starting to understand the event industry. This was a time of stress. I've had people:

- Throw phones at me because they forgot their PIN-code;

- Throw phones at me because they ran Android pre-Christ;

- Ask me where this-and-that guy, only for me to answer that he was right behind her;

- Be very kind to me even though the system failed them more than 3 times in a row. This sort of stuff happens too.

In the mean time, I teamed up with my first co-founder. Being an educated man – and an education man, he helped me realise that the platform could prove useful in the world of education, which in turn helped me more clearly define what GroundControl actually was. Not only is it a corporate event platform, GroundControl was a real-time communication platform. A little like a chat bot platform, but with a strong focus on crowds and engagement. With GroundControl, you don't only talk to your participants individually, but you get to know them, and they get to know each other.

Chapter 3. How much for a QR code?

The third chapter of this story starts in 2020, where we were invited to showcase GroundControl at an event where everybody was all like "oh nooo what can we do now that there's a pandemic". At this event, we came up with a few little tricks, such as:

- A proximity trigger with route to the venue

- A beacon based welcome trigger

- A QR code kiosk which triggered a COVID checklist - if you had symptoms, you had to go home

- A find-the-hidden-objects game

- An automated order system at dinner

Soon enough, people came to us to ask how much such a QR code check would cost. We had no answer - in previous instances, we'd create a single quote for an entire event. We decided to re-shape our platform into a SaaS-platform. Clients could pay a low price, and click various modules together to set up their own customised event. We also added an online viewer for conference calls and live streams.

Chapter 4. Geographic diversity

Meanwhile, we grew our team to a modest 4 people. In order of appearance we welcomed Jelle, Laurens and finally Leon. We could work on our diversity a bit, but geographically we're extremely diverse: Jelle and I live in Amsterdam, Laurens in The Hague and Leon in Budapest. Since recently, Jelle is fully focused on business development and acquisition, so that I could fully immerse myself as GroundControl's CTO.