YourNightOut: Ben Taylor

Conceived after a night on the town, Ben Taylor's business aims to revolutionise UK nightlife

After staggering home from a club one night Ben Taylor had an idea for a new business. When he woke up the next morning it still seemed like a winner, so he founded YourNightOut.co.uk – designed to be the ultimate guide to going out.

Name: Ben Taylor Age: 24 Business: YourNightOut.co.uk Type of business: Online nightclub Promotions Company aimed at UK students Start date: 19th September 2005 was the launch but the site was in development for eight months previous

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I always knew I wanted to run my own business and always had a lot of ideas for businesses that I thought could work. However taking the initial step was the hard part and it took me working the nine to five grind in London before I realised that I had to do it now. That was my first and only ‘serious’ job and it lasted for two months, which was more than enough time for me to realise that working for someone else wasn’t for me. There were a few doubts at first but once I got stuck into the project I realised that I had made the right decision.

Tell us about your business YourNightOut is a community website based in Manchester but is in development to be rolled out to the rest of the UK. The website predominantly deals with a lot of issues new students face at university, things like the difficulty in meeting new people and lack of knowledge about the local nightlife scene. The website allows people to interact with other local members whilst allowing them to view upcoming nights out and photos of previous nights. We also tackle the problem that a lot of local promoters can’t broadcast their nights with out spending large amounts on offline promotion. YourNightOut allows people to hear about the best nights in their city by not being biased towards the big events, thus helping smaller promoters.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?I’ve had a load of ideas before, some good some bad. For YourNightOut the idea came because I felt that during my time at university there was a lack of information out there about the Manchester night scene. My friends and I used to end up in the same places because we simply didn’t have information available on all the nights. I also felt that for many people university can be a lonely time, and I wanted to create a nightlife community website where people could meet others locally with similar interests.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Not really, I always thought that I would run a business and was just looking for the right product and time to do it. If anyone inspired me then I would have to say parents, they run a successful business in Gloucestershire and have always been keen for me set something up. I grew up around that lifestyle talking business around the diner table so it seems natural.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?My gut instinct said there was a market and my experiences of being a student in Manchester confirmed this. I also think that with the ever-increasing student population and the greater number of promoters coming onto the scene to setup events the market is so busy. I think an online medium to display and filter the events to your preference will be something that will be widely used in the future. Ask me in one years time and I’ll tell you if I was right.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?I actually decided after a night out in London that I was going to do this, so when I got home I wasn’t in the best state. The first thing I did was get as many ideas down on paper. I worked on it for an hour and thought if I still felt like this in the morning then this is what I was going to pursue from now on – luckily I did.

What research did you do? The research was mostly through my university experience and looking at existing websites and seeing how I could improve the service. Admittedly, I feel I could have done more research but I was so fixed on my ideas that I had to make a few mistakes before I learnt to research more.

What advice did you seek? I approached them all but most didn’t want to know, business link were actually pretty good and I still get invited to a lot of their business breakfasts and events. In terms of advice they were good, but at the time I wanted funding so they couldn’t do a lot for me. I also applied for the small firms loan guarantee scene but was denied for some unknown reason.

What other help did you get? I got investment from my parents and some personal savings I had at the time. I also got a business loan from the bank which got me started.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Possibly, but I think the ones that are really serious about starting a business will do it at any cost. Not to be harsh but there are a lot of not so great ideas out there and the government can’t support everyone. I feel in the last year I’ve earned the small success my business has generated and in a lot of ways its better to do it with limited funds as it certainly makes you learn quicker.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I looked on the internet and got sample plans and tailored them to my business. There is so much information on the net to help write a good plan. It’s very important for the banks that you write a good plan even if it is a very boring task. I didn’t use specific software because I didn’t want to buy it and I’m sure that if you looked you can find sample plans that are just as good.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? Not very useful because we are getting ideas everyday and it would be very hard to keep adding them to the business plan. I think they are mainly for the banks and also good as a bit of a dairy. For a start-up you must have a business plan but once you get going you find it gets put away gathering dust.

How much did it cost to start the business? It cost about £40,000 – mostly on the development of the site but also on legal fees, design and other costs that you don’t anticipate before you start.

How are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? The business is breaking even now so at the moment the running costs are taken care of. Further development is another issue and I have just found two web developers who are coming on board in return for shares. Now that we have the in-house development we need, the sky’s the limit and there should be many improvements in the coming months.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them. Not at the moment, I don’t really have any commitments so if all else fails then I suppose I’ll get a job. At the moment we are so focused on making it a success that I don’t really want to think about that.

When did you stop working? I stopped working about six months ago and decided to be really careful with my money. I wanted my head to be fully into the project and couldn’t bear the distraction of work. The moment I left was like a weight off my shoulders and was such a relief. It’s a feeling I can’t really describe.

