Uche Aniche is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria’s premiere online venue booking platform, VenueHero.co. In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke on how perceptions have made tech investors to shun start-ups operating outside Nigeria’s tech capital, Lagos. He also spoke on his solution, VenueHero.co and how it is simplifying event planning and logistics in Nigeria. Excerpts
What is VenueHero?
VenueHero.co is a venue discovery and booking platform. We make it easier for people planning events to book venues they already know, instantly or discover new ones and book them on the platform. The key thing is that people are able to know instantly if the venue is available for their preferred date of event or not.
Basically, we source and list verified venues on the platform and event organisers search and book these venues and we get percentage commission off the transaction.
What problem are you solving?
We are saving busy people who still have to put together an event both time and money. We are also helping people who live and work in say City A to locate and book great venues in City B for their events without necessarily going there physically. We are like a recommendation service – partnering with the venue owners to improve reported bad experiences from our users. Our users trust us and expect that any bad experience reported willbe worked on and improved upon.
What has been the response in terms of number of bookings since launch?
The response has been wonderful. We have had people booking venues in different cities from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and have continued to do so since we launched. This is more so because of our approach. We are Venue Heroes – our relationship with you doesn’t end with you just booking a venue. We follow up with you until D-Day – making sure there are no glitches that can be avoided. Upon booking venue from our platform, you get assigned a VenueHero – a customer service person who calls and follows up via mail until your event. That’s the VenueHero.co promise.
What would you say have been your greatest challenges?
The greatest challenge is people appreciating our service for what it is. By that, I mean that a lot of people still come to the platform and after seeing the venue are still looking for a way to reach the venue owners to confirm date availability. However, when we tell them through our chat engine that the system does that automatically, they become relieved instantly. Also, a lot of our users come to the platform looking for the address of the venues but we do not, as a policy, list the address of the venues. We expect users who need further clarifications to start a chat with our online team.
There was this instance when one of our users after searching the platform found some venues that met her specifications and then started a chat to ask for the address of the venues. When we enquired why, she said she wanted to find out if the venue was free for her date. When informed that she can do that online within seconds, you could almost feel the joy that enveloped her from the other side of the chat engine. We are reviewing all of these interactions with a view to making it possible for this value to be immediately clear to users on arrival to the platform.
What has been your experience running a tech start-up from PH?
One word, Great! That said I would like to clarify, that we also have physical presence in Lagos. As in tech, it’s been a mix of fun and grief all the way, but it is all worth it.
What would you say have been the disadvantages of not operating from Lagos?
Tech Products are not geographically restrictive and as such we have not really experienced serious difficulties. The major disadvantage I see is the stereotype in certain quarters about Port Harcourt. Additionally, a lot of investors seem to concentrate on Lagos based start-ups to the detriment of start-ups in other cities. I understand the reasons but I think that in this age of tech, a lot of those reasons do not hold up strong. You can argue that a brick and mortar service/manufacturing concern needs to be sited close to its raw material source and market, but it is not completely true of a purely tech service model. For a tech based service, 99 per cent of the customers are not interested in where you are based if you are delivering on your promise. Inventory acquisition for a business like ours does not require physical presence in particular locations.
That said we are a bonafide Lagos based start-up without losing our Port Harcourt origin and history. We operate out of Ikeja GRA although I share my time between Lagos and Port Harcourt. My team is here in Lagos.
How has running VenueHero from PH affected its success?
The only effect is from the part of some of the potential investors. Other than that, there is no real effect. People who book venues on the platform are only interested in the venue you have for their desired location. They want to know if the venue is as described. They want to be sure that their desired event date is available and this we make happen in a matter of seconds – not minutes- on the platform.
Looking for funding? Do you consider any factor as a hurdle to securing the needed funding?
My answer would be yes and no. No because we believe we can still grow the business some more on our own despite the competition. And yes, because if we find the right partner/mentor with funding, we will accept. This is because it will make us scale our operations faster. This is not a sprint but a marathon and only the tenacious can survive and we believe we are the right team. We are not only tenacious, we have the requisite domain knowledge to grow this business and create value for ourselves and any investors bold enough to back us.