A tailored night out

Nick Telson co founded DesignMyNight.com, an online service that helps users plan their evening's entertainment, with a university friend in 2009. He talks to SmallBusiness.co.uk about starting up.

How did you get the idea?

We were visiting [future business partner] Andrew’s wife in 2010 in New York. We asked the concierge in the hotel for some tips on where to go out in the city, and the concierge asked how much we had to spend. That got me thinking about how interesting it would be to give people the power to design their own nights out online to a budget.

How did you get started?

We both had full-time jobs but we started working on the idea on the side. We managed to get a really cheap price for our website build from a friend of a friend who runs a web and design agency. The website was to be 20,000 pages, which normally costs £30-50,000 but he did it for much less to build his portfolio and involve his team with a big website.

After 12 months we put the site live to test the waters and everything grew from there. Recently, we raised six figures of investment through seven private investors, a lot of which will be spent on employing staff.

What is the revenue model?

We’ve got a few different streams of revenue which was a big selling point for the investors. Firstly, when our users make a booking on the site, it’s free for them but we charge a referral fee to the venues for the people we put in their bars, which is similar to Toptable’s model in the restaurant industry.

Also, we run a concierge service. Anyone that needs help with either finding or booking a bar, whether that be a couple or a huge party, we’ll do it and take the money from the venue rather than the user.

Advertising is big for us too. Much of our userbase is in the early 20s demographic and this, combined with what we do, is a perfect fit for the likes of drinks brands.

How did you market it?

In the beginning, Andrew and I read up on SEO and taught ourselves what we needed to know to get our website maximum visibility. From a marketing point of view I would much rather invest time and money in SEO where there’s a ready-made market looking for your website, versus using fliers or a £30,000 PR stunt, where you’re reaching a lot of people but only 20 per cent of them might be your target market.

Every page on our website has been SEOed to the guidelines and we’ve played by the book, there’s no point trying to cheat Google. We’re at a stage now where I’d quite happily set up an SEO consultancy. PR is also something we are employing.

What are the big challenges?

Managing money and keeping emotional stability. Andrew and I are great friends but I don’t think either of us were prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that running your own business entails. We experience levels of stress you just don’t get in a corporate job. On the other hand, there’s a whole new level of excitement and enjoyment to go with the sadness and despair. You can go through a lot a day but you have to learn from it all and keep level-headed and balanced. We have been living on the breadline for a year and a half to make this a reality.

What’s next?

We’re looking to be turning over around £1 million in a year. With a tech company you have quite low overheads and a high margin. We want to be in three or four UK cities within 12 months and we’ll be thinking of going international too. If we can manage fast growth well the potential is huge.

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