Venstr.com: Siobhan Bales

A former director at the The Prince's Trust, the start-up founder talks securing investment and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur...

Name: Siobhan Bales
Company name: Venstr.com
Location: North East
Date launched: 01/03/15
Website: www.venstr.com

Tell us what your business does:

Venstr.com is the only B2B ecommerce website of its kind in the UK, aimed at helping online retailers find reliable and trustworthy suppliers, saving them time and money.

We enable suppliers to list offers and deals aimed at buyers that are not available anywhere else and can only be redeemed via the site, and we give vendors a star-rating, meaning prospective buyers will be able to make a more informed choice over where to source their goods and services.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I have created a number of ecommerce businesses and experienced first-hand the challenges associated with sourcing a reliable network of suppliers, in a sector that is seeing rapid growth.

How did you know there was a market for it?

We thoroughly researched the market. The online retailing sector is one of the fastest growing sectors across the world. The UK, Germany and France account for 71% of total European online sales and UK small and medium enterprises are increasingly trading online.

There has been a 42% increase in the number of small businesses selling their products online. Meanwhile the number of start-ups that began trading exclusively online increased by 32% in 2013 compared to the year before.

What were you doing before starting up?

I have worked within marketing for many years, and started first business in 2000. I sold my share in my second business in 2012.

I have extensive experience working across the enterprise and small business agenda. I have fulfilled appointments as a government advisor to the enterprise and skills team at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and a two-year tenure as an expert in entrepreneurial communications for an EU board in Brussels.

I have also held various non-executive director positions on enterprise and small business boards in the North East region such as Business Enterprise Group, Young Enterprise and The Prince’s Trust.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I have a run a number of businesses and it is something that I am very passionate about. The North East is a great place to start a new business, there is a real entrepreneurial spirit across the region and a growing expertise in the tech sector.

How did you raise the money?

We successfully secured seed investment in 2014 to create Venstr.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Uniquely, Venstr enables suppliers to offer deals to online retailers and we take revenue share of completed transactions. It is a tidy business model, and is fully automated.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Securing the initial investment. We wanted to build a bespoke platform, and therefore needed a specialist development team to come on board and there is a large cost associated with this. We also needed cash to finance the brand development, marketing materials and initial marketing promotion of the business.

We still have a number of challenges to overcome in the near future, including significant market penetration, attracting specialist suppliers to join and engage with Venstr. As well as, convincing suppliers that Venstr is a useful platform to drive enquiries and sales to their businesses and to attract online retailers to find and buy from our suppliers.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Finding the ‘sweet point’ was the most difficult thing – how to find something an entire sector wants and needs, and to wrap a business model around it that can scale internationally. Once we discovered this, we were ready to plan, build and deliver to our target marketplace.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Find something that fires you up and see if you can make a business out of it. Most successful people have a good idea, have a bit of capital behind them and are able to sell themselves and their product/services well. If you are not frightened of hard work, and have confidence in your idea, then you should do well, even when it gets tough!

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I want Venstr to be an industry-recognised name, where both suppliers and online retailers see us as a critical friend to advance their businesses. Venstr needs to be recognised for what it is – an independent platform for the ecommerce sector across the world.

If we achieve this, we will achieve all of our growth targets, including good levels of income and profit!

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