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HOW I started Hollabox

Adam Beveridge, co-founder of Hollabox, is on a mission to help people get the most out of their lives. Discovering more, doing more and making memories. Hollabox bridges the gap between the digital world and reality through the medium of video, seeing into any restaurant, bar or experience in your city. Here he shares with us his startup story.

Tell​ ​us​ ​about​ ​your​ ​business,​ ​what​ ​does​ ​it​ ​do?

You know those apps and websites that review a place and show you a simple picture of an empty restaurant?

Well we’re the ones giving them the shove and putting you right inside a venue, to see the setting, the atmosphere, the specials and the vibe with your own eyes. We were fed up of experiences being badly advertised, especially nowadays in cities where house prices are too high and jobs are tough, so communities need content they can trust.

Hollabox gives you powerful and transparent insight into the cities best places, so you can make better informed decisions – thus doing more things and going to more places that are right for you.

What​ ​did​ ​you​ ​do​ ​before​ ​you​ ​started​ ​this​ ​business?

I spent four years at Bournemouth University, graduating with a BA (hons) Business Studies and Enterprise degree. This built my core skill set in startups and entrepreneurship – with a wider skill set in strategic management, marketing and finance. I have also spent a lot of time film-making and creating content, winning international and national awards.

I have also spent a year of that time in both marketing and finance for GlaxoSmithKline, as part of some of the world’s largest brands.

What​ ​inspired​ ​you​ ​to​ ​start​ ​up?

I’ve always been of the mentality that life is too short. What do I want to be remembered for when I leave the planet?

As a cog in someone else’s machine? Heck no! I’ve always been driven to achieve and build something that I could see the intrinsic value from.

I studied business, but still stand by the fact that you can’t teach entrepreneurship – you either have it or you don’t and it’s down to you how you nurture the existing qualities within yourself.

Nevertheless I made these decisions from a young age as my values and character have always been driving me down this path – whether it’s Hollabox or a different business one day. I love the lifestyle, power to innovate, challenges and the startup ecosystem.

How would you describe your business to your grandma?

Nan, you know that restaurant you’ve heard good things about and wanted to try? My phones got an app that’s going to show you video inside that place, so you can see the food, the space and the chefs in action. Still fancy it? I can book a table and get a cab there in 10 minutes with the app too.

Where​ ​do​ ​you​ ​get​ ​advice,​ ​support​ ​or​ ​help?

The startup ecosystem is amongst the most helpful, creative and intelligent, and people are more than willing to donate their time – so I use it. If someone has negative feedback to give… I treasure it. This is the most valuable advice to receive as I feel it’s much easier for someone to just to say good things and let you go on your way. This vested feedback leads to actionable outcomes and is by and large how my team and I better ourselves and our businesses.

In the early days, and still now in my downtime I find it easy and helpful to keep abreast of ongoings and news in the industry. I regularly read articles from TechCrunch, Mashable, VentureBeat, Entrepreneur, BQ and the various City based tech start-up groups on social media. These are full of topical debates and releases that you can learn a lot from and even reach out too for advice.

I have made an effort to expand my network as much as possible, building a strong, reputable and knowledgeable advisory board who can open doors, understand our sector and aid our challenges, which is obviously powerful. I use Linkedin to source introductions to new people, and attended networking events and pitch days to maximise exposure of myself and my business.

Dipping in and out of my network for advice and introductions has been the absolute basis of startup life. Partnerships like Virgin Start-up and London Met Accelerator have been key to giving us the right advice and contacts when we needed it. More recently we’ve joined the Empact Growth Studio cohort whose team of super-connectors have helped to supercharge our networks by opening up to new contacts, opportunities, resources and expertise.

Finance​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​common​ ​barriers​ ​to​ ​starting​ ​up.​ ​How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​access​ ​the​ ​finance​ ​you​ ​needed? 

People say that in the early stages of a startup, it’s easier to raise finance, because we’re talking smaller amounts of capital. I have limited experience at Series A, but I would however weigh in and say that I think seed as just as difficult. The reason being is that you’re raising money more or less on a concept and a vision, without any track record on your product.

The dream scenario is to build something for nothing, create value, then traction and get people to pay you a little for that value. But people rarely get that formula right first time round. This means you largely have to run off trickles of investment from accelerators and family and friends, as was the case for us. Everyone has different relations with their friends and family, and I was blessed to have the kindest on the planet, who donated all they could to help my team and I start out.

Second to this was selling the passion and skills of myself and my team to accelerators, where funding was available. When your product is still a fledgling, people will judge your business not foremost on the product, but whether you’re the ones to succeed in that industry. A product can change – founders can’t. So my team and I made ourselves the best we could possibly be, and our strength alone was enough for people to believe in us.  We worked hard, presented ourselves well and bettered our skills to show we could succeed.

