Rebecca Kelly, VenueScanner
Bootstrapping, funding from friends and business contacts and angel investors have all been fruitful sources of finance for events platform VenueScanner, says founder and CEO Rebecca Kelly.
- What does your business do?
VenueScanner is a booking platform for meeting and event venues. We help venues market themselves online and enable businesses and individuals to search, compare and book space for their events. We are growing by 30% a month and currently process around £7 million of bookings a year.
- Why did you decide to start your business?
It was to solve a challenge that I had personally experienced. I was working at Marks and Spencer and I was the person who would organise our Christmas parties and offsite meetings and conferences. I ended up spending forever trying to find and book space, and we always seemed to end up somewhere that was really
expensive and with no natural light. There is so much amazing space in London but the problem was it was so difficult to try and book it online. My co-founder Benjy Mayer and I did some brainstorming and realised that you could go on Skyscanner and book a flight, or go on Booking.com to book a hotel, so why couldn’t you go on somewhere to book a venue. So we decided to create it ourselves.
The part I was particularly passionate about was bringing business to the smaller independent venues and more interesting spaces alongside the larger corporations that tend to have big marketing budgets.
- How did you get it off the ground?
We created a job spec online for a developer and found an engineer in Poland who we started working with. We first built the ability for venues to list themselves on the platform and we got 10,000 venues listed in our first six months. Then we built bits of the platform at a time over the first year; the search area, messaging and booking.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
At the beginning we bootstrapped it and then raised £150,000 from friends and business contacts which took us through the first stage. Since then we have raised funding primarily from angel investors. Our lead investor is Tom
Singh, who founded New Look, and his funding is matched by the AngelCo Fund run by the British business bank. In total we have done four rounds of investment and raised about £3.5 million.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Balancing the ambitions of what we want to create and managing the cashflow. It is a constant battle - you want to do everything but you don’t have enough resources to do everything, so you have to ruthlessly prioritise.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
The importance of hiring well and having a talented and passionate team who have good values and are aligned with each other. For me it is all about the people.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
We are an events business so the pandemic had a very high immediate impact. We lost 95% of our business the first day of lockdown and we had to take the very difficult decision to let go of the majority of the team - we went from 36 people to 6. We also had to try and get the balance between supporting our customers and making sure our business didn’t die, which was very difficult.
However our revenues are now more than they were pre-pandemic and we have created a new arm of the business which helps hybrid and remote businesses bring their teams together in real life by providing venues in locations around Europe.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
I wish I had tried some different routes to try and keep more of the team during the pandemic. We were really optimising to survive but we lost some amazing people and I felt we let people down.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
Resilience and just keeping going. When things have been the most difficult and we have been closest to not surviving, just having that commitment to keep going and bouncing back is probably how we are still here.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Ruthlessly prioritise - and then be ten times more ruthless. When you are a start up it is so easy to get distracted and try and do a hundred different things at once, but then you miss that really important one thing that is going to make the business do super well. Know what is the one thing you can do today to shift the dial on the business.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?