Will Swannell founded the Hire Space venture four years ago. Hire Space is a digital venue finding platform that offers personalized service for individuals and companies looking to book their events. They now have more than 5,000 venues listed on the website from the usual choice of restaurants, hotels, museums and roof gardens to something more uncommon like a bridge, aquarium, beach or underground vault-like spaces.
The venues can be booked in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Will said that the venture is looking to expand to other cities in the UK, and to other countries in the future. Customers looking for venues can book for free and it doesn’t cost anything for the venues to be listed on the Hire Space website. The venue will only pay a small fee for each confirmed booking they receive through Hire Space.
By entering information such as budget, number of people and location, a customer looking to hire a venue for a wedding, party, meeting or dinner is able to see all available options. For example, an online request through Hire Space for a Christmas Party for 250 people in London recently yields hundreds of options, including an entire bar for £2,000, part of a bar for £400 per hour, or a hotel function room for £3,000 per hour; a request for a wedding in Manchester for 100 people, at £5,000 or less, had seven options including restaurants, hotels and a dedicated conference centre located in the city’s Grad II-listed former Freemasons’ Hall.
Matt McDonald from The Tab, who used Hire Space’s services, described them as: “Ruthlessly efficient in delivering exactly what we want.” He said: I didn’t realise we had so many options out there until I used Hire Space.”
The idea for the business didn’t come easily, says Will, who had been working in different sectors before ending up in the events industry. After finishing his MPhil in Finance in 2007 at Cambridge Judge Business School, he did internships in investment companies and in 2008 went to work as a teacher with the Teach First scheme, which recruits university graduates to teach in low-income communities across England and Wales. Will was teaching maths, economics and enterprise for two years at Paddington Academy, and saw what difference a classroom leader can make.
After teaching, Will went to work as a consultant at L.E.K. consulting in London where he was involved with areas such as corporate strategy, market segmentation, customer and business unit synergy analysis. It was there he thought he had the right skills and background to start his own business. Will looked at a few different ideas and one of them was to maximise the usage of empty school venues during holiday periods, or venues that are between lease contracts that stay empty for a while. But after doing more research and analysis, Will decided to go with the current broader business model.
He says the events sector is fast-moving, challenging and offers a lot of opportunities. Hire Space, that was recently nominated for the Evening Standard SME of the Year 2017, is based in London – a “perfect place to be” according to Will: “It has everything what we need – thriving economy, infrastructure, networks and it is easily accessible from anywhere in the UK and abroad. In terms of the venues, the city can offer very old and at the same time unique and modern places.”
Will leads an international team of 36 people that come from countries including France, Canada, Spain, Latvia, Philippines and Australia. When asked what impact Brexit might have on his business, Will said he’s confident that talented people from other countries will still be able to work in the UK. “We need the best people to be able to come and work here – it’s important to our business and the wider economy.” So far, he says, the June 2016 Brexit referendum hasn’t hurt his business.
Talking about leadership, he says it starts from building a team around you. “In order to be a better leader you need to trust and support people. The next step is to talk about their progress and set objectives. The company’s vision should be shared with everyone so people can see a bigger picture and understand how they can contribute.”
Looking ahead, Hire Space is planning to bring more technology on board. Recently they successfully trialled a chatbot on their website: people were able to ask simple questions about the venues and the bot would answer and collect data that will help to find the most suitable venue for that customer.
“Information availability and speed is crucial,” Will says, “so we’re looking at the processes and how to make it work better. I think in the next 10 years technology and personalisation will play an even bigger role.”
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