A tech entrepreneur created the ‘Skyscanner of venue discovery’ after spending a day struggling to find a suitable venue for a friend’s wake.
Benjy Meyer co-founded London-based VenueScanner in January 2016. The online platform allows people to find, enquire about and book appropriate venues for any event.
He told BusinessCloud that the idea has its roots in a frustrating experience in London eight years ago.
“A friend of mine unfortunately died quite young and we needed to find a location where we could hold the wake,” he said.
“The funeral was happening in Central London. I traipsed around the area for a day saying ‘in five days I need a space for three hours which can accommodate 200 people’.
“The problem was that loads of them were really, really expensive and unwilling to help me. They weren’t willing to negotiate on the price. There was no commercial savviness.
“There was no way of me looking on a website to find all the venues that might be suitable for what I needed.”
Meyer previously ran the M&S website and met VenueScanner co-founder Rebecca Kelly when she joined the firm’s graduate programme, for which he was responsible. Kelly experienced her own frustrations when booking an M&S Christmas party, prompting conversations about the idea.
VenueScanner now has 10,000 venues listed on its platform and is aiming for 50,000 this time next year.
Following London it has launched in Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Liverpool and once more established in these cities plans to “fill in the gaps, from your Warringtons to your Stockports to your Huddersfields”, says Meyer.
“SkyScanner created a website which you go to as soon as you think about booking a business trip or a holiday – the first thing you need is a flight,” he explained. “When you think about an event, the first thing you need is a venue – we want to build the biggest discovery platform for venues.
“There are all sorts of places that should be making themselves available for the use of corporate and private events, such as schools and churches. Yoga workshops, for example, can happen anywhere.
“We’ve had the organisers of white-collar boxing matches, five-day massage courses, weddings, Christmas parties, engagement parties, filming and photography locations, workshops and training events book on through our platform. We’ve had clients like AirBnB, Facebook, Nike, Deloitte and Sainsbury’s use it.
“We want to be entirely venue and event agnostic. We don’t want to have any gaps in the market.”
It is free for people to use the platform and for venues to be listed on it, with a competitive commission of eight per cent on completed bookings. That is made possible by the fact that VenueScanner has a team of just 10 people, having recently added a third developer.
“It is a sector ridden by agencies which take a frankly unfair cut of people’s margins,” said Meyer.
“We said to ourselves when we started out that the moment we go over 20 people, we’ve done something wrong – it needs to be a self-service process which we don’t need to interfere with. This should be fully scalable if we can get it right.”
The firm is able to keep its team tight through using tech and data.
“We are data-led in our approach to getting new venues on board. We have also built algorithms to ensure all venues are tagged to the right types of enquiry so we don’t spend hours reading through descriptions to work out what types of event they are suited for.
“When you send an enquiry to a venue, the system will suggest other venues which are similar – the customer can click a button to have enquiries sent to those venues too.
“And there’s a massive opportunity for us to understand people’s behaviours: we can infer the most suitable moment to send them offers or promotions to bring them back to the platform, such as for birthday parties or knowing their occupation.”