The Entrepreneur: Rebecca Kelly, VenueScanner

The venue booking platform, helping venue hosts generate more bookings and event organisers find better and more affordable venues.

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Startups was founded over 20 years ago by a serial entrepreneur. Today, our expert team of writers, researchers, and editors work to provide our 4 million readers with useful tips and information, as well as running award-winning campaigns. We interview successful entrepreneurs from all over the UK, celebrating their achievements, hard work, and determination to get to where they are today. This article was authored by:

Founder: Rebecca Kelly
Company: VenueScanner
Website: venuescanner.com

Private and business organisers use VenueScanner to find the best space for them for over 50 event types, from meetings, brainstorms, and team days to photoshoots, parties, and weddings.

Rebecca Kelly, founder and CEO of VenueScanner, speaks to Startups about challenges posed by the pandemic, business aspirations, and how her platform is building a community of the best venues around the world.

The Business

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We are a venue search and booking platform that helps venue hosts generate more bookings and event organisers find better and more affordable venues.

Our mission is to build a community of the best and most unique venues around the world and to make the process quicker, easier, and more affordable for event organisers to book spaces that stage inspiring events.

We operate a subscription-based business model and offer a range of services including:

  •   Helping businesses organise and manage team away days (something we are seeing a big increase in post ‘Freedom Day’)
  •   A concierge service for corporate event organisers looking for bespoke recommendations on a tight deadline
  •   An industry first “venue finder” where we match event organisers with the most relevant venues from our network of 20,000+ venues across the UK

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

If you had asked me this before the pandemic, I would have said growing VenueScanner to become the largest venue database globally. But when Covid-19 hit, our business, like so many in the hospitality and events sector, suffered hugely.

Since then, we have built the business back up from scratch, improved our product for both venues and event organisers, raised over £1 million in funding, and recruited a team of incredibly talented people to help me drive the business forward as we emerge from the pandemic. That has without a doubt been my biggest achievement to date.

How did you fund your business?

We are backed by some incredible investors including Tom Singh, founder of New Look, The Angel co-fund, Greg Marsh, Founder of OneFineStay and Phil Burkes, founder of Big Yellow Storage.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

We have a set of 10-20 numbers I look at regularly, but the most important ones for me are customer satisfaction scores, platform conversion rates, new venue members, and revenue.

To what extent does your business trade internationally?

We currently operate in 7 cities across the UK and do virtual and corporate events globally via our concierge team. A big focus for us over the coming year is international expansion. We are launching in Dublin and Dubai in the coming weeks.

As businesses across the globe try to work out the right balance of home and office working, we know there is an increased need for them to get their teams together to collaborate, create and celebrate. Our goal is to become the go-to platform for businesses globally to do just that, regardless of where they are based.

Where would you like your business to be in five years?

Delivering an incredible online experience for venues, teams, and individuals across the globe to plan and book in person events to connect. And to be operating in 100 cities worldwide.

What software or technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We are obsessed with ClickUp, avid users of Charlie HR, Slack, HubSpot, and Intercom and we recently discovered Otta for recruitment which is the best recruitment tool we’ve ever used. We build all of our platform technology in-house, but those tools have been central to us managing our business.


Growth Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in business?

Having to make the heart-breaking decision to reduce our headcount once the pandemic hit when the business came to a virtual standstill. It was hands down the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.

I am incredibly proud to have built the team back up again and to be working alongside some of the most talented people in the tech and events space.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

There have been so many! We have a “brownie” award on Fridays (we stole the idea from Notting Hill) for someone to win. It is important to embrace failure – only then can you learn from it and improve.

What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started on your business journey?

That business is personal. Everyone always says business isn’t personal but that’s just not true. It is and it should be. I can’t imagine leading a company where we bring anything less than our whole selves to work, trust each other, care personally about one another, and support each other both professionally and personally. As a result, we are a more cohesive team all working towards the same goal. That can only be a good thing.

How has the pandemic affected the market you operate in?

It has completely devastated the hospitality sector and at VenueScanner, we are more committed than ever to supporting venue recovery.

While the last year has taught us that we don’t need to be sitting next to each other to get our work done, it has also taught us how important it is to be together to create, collaborate, and celebrate. In fact, 94% of UK employees we recently surveyed said getting together with colleagues is really important to them.

That means we are seeing a sharp rise in demand for locations and experiences that enable businesses to come together for brainstorms, workshops, team away days, and more. Our role is to help companies create these in person experiences for their teams and help venues adapt their spaces to accommodate this shift, thereby helping them fill their spaces and recover quicker.


Personal Growth

Did you study business or learn on the job?

I studied economics at university so that has helped in some regard, but mostly I have learned on the job and surrounded myself with a team of people that help me lead and drive the business forward.

What would make you a better leader?

I am constantly learning and aiming to improve as a leader every day. I read a lot of books and write down the things I learn each week. Something that I’d love to do is to sit in on meetings or days with other leaders of businesses that I admire and learn from them and see how they do things differently. A ‘Leadership swap week’ if you will!

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

My favourite personal app is definitely Peleton – I’m totally obsessed. Cardio is the only thing I’ve found over the years that genuinely helps reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with running a business!

And my favourite business app is Slack. We use it for all our team communication, both work-related and to call out wins, celebrate each other and give feedback, so I couldn’t live without it.

A business book or podcast that you think is great:

I like ‘How I Built This’ and my good friend Dave Bailey’s ‘The Founder Coach’ is also great for real insights into start-up challenges.

I’ve also loved both ‘Radical Candour’ and ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Browne. They’ve provided great advice for building a better culture, improving my leadership style, as well as communications within the team which to me, is the most important aspect of building a company.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting a business?

Look after your wellbeing. Entrepreneurs give 110% all the time – it’s a tough and long journey, so we have to look after our personal health in order to give our best all the time.  I used to always feel guilty for investing time in exercise, meditation, and reading, but after years of deprioritising it, I now realise that being healthy, energised and in an optimal mindset as the leader of the business is critical to delivering success.

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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