Traditionally, the process of booking a venue for an event is very time-consuming. You turn up to a venue, meet the manager and look around. You may do this a number of times at different venues before making your final choice. It's a process that takes days, even weeks.

But what if you could explore venues, compare them and choose one, all at the click of a button?

rebecca kelly venuescanner
VenueScanner's cofounder Rebecca Kelly © VenueScanner

Well now you can, thanks to a startup called VenueScanner, which claims to host the largest choice of venues in the UK on its online platform: 12,600.

"We are the first and only fully automated, data-led venue booking platform," cofounder Rebecca Kelly tells Techworld.

Venues listed on the platform range from museums and schools to pubs and hotels. VenueScanner takes eight percent commission on all bookings made through its platform, which it claims are "the lowest fees on the market".

"Our mission is to make venue search, discovery and booking as easy as Amazon makes shopping," Kelly says.

VenueScanner went live in June 2016 and has since raised £800,000 in its opening seed funding round from investors including Tom Singh, founder of New Look, and Phil Burks, founder of Big Yellow Storage.

The two cofounders, Rebecca Kelly and Benjy Meyer, were inspired to set up the company after becoming frustrated with inefficient processes for booking company parties and personal gatherings.  

"We thought 'you can book a flight or a hotel at a click of a button, so why not a venue?'" Kelly says.

Kelly and Meyer both have ecommerce and digital marketing experience thanks to careers at M&S and Majestic Wine, where they met. They spent a year building the platform while working full-time, hiring a developer in Poland to build the first version.

The founders are keen for the platform to act as a self-service marketplace rather than morphing into an events agency.

"We allow the host to communicate directly with the organiser, which is rarer than you think," Kelly says. "Usually it's removed in the industry, which causes Chinese whispers and a lack of transparency over costs."

VenueScanner has been able to sign up a huge number of venues very quickly thanks to its automated approach, according to Kelly.

"The first thing we did was build an automated CRM, harness information then contact venues through automated emails asking if they want to join VenueScanner," she explains. "We had an 80 percent positive response rate."

The cofounders' experience at M&S helped to inform the way they built the website. It has lots of different product types and data sources, allowing customers to sort by event type, capacity, venue type, BYOB, whether it has a rooftop, and so on.

"We're trying to allow you to book a venue the same way you would go shopping for clothes," Kelly says.

The team has expanded from two to a total of 11 today, six of which are based in the UK and five of which are based in Poland working on data and development. The cofounders have also just hired their first chief technical officer.

Looking ahead, Kelly expects the team to do another fundraising round before summer 2018 and has plans to expand overseas.

"We don't know where to target. We've found lots of demand in Spain and Portugal. It makes sense to move one country at a time, test and see what looks good," she says.