Interview with Rebecca Kelly, co-founder of VenueScanner

Find out how Rebecca Kelly has used the digital marketing expertise she honed as former head of Digital Growth at Majestic Wines to launch her own business, VenueScanner.

What’s your career background?

After studying economics at Edinburgh University, I worked in investment management before moving into the e-commerce field. It was while I was on the Marks & Spencer E-Commerce Graduate Scheme that I met Benjy Meyer, who I would go on to co-found VenueScanner with.

Benjy and I ran VenueScanner alongside our full-time jobs in marketing and operations respectively for the first seven months of the business’ existence, during which time I moved on to Majestic Wines where I was head of Digital Growth.

As an in-house entrepreneur, driving acquisition through content, I gained invaluable insights into growing a business which have been instrumental during the development of VenueScanner.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

We went away and wrote a one pager on what we thought the business might look like, then started to research the market opportunity and competitive landscape. Once we had established that there was a market and we knew broadly what we planned to do…we tested!

I am a big believer in action, so we created some Google ads to test how much it would cost us to drive people to a website that does venue search and what they were most interested in.

Once we established what the business economics were for demand we then had a look at supply. We did a test by emailing venues and asking them if they would be interested in such a service with a free commission offer. We had great uptake!

The next step was designs. We spent nights on end sketching and re-sketching wireframes from our e-commerce knowledge and then hired a designer and developer to build some pages for us. As we built the platform, we tested the performance of each element against the commercial model. We’re still finessing our offering, but we’ve come a long way.

What’s your USP?

Unlike any other venue service, we are led by tech. At numerous points in our journey we have had the financial option of growing the company through new hires but have always prioritised re-investing in the platform’s digital capabilities, starting on the supply side.

As such we are on course to become the first and only fully automated service, meaning that events organisers will be able to access information on venues, such as availability, instantaneously.

Who’s your target audience?

We want to empower events organisers, such as Personal Assistants (PAs), to find the right venue for any occasion at the right price, simply and easily. We built the platform around one simple mission – to make venue discovery, search and booking as easy as Amazon makes shopping.

Small and medium sized companies don’t have the budgets and agency contracts within the events industries that large companies do, so we will focus on helping these companies and their PAs/Office Managers/Event co-ordinators.

We hope that soon large corporates will also see the value in doing venue search themselves and saving lots of money on agency fees!

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Obviously, I have a bias towards digital marketing. However, we trial lots of different channels such as distributing flyers, and attending conferences and events where we can talk to PA groups and events organisers.

We also invest in performance marketing to connect with people looking for a solution to venue finding, and work on our natural search rankings to ensure our users can easily find us when they want to source venues quickly and affordably

In addition, I am a huge believer in mutually beneficial partnerships. We have lots of those and I absolutely love learning about other people’s businesses and how we can drive value for each other.

We have partnered with “Encore”, an awesome marketplace for musicians, with the approach “You have found your venue. How about adding some music from our friends at Encore?” We are also now avenue partner to Mayfair Quarter who provide travel as well as other benefits for corporate clients and get lots of requests for venues.

Finally, last week I did something totally new – a Twitter Q&A session. It helped me connect with lots of PAs who asked some fab questions! – Everything we do is focused on connecting with people who we think will truly value our product.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

That’s a trade secret! But I like to have a creative idea then let ROI drive its execution. Identifying our ideal customer, taking the time to really understand their pain points, and then creating a solution which they are incentivised to try out is a great way of achieving this.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

VenueScanner’s long-term success will depend on onboarding a broad range of venues with concentrated presences in key regions. Building this base from nothing, as an unknown company, was a significant challenge.

As such, managing to acquire twice as many venues as any of our competitors in under a year, and reaching the 10,000 venues mark was a huge moment for us. It signalled our ability to live up to our mission of providing event organisers with the right venue for every occasion – a factor that is becoming even more important as our user base continues to grow fourfold month on month.

And your proudest moment so far?

As a start-up it can be difficult to get large, well-established companies to trust you. Within our first year we have already been used by the likes of Nike, Deloitte and Sainsbury’s. The confidence they displayed in us to deliver the best possible service has helped build the foundations for the business’ collective pride.

Why is work so important to you?

I have never seen work as a means to an end, instead I find the process of shifting the way things work, and setting and achieving challenging goals stimulating, interesting and rewarding in itself. I also love the opportunity work gives me to constantly meet new and interesting people.

I have learnt so much from people I have managed as the people who have managed me, and that is something that I try to bring into our company every day.

This being said, I think it’s crucial to keep the balance between your work and personal life. My family and the people closest to me will always come first.

Who inspires you?

Other successful entrepreneurs are an undeniable inspiration, I love Sheryl Sandburg and her book Lean in. However, the key influences in my life have been the people I know, work with, and am close to.

My original inspiration was a man called Muhammad Yunus who created a revolution in the finance lending market by allowing people in poverty with no assets of capital to borrow against trust by loaning in groups. He inspired me to think differently about the way that lots of our core industries are both established and operated.

Ever since then I have been able to find ways to work to challenge the status quo and create alternative, improved solutions.

In more recent years I have been inspired by my previous boss and current mentor Rowan Gormley. Rowan worked with Richard Branson for years founding Virgin Money, Virgin Wines and Naked Wines. I think that Naked Wines is an inspirational approach to business, connecting winemakers and wine buyers directly and cutting out the middle man who removes the value from both sides of this market.

Rowan is an incredible leader with a very strong sense of the “right” thing to do in many elements of business, and however hard or stressful things are he always drives a sense of fun and community which I greatly respect. I continue to seek his advice with all my VenueScanner challenges!

You can find out more about VenueScanner on their website