The Problem:

As someone who has spent many an hour calling venue after venue to find a suitable place for a birthday party, an office drinks reception or a campaign meeting, I’ve long been aware of the need to simplify the process and make the lives of industry professionals and frustrated one-off event organisers that little bit easier.

Our Answer…Launching Hire Space:

Six months or so ago I put my money where my mouth was and, alongside a friend of mine, launched Hire Space. It was something of a gamble, given that we both had jobs to quit and considering the low success rate of start-ups, but we were confident that people would use the service. We looked at what people currently use, and saw only the traditional listing sites monopolising as venue reference points. Something was missing. These sites provide half the service, but no more. Surely that wasn’t enough these days.

The question was, how were we going to change things? With a modest early budget and limited knowledge of the events industry, we were hardly best placed. To counter this, we started with what we did know well. I’d been working in local politics, and so knew community venues inside out; what they needed and what motivated them. My friend had once been a teacher, so focused on schools. Before long we had a string of venues keen for us to hurry up and get launched, and dozens of great spaces for sports, exhibitions and events. Most importantly, we had the confidence to approach the larger, commercially-run places with a genuine business proposition and good answers to questions we’d been asked before.

Key Lessons:

The nuts and bolts of actually running the business were a secondary consideration at first, but came to dictate proceedings. It’s very easy to get swept away in sales bluster when launching a new idea, but we learnt quickly that paying attention to the fundamentals – offices, insurance, legal work, recruitment, IT systems, all the other never ending bits of red tape – was more important than anything else. Truly, it takes up 90% of your time, with the other 10% spent worrying about what you’ve forgotten.

In every spare minute, we’d be selling the idea to anyone who’d listen. This wasn’t just in our contacting of prospective venues. Anyone in the events industry, or anyone who runs a venue themselves, will know the importance of social media. With a limited initial marketing budget, it was easily our most useful sales channel. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogger, Tumblr, Linkedin, you name it, we embraced it. In fact, it became a bit addictive. Any progress that is remotely newsworthy is always worth promoting. With us it might have been the interest of a large hotel group or landmark venue – anything to get people to look twice. My advice with social media would be to buy one of the many programs that exist to help you manage everything in one place. This way, you can line up your tweets, posts and pictures at the beginning of the week and forget about it for the rest.

The truth is though, there’s no forgetting anything once you start down this route. It consumes your days and nights, and there’s no escaping it. One thing inevitably leads to another. We are a couple of months from a full launch now, and the product has changed beyond recognition from the idea that started it. We’ve always been careful to think carefully about the exact audience we’re trying to cater for, and this inevitably means making unexpected changed and additions. For those in the events industry, we quickly realised that simply booking a space wasn’t enough. People also needed supplementary services, such as catering and equipment. This was swiftly added to the plan.

All you can really do is test and test again. The many emails I sent to friends and family, asking them questions such as whether they preferred size 12 or 14 font on page six of the website, or whether the logo should be on the left or right of the page, must each have seemed more ridiculous than the last, but they all provided invaluable information. The ability to be able to adapt quickly is crucial as a start-up, and this is only really possible if you have the information to inform quick decisions. We had to hassle people for their opinions, and hassle again. If we’d been afraid to annoy people we wouldn’t have got anywhere.

What’s Next:

We think we’ve come up with something that will work for everything, but we’ll almost certainly have to make changes. The readers of this probably know far better than me what will work for the events industry. I’ll be listening out for you when we launch. What I am confident of though, is that all those hundreds of venues out there without the resources to market themselves properly will now have a new audience, and that can’t be a bad thing. For everything else we’ll wait and see.


Edward Poland is a Co-Founder of Hire Space, a new website which allows people to search for, book and pay for publicly-available space online. It works with a variety of venues including hotels, pubs, function venues, conference centres, theatres, schools and community centres and launches in London in September 2012. Find out more at Hire Space, on Facebook or on Twitter.

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