Are you working from home or from premises? At the moment from home but in time I want to get an office. It’s so hard working from home with all of the distractions. The worst part is that I feel guilty when I’m not working which means I never really switch off from it. I long for the day when I can spend the day in an office and come home and switch off. I would probably still work just as much but it would be nice to be able to separate work from home and I also think my work time would be more constructive.

How many hours are you working at the moment?I don’t know and it depends what you class as work. I don’t feel that I work overly hard but that’s because I enjoy it. It’s always on my mind and I’m always getting on with some parts of the business but I could never put an exact figure on it.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?With a few of us on the team now I’m finding that it’s easier to get everything done. I know when I have done too much and need to rest. I also set myself personal goals through out the year so I know that I have to do other things. This year my goals are running the London Marathon and Caledonian Challenge and passing my grade 5 piano exam. It’s important to do other things and stay fit so I play football 3 times a week and go to the gym. I’ve also learned the importance of eating well as it really affects your thinking.

What about staff, is it just you? I employ three other people on a part-time basis either doing the photography for the site or the sales. It was easy to find them as they were mostly friends of friends. I will be looking for someone to completely manage the site in the near future. I don’t anticipate that it will be too hard to find people, as there is a real lack of jobs out there at the moment for young people. I also get a lot of CV’s sent to me and with some you can really see the effort put into them. When the time is right these people may be getting a phone call.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?Most of the advertising comes from our photographers around the clubs of Manchester. The team have built up a good reputation and most people have heard of us from that. I’ve spent quite a bit on marketing, for example wrapping a taxi, a billboard van and flyers. Some have been successful others not. Over time you definitely learn the most cost effective ways to advertise.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? I would like to have over 100,000 members and be in 10 UK cities. I feel this achievable but it’s going to be hard work. I also want to keep on enjoying it and be constantly developing the business. The moment it gets boring or we get lazy I think we will need a drastic rethink. I also want to have achieved my personal goals and then set some more so business doesn’t become my life.

What are the main obstacles to growth? The main obstacle is proving to promoters that this is a cost effective way to advertise. Obviously people are very sceptical about new businesses and it’s taken a long time to prove that we are a worthy company. As far as development on the site goes we are really only limited by our imaginations. Word of mouth is always the best thing and if you can influence someone enough to tell their friends then you have cracked it.

Tell us about your website. I outsourced the complete development of the website to a company in Bournemouth. I had a plan of how I wanted the site to look and feel and often we clashed with conflicting ideas as my ideas were very rigid. I think I should have trusted them a bit more but it’s very hard to do when it’s your own project. There was a two-man design team and a three-man development team, all working simultaneously. The site took about eight months to design and build but is forever changing. For something like this I think it’s important that people see a constantly evolving site. It is impossible to get it right first time and we tried things that we were certain would work but in the end just didn’t take off. As for the development team I feel I picked the right guys for the job, they aren’t on the project anymore but certainly helped get it off the ground, so I wouldn’t have done anything drastically differently on the development front. When hiring developers there are so many thinks to think about so there is some gut instinct involved. Try and cover yourself as much as possible and there are some rouge developers out there. Get a good solicitor and make sure the contract states you either own the code or have a full licence to alter and develop it. Also make sure you get references view previous work.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Both really, I want to enjoy this as much as I am doing at the moment. If I can make a decent living then that’s a bonus. I wouldn’t still be slogging away after a year if I didn’t enjoy it so it can’t all be about the money.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? The main thing was getting people to take it seriously which I suppose is what every start-up has to go through. It was all a learning curve so I have no regrets about the way it progressed. Another hard thing I found was finding people to trust. Everyone is just after your money and a lot of the time will tell you what you want to hear so you have to harden to that. I’m lucky I have good support from my family.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Perseverance and stamina. It’s emotionally draining and at times I felt like I was going mad – no joke! You have to be able to laugh because sometimes the position you are feels so absurd. All my friends have really good jobs that it’s difficult when you can’t even afford a night out. I think you also have to be able to listen to people and take advice on board, and not be too proud – if someone does genuinely want to help don’t turn them down because it doesn’t come along all that often. You’ve probably heard it before but I think a good inner confidence is important. I hate talking about the site to people and hate explaining what it does but on the inside I’m confident about it and believe that it will be a success. I think you have to quietly get on with it and let the result speak for itself; it’s usually the quiet ones that succeed anyway.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?Don’t do it on a whim or you’ll loose a lot of money. Be sure you know what you want and don’t leave anything to chance because in the early days you feel a lot of luck goes against you. I firmly believe that the ones who are meant to be successful will be and only you know within yourself if that is you.

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