Nick Telson and Andrew Webster are the founders of designmynight, a website that allows people across London to discover the best clubs, restaurants and bars based around their budget, and make use of discounts and special offers to ensure they have a fun-filled evening on the town. We talk to the entrepreneurs about their early experiences and the process of building designmynight into a popular online destination.
“Entrepreneurship has always been in our blood," said the duo. "On our bookshelves in our flats and Uni bedrooms were the likes of Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and Gordon Ramsay, rather than fiction. However we do not consider ourselves "entrepreneurs" until designmynight is as successful as we want it to be.”
Like a lot of entpreneurs, Nick and Andrew were frustrated with the lack of individuality and responsibility that often accompanies working for big companies, and wanted to start out on their own.
“We both worked for large corporate companies before designmynight, which are great places to learn, but the red tape and lack of freedom in these companies made us yearn even more to set up our own business.”
The idea for designmynight came, according to the duo, as a ‘lightbulb moment.’ They were visiting Andrew’s girlfriend in New York and asked the concierge at the hotel where to go out that night. His reply was "How much money you guys got to spend?"
We both had that lightbulb moment about looking for nightlife based on budget, especially in London
“Without trying to sound clichéd, we both had that lightbulb moment about looking for nightlife based on budget, especially in London. We immediately Googled what was available in London to look for nightlife, and bingo - we had found a gap in the market! Not only that, we felt the big boys that existed had a lot to answer for and could be doing the job a lot better... so there and then we began to formulate ideas for designmynight.”
Starting up as a web-based business has advantages over ‘bricks-and-mortar’ companies, such as reduced overheads, but there are still challenges to be faced when setting up an online business. For Nick and Andrew, the most prominent challenges in the initial stages were common to all start-ups.
The first obstacle was time, since both founders were working long hours for corporate companies and so it was difficult to work on the website and maintain the quality of work required at their day jobs.
“Unfortunately there was no magic ingredient to overcome this. We had such passion and enthusiasm for the idea, and this drove us on. We used to work every weekday night until the early morning and we would meet up every Saturday and work 9-5 on the site. We did this for 15 months before the site was launched. We had to rely on friends and loved ones to let us go off the radar for a bit!”
The second challenge was money. Although the founders admit that setting up an online business can be very cost-effective, their site is large and complex and was not a cheap build. But compared to setting up a retail business or something that requires manufacturing, it was relatively inexpensive.
“You have to pull in as many favours as possible from friends, friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. And family of course! You'd be surprised how far your connections can stretch to if you just ask. We had to also rely on people trusting the idea and putting in the work now for us and getting the rewards when we are a successful company!”
The third challenge the duo faced is one often encountered by web businesses going after growth: resisting the temptation to make too many site changes.
“When I said above that we are always looking to improve and do what we do but better, we stand by this BUT it is also very important, especially for a start up with limited money, not to over analyse the site.
While something may not have been perfect or just as we wanted it functionality-wise at the beginning, the important thing is just to get the site out there.
“We constantly had to remind ourselves that while something may not have been perfect or just as we wanted it functionality-wise at the beginning, the important thing is just to get the site out there. The more changes you make, the more delays you have and the more money you spend. We kept a list of changes in order of importance and as cash came into the business we ploughed it back into this list to make changes – the list is still long!”
Review and cost-comparison sites tend to be visited by people looking to save money, but designmynight has the added advantage of allowing people to improve the quality of the venues they go to, adding to its core value.
“Our users come to our site for all different reasons. Some people will come looking for vouchers, deals or happy hours. Others will come looking to find somewhere different to go out. Others will come to find the new bars and clubs that have opened in London. We really try and cater for everyone and help them design their perfect night out in London, whether it is a cheap pint in a traditional pub or a Sex And The City cocktail in one of London's swankiest bars. London is full of great options and we want to cater for everyone.”
Being the world’s first price comparison site for nightlife has helped the founders establish themselves but in a market where dominant players can quickly branch out to new areas it’s important to consider how you can maintain and grow your share of the market.
“Our obvious selling point is being the world's first price comparison site for nightlife. However, we think our design and ease of use are also unique selling points, compared to our competitors. One of Branson's philosophies that we always keep in mind is that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel: always think about your customer and provide something better than your competitors are already doing.”
And in terms of staying one step ahead of competitors, Nick and Andrew like to focus on the core product and its worth to customers, using a range of information – including feedback and testimonials – to drive future releases.
We stay ahead of competitors by constantly coming up with new ideas and new ways to enhance our customer journey.
“We stay ahead of competitors by constantly coming up with new ideas and new ways to enhance our customer journey. We never rest on our laurels; we are always looking for ways to improve, searching for what's new out there and listening to our user feedback.”
One of the company’s particularly exciting areas is offering vouchers and special deals to visitors, a very competitive marketplace dominated by one or two big players and where things move extremely fast. Andrew and Nick aren’t fazed, however, because they feel it’s the quality of the voucher that’s important – if they have the best vouchers customers will buy them.
“We are moving into an era, due to recession, tough economic times and customer awareness, where people expect a deal or value for money. As long as deals/vouchers are at the best places and worthwhile, people will buy them. Why go to Expensive Cocktail Bar A and buy two cocktails for £25 when you can go to Expensive Cocktail Bar B and get two of the same cocktails for £14?”
Since the website is designed to allow people to find the best bars and nightlife, there is clear value in attacking the smartphone market so that people can find the best venue on the fly, for example by proximity to current location. designmynight is keen to move into the mobile market and sees value in extending its offering.
“We have a designmynight app coming out in October. We have spent over four months developing this with some great and - most importantly - useful features. When designing the App and its functionality we were thinking of cold December nights stood outside a bar looking for somewhere to go, and quickly! It will be the best mobile tool when looking where to go out in London. London will be fully wi-fi'd over the next 3 years so a mobile site is definitely the next important step.”
As for what else the future holds for designmynight, Andrew and Nick are keen to expand and aim higher.
“I dont want to give anything away but we are working on a couple more sites in the entertainment sector that we hope will have a huge impact on the whole market, both for the venues and the consumers. We are also, obviously, looking to spread designmynight nationally and globally.”
Nick and Andrew's top tips for entrepreneurs starting up in the same sector:
- Study the market and do your research - the nightlife market is a very special case; how it works and the characters involved in it. If you dont speak to as many people within the industry before you start your idea, you may simply find out that it simply isnt viable to the bar owners.
- Buy crates of Red Bull for the office - as you would imagine, it is a late night industry and everything and everyone comes alive after hours.