Earlier this year Club member Rebecca Kelly earned her place on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. A well-deserved recognition her work as co-founder and CEO of VenueScanner - the UK's largest online marketplace for venue booking.
With close to EUR 2 million in funding, VenueScanner boasts a clientele list including the BBC, Deloitte, Nike and Facebook. Like many entrepreneurs, Rebecca began the business as a side-hustle whilst holding down a full-time job. But it 2016, aged 27, she went full-time founder and the company has moved from strength to strength since.
We caught up with Rebecca to hear her founder story so far and discover what it takes to make it onto that esteemed Forbes list.
What time does your alarm go off and what do you do before work to prepare yourself for the day?
My alarm goes off around 6am I usually check my emails and slack first thing (bad habit I’m trying to get out of). I go for a run or do yoga, have a cold shower and feed my dog!
What do you do to get the most out of your day and be more productive?
At the beginning of each week and day, I make a list of 1-3 things that I need to achieve that day to truly move the business forward or reach our current goal. I block time in my diary for almost every hour with the most important things I need to get done even if it’s writing an email or make a call. I block 1 hour at 6pm for emails and try not to go on email for the rest of the day.
What inspired you to start the business?
I was working at M&S and had constant painful experiences trying to find venues for team away days, company conferences, offsite meetings and the Christmas party. I thought…why is it so easy to book a flight, hotel room, restaurant table but so hard to book an event at a venue? My co-founder and I set out to solve this problem and have been relentlessly trying to make this experience easier since.
What sets you apart from other businesses?
We’re trying to push a lot of boundaries in the industry, transforming the way people access space. Our tech has enabled us to bring 23,000 spaces to market. It makes venue hire more accessible and affordable.
We also empower our venue hosts to market themselves better without agencies and expensive fees. We’ve built a suite of software tools for venues to manage their inventory, inquiries, bookings and self-serve digital marketing.
How is your industry evolving?
Venue hire is slowly moving online but it’s taking longer than we thought. There are still many layers of agencies and costs between the venue and the business or consumer. Many real estate industries are struggling such as pubs and schools. We are seeking to support these industries in opening new revenue lines for them. Several companies are seeking to solve this problem globally including Peerspace in the USA and Spacebase in Germany.
You’ve openly spoken about suffering from dyslexia and dyspraxia, has this impacted your career to date?
Through school, I had to work harder and longer to get the results that I wanted, so working late nights and weekends became the norm for me. This has helped with my career as it’s meant I’ve worked to my limits without second thought.
I am not sure if it has been positive or not on how I operate as a founder. It’s meant that I’ve focused on knowing what my weaknesses are and finding people much better than I to surround myself with. It helps me to think creatively and solve problems differently which can be a good thing as long as you have people to counterbalance as well, which I’m lucky that I do!
How have you developed your team for scale?
We’ve broken the business down into scalable business units where people can move across 'area' or 'function'. This means there is lots of room for development without people having to move ‘up’. We have lots of talented young people who will be ready for progression as we scale. But, we will need to find talented people who have exceptional experience in scaling a business to take us through the next phase.
What is the hardest lessons you have learnt in business?
So many: hiring too soon, hiring too senior, not focusing early enough on company culture, the importance of board governance early.
As a tech business we can often focus too long and too hard on metrics that don’t drive a profitable business.
“Our customers love it, check out these metrics” was the conversation we were often having. It was true and our company user growth has been 10x YoY for 3 years running. We continued to invest in these metrics. But, at some stage, engagement and adoption metrics must convert into revenue and profit.
What I learnt is that ultimately if you are solving a big problem, have a good product, that customers need and want, then they will pay for it. If they won’t pay, then either the problem we’re trying to solve isn’t big enough or our product isn’t good enough. As simple as that.
What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make to drive the business towards success?
A few months back I took the hard decision to pivot our business model. It involved making 20% of our team (8 people) redundant, getting board approval, seeking funding from investors to support it and taking a massive risk on everything we’ve built.
After we made the change, our revenues doubled and our EBITDA improved 3X. Our customers are happier than they have been before and our team has amazing momentum. This was a gut-wrenching change and decision but so far it’s proving to be the most important one we’ve made.
What’s been your proudest moment?
We recently had a team away day and ran a hackathon afternoon. Everyone worked in cross-functional teams to solve business challenges. Watching the team work amazingly together, have fun and innovate to continue to move our business forward was one of my proudest moments so far.
What is the most valuable piece of advice or insight you’ve gained from being in the Club?
“Just keep going!”
If you could go back ten years and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
If you believe that you can, then you will. The hard part is believing that you can and that must come first.
What do you find is the most effective way of promoting your business?
Events, content and digital distribution.
What books or podcasts would you recommend other founders?
I love books/audiobooks, there are so many but a few that I’ve read or re-read recently that have been amazing are:
- The hard thing about hard things
- Lost & founder
- Play Bigger
- The high growth handbook
- Leaders eat last
After making it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 this list, what’s next for VenueScanner this year?
We’ve got some exciting software developments for venues. These will empower them to accelerate their revenues through real-time inventory management and price bidding. We’re building white-label tools for businesses whose customers or users need venues.
We’re also planning on launching in 3 international cities next year which we’re very excited about. So a busy 12 months ahead!