Money blog: US fast food chain to open 60 restaurants in UK - with dish you have to sign waiver to eat (2024)

From blackouts to CEO - how burnout helped create UK's biggest venue booking platform

Just 18% of companies in the UK are led by women, and while data suggests female entrepreneurs are on the rise, men still receive more funding and are entrusted with higher average loans to get them started.

In an eight-part series every Tuesday, Money blog reporterJess Sharpspeaks to women who are bossing it in their respective fields - hearing their stories, struggles and advice for those who want to follow in their footsteps by starting a business.

This week, she has spoken to Rebecca Kelly, the co-founder and CEO of VenueScanner...

Rebecca Kelly was hospitalised for weeks after falling down the stairs.

Suffering with blackouts, dizzy spells, muscle failure and panic attacks, she was taken to hospital twice more before the root of her health problems were uncovered.

"I started to genuinely lose some of the physical competency of my body. I was quite headstrong... it was very much like 'This is in my body versus this is in my mind,'" she said.

The cause of all her symptoms? Burnout.

She was working a full-time job in digital marketing and setting up her company as a "side hustle" at the time, but after more than a year and a half of working 24/7, her health was suffering.

It was a crisis that forced her to take the leap and 100% commit to pursuing her business venture.

"When you're sort of young and in your 20s you're pushing yourself very hard to do the next thing, you think you're quite invincible. It's easy to forget that energy is a finite resource, and you have to pick and choose where you use it," she said.

"I really just suffered quite badly from burnout at that point, and it was like, 'I have to make a choice for my own health.'

"That was probably the real thing that pushed me into it."

This was seven years ago - and the now 34-year-old first-time mum has gone on to create the UK's biggest online venue booking platform, with at least 250,000 listings across more than 20 cities worldwide.

Where did the idea come from?

Rebecca's idea first came to her while she was working for M&S. Part of her role was organising events, like fashion shows, and she found the process of finding spaces to rent was "incredibly difficult".

"We always ended up in this super boring conference centre, which had no natural light, underground, very expensive, and I was like, it's ridiculous how hard it is to find and book a venue when there is so much amazing space in London," she said.

"I just identified quite a lot of opportunities there."

At the time, the world was seeing a rise in online companies delivering a similar service but for different sectors.

Rebecca noted Booking.com for hotels, Open Table for restaurants and Skyscanner for flights as just some examples.

"Nothing really existed in that same space for event spaces and venues," she added.

A chance encounter with someone who knows someoneelse

Initially, she ran the company with a co-founder, who ended up leaving the business in 2019, and as a pair they started building and designing their site.

Once they had an idea, Rebecca reached out to an old boss and asked if she could run it past him for some feedback.

He ended up putting a panel of people involved in asset management and the finance industry together for Rebecca to pitch to.

"We had the worst pitch that you've eve seen, sort of scrambled together on a piece of paper," she recalled.

"It turned out that someone in the room knew the person who had founded Skyscanner and he was like, 'Oh, let me introduce you to him.' We ended up getting some learnings from him and the idea sort of evolved over time."

Fundraising and a lucky LinkedIn message

After that it was work during the day, work in the evenings and work at the weekend to get VenueScanner off the ground.

"We very much bootstrapped it right at the beginning just using our savings," Rebecca said.

"I actually sold my car and did various other things, very basic, to just do pretty much everything ourselves."

With some money behind her, she hired a designer and a developer based in Poland to build the platform before holding a friends and family investment round which raised around £150,000.

More money was needed, and Rebecca said she was just "shooting off lots of cold emails" every day in the hope of attracting investors.

"I sent a LinkedIn message to the founder of Booking.com thinking he would be amazing to talk to, and I ended up 48 hours later on a flight to Amsterdam to meet him," she said.

"It's something I often use now as a reference point because people in the early days are very nervous about disrupting people or reaching out to people, but actually almost all of our investors have come through me sending them 10 or 15 emails over a two year period and finally getting a conversation."

To date, she has raised around £3.5m and has plans over the next few years to "properly globalise" the business.

The challenges

Away from her struggles with burnout, Rebecca said there was "extra pressure" to achieve her goals because she was a woman.

"I think there's always been an innate feeling of 'I need to go faster, I need to achieve things soon,'" she said.

"Whether we like to talk about it or not, there is a biological clock if you want to have children and it's just not the same for women and men - it does take time to build a family.

"I think there is an extra pressure, especially for young women who want to do that as well."

Gathering funding was also a challenge, despite her success, with Rebecca saying for every yes she received, there were "thousands" of noes.

"That's the biggest learning curve that it takes time to develop. I don't think anyone goes through the process of founding and building a business without deep resilience building," she said.

Rebecca's advice

If you are just getting started, Rebecca said don't try to have the "perfect plan" in your mind before you dive in, just take the very first step and go from there.

"Whatever plan or strategy you have will change the minute you will start learning from customers and the market," she said.

"Taking that first step is really the hardest thing. Make it as easy and small as possible so that you can take it. Once you've taken that, everything will come."

Getting a mentor, and socialising with people already doing what you want to do, can also be "transformational", she said.

"It's a great place to start... try not to wait until you've made it to be part of those [groups], just go to meet people and learn."

Practically, she advised trying to generate revenue before you head for investment - which is something she didn't do herself.

"One of the things we did was default to investment first and actually we probably could have started making money much earlier," she said

If raising funds is what you are trying to do, Rebecca said LinkedIn was a "great resource" and was filled with investors.

"Literally just direct message and connect with as many people as you can and just ask, 'Oh I'm thinking of starting a business and would love your advice or would you be interested in investing?'" she added.

"Think of your dream investor and just message them and see what happens."

Money blog: US fast food chain to open 60 restaurants in UK - with dish you have to sign waiver to eat (2024)

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