To save and utilise the small funds we had in the bank, we also used our team as a resource. I for one don’t code, so building a software service was difficult without having finance to pay for a CTO. The way we overcame this was building all the necessary cogs to our business in the founding team. We were then fully vested in the product, with equity to each of our name. This meant we could work for basic provisions, rather than the market value and keep up motivation and productivity, for the long reward.

We finally made the breakthrough when we landed a small amount of investment from the Just Eat Ventures (JEV) Seed Programme which we are delighted about and we are really enjoying working with the team to grow our startup over the next few months with ongoing growth support from the Empact Growth Studio.

What​ ​has​ ​been​ ​your​ ​biggest​ ​achievement​ ​so​ ​far?

Our success has been in our partnerships. Working with some of the best start-up and business builders in the UK, including Virgin Start-up, Innovate UK and Creative England, who were key to helping us develop and form into a growing business and popular product. This is also extended to our partnerships with the clients featured on the platform. Without these we wouldn’t be able to showcase the amazing offerings of London.

How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​differentiate​ ​your​ ​business​ ​from​ ​others?

There is a plethora of advertising and review apps and websites available for hospitality businesses, allowing them to showcase their offerings. However in a red ocean marketplace, where going to one restaurant is as easy as visiting the next, businesses need the most engaging forms of promotion and exposure, to stand out and make sure they’re targeting and attracting the right people.

The return on investment for such advertising also needs to be converted into physical sales or more valuable KPI’s, over just impressions or views, as is currently delivered through advertising on social media or print.

As a video first platform, our content is the most engaging and insightful form of promotion for consumers, and very much in vogue with the rise of SnapChat. Video gives businesses the chance to show off their unique offerings, story and specials in a much stronger capacity than ever before. It is better at communicating an atmosphere and “vibe”, than any simple picture or written review could do.

We can then use our tech to personalise the videos our consumers see, so it’s always something you’ll value and enjoy, then we can use real-time video to make sure the content is always relevant to when and where people need it. Adverts can often be static and so content is literally so last week, but with Hollabox, and use of slick tech and immersive video content, we’re making other discovery apps so last year.

What’s​ ​it​ ​like​ ​to​ ​be​ ​your​ ​own​ ​boss?

I think it’s a huge responsibility and more challenging than working for someone else. Key to this being that self-motivation is a psychological beast, that at times of hardship, mean productivity can fluctuate. This obviously presents a problem because no one else is going to make your business and vision happen, except you, so you have to keep on top of things and ride the roller coaster.

The way I do it? Empowering the team around me. This means co-founders or even employees can equally demand things from you and make sure you’re working to the best of your ability. This structure is good for moral, gives us all a kick when we need it and means we’re all riding that roller coaster together.

Where​ ​do​ ​you​ ​see​ ​your​ ​business​ ​in​ ​5​ ​years​ ​time?

In 5 years time we will be the go-to platform for any tourist or socialite in major cities across the world. This is because we will have the most personal, relevant and engaging content available, and people love and value that!

We are already developing steps to achieve this including, empowering the business users to show content from minutes to hours ago, include special content from vloggers and influencers presenting daily and weekly highlights, and lastly develop live video streams, 360 videos and augmented reality of dishes, specials and atmospheres.

What​ ​advice​ ​would​ ​you​ ​give​ ​to​ ​aspiring​ ​entrepreneurs?

So this follows on from what I touched upon earlier, and it’s about your network. Firstly I’d say be a sponge. It sounds strange, but what I mean is be ready to learn lots and open your mind to other people’s opinions.

I will reiterate that the startup ecosystem is amongst the most helpful in the UK with creative and intelligent people that are more than willing to donate their time if you’re thankful and appreciative – you’ll be surprised what you get if you just sincerely ask.

Treasure negative feedback as it’s the most valuable advice you can have because it leads to actionable outcomes and people wouldn’t say it unless they cared – it’s much easier to compliment and leave it there.

Obviously the larger your network, the more opinions you have to deal with and you’ll likely hear varying pieces of advice – so keeping a strong, reputable and knowledgeable network is key, as well as then keeping them in the loop using sites like LinkedIn or via email campaigns.

Investors and people of influence often value a start-up if they’ve been recommended to listen to them from a respected source – much like we often eat at places that our friends or a trusted source say is good.

So I’d say it pays to think similarly here because more doors become open to you. If your network are engaged with you, and you’ve always been polite and appreciative, you can always reach out for this support, as well as for advice.