Kelsey Recht, Venuebook, Woman Entrepreneur
Kelsey first reached out to me through email. I was a judge at an event and Kelsey was a contestant. She wrote to me about her company and what she was building…and of course asked if I would sit down and talk to her about Venuebook (a different name at that point) at another time. We made a date. I got the opportunity to meet her for the first time at the event I judged. After that she kept me posted on what she was building and the inevitable pitfalls she came across. Venuebook is place to discover and book a venue. It is more than that but I will get back to that.
Kelsey grew up outside of Minneapolis. Both her Grandfathers were entrepreneurs. Her Moms Dad launched a variety of companies. The largest one is a glass company that actually made glass for the Freedom Tower. When he moved on he sold the entire company back to the employees and it still exists today. He came out of the Great Depression having money originally and then nothing. She believes that fundamentally taught him how to build things and he understood how to motivate people. He was a good leader. No doubt a very important asset for an entrepreneur. Her fathers father worked in a brokerage house eventually rising to the top to run the company. Her mother worked in retailing until she stayed home with the kids. Her father is a CFO for small companies.
Kelsey decided to go east for college. She wanted something out of her comfort zone and a totally different experience. After graduating high school she headed to Williams where she majored in economics. She spent a semester in Florence, Italy living with a family that lived two blocks from the Duomo. She didn't know a lick of Italian when she got there but by the time she left Kelsey spoke fluently.
After graduating she went on a major job search. She interviewed for 10 banking jobs ending up in the last round for all of them and ended up with zero offers. She never really wanted to be a banker but she liked finance and numbers. The one company that had a job that was different from the rest was Fidelity in Boston. Kelsey thinks they saw something in her because she didn't even push for the job as she was so focused on banking. It ended up being an amazing job. She had no finance background per se but they gave her a computer and a few parameters and let her figure it out. She had to figure out how to create a structure inside an environment. That experience helped her guide the way that she manages today. Giving people more responsibility that they are actually ready for can sometimes give people the freedom they need to grow vs pushing someone into a particular role.
She stayed at Fidelity for two years. She grew a lot but realized she wanted to do something with more in an operational role. She landed a job in Sears Holding Company. She moved to Chicago and worked in business development and acquisitions. The company had been independent right before she got there. They had just bought 70% of the small companies back and continued to buy others back while Kelsey was there. She spent a lot of time in Canada looking at other companies to buy. She was involved with the purchasing of a few small retail operations. An interesting job that allowed her to see a lot of everything. Sears is an interesting holding company. Sears Mexico is completely different than the Sears in the US and the Sears in Canada is different too.
She had blazed her own trail at both Fidelity and Sears and decided it would make sense to go to business school. She was married and both her and her husband decided to go together…of course they would have to go to where they both got in together. They both got in to Kellogg.
It was in business school she has started thinking about Venuebook. Kelsey was involved with a non-profit organization called Minds Matter dedicated to helping high performing kids that want to go to college from under served neighborhoods. The organization was big in NYC and began to go national with one of the first chapters opening in Chicago. They started with 10 kids in the first year and now 100 kids a year in the Chicago area. Kelsey worked on hosting events to create awareness and didn't understand why there wasn't a resource for the venues.
The summer between her first and second year of business school she worked for an online marketing company. She said she got the best advice there when it comes to building a business. Start small and test a lot of things on a small scale. I couldn't agree more.
After Kelsey graduated she started testing the venue market on a small scale to see if there was a business to be built. She really did not know the venues or tech but began to figure it out. She hired a young kid she met through graduate school friend who was connected to a whole tech team in Nepal. They didn't do a great job but she learned a lot. She learned one major rule which is she needed a tech partner/CTO right from the start. She know knew what to build and not to build. It didn't cost her alot but it was the mistakes in a small environment that taught her how to build something big.
She moved to NYC, hired at CTO this past August and began to build. She knew it was abou the software. The software helps the venue easily keep their bookings and in turn book more. Think of an Open Table for events yet this helps the management of the space/venue owner and the management of the party planner/person.
The more time I spent with Kelsey, the more impressed I became with her. She is methodical, driven and listens. So, yes I am an investor in Venuebook and am looking foward to watching this platform grow into other cities around the country. Get on line and book an event!
She hired a young kid she met through graduate school friend who was connected to a whole tech team in Nepal. They didn’t do a great job but she learned a lot. She learned one major rule which is she needed a tech partner/CTO right from the start. She know knew what to build and not to build. It didn’t cost her alot but it was the mistakes in a small environment that taught her how to build something big.Congratulations. Can’t wait until venuebook.com expands to other areas.There is definitely something to be said from learning from the mistakes that you make, doing something the wrong way, as long as the downside isn’t to extreme.My question is how does an entrepreneur who has limited tech knowledge (like Kelsey) find and vet a CTO right from the start if they don’t know good from bad or what to look for? To someone who understands tech, this would be fairly simple (for example I’d be able to know a good CTO from a mediocre one or know the right people to ask for help) but I wonder how someone who knows nothing goes about this process. What do you advise entrepreneurs and what did Kelsey do?
You have to connect with that person. They need to fit in to the culture of the company you are looking to createThen do your diligence from others who have worked with that person. Did they build what they were supposed to? Do they understand how to take a concept and apply technology to it? Etc.
Once I knew it was a good fit on a personal level, I had friends with technology backgrounds interview him. I also check references religiously. I knew I had found the right person when one interviewer told me, “If you don’t hire him. I will!”
That actually happened to me when I started a company out of college.I got the name of someone and called their reference. They said “Hmm Bob is available…” and then gave him a good reference. I remember to this day the tone in his voice though.Next thing I knew he had hired Bob and told him something like “it’s a new company why don’t you come back and work for me again”. And Bob did.The man who hired him was someone my Dad knew and had been at my father’s wedding. Who would have thought that would happen, right?More to this story of course but that’s the short version.
Just skimming, this looks really interesting and I want to come back to read it!! In fact I want to someday go back and read ALL the Woman Entrepreneur Mondays — but the main reason I am stopping by today is to wish you a belated Happy Birthday! A good addition was made to the world the day you were born — actually, make that an AMAZING addition! Thanks for making the most of your presence on earth. Many have been blessed as a result.
🙂 thanks donna!
So, I decided to stay and read it now instead. Impressive young woman and what a great idea for a company. No wonder you invested.The part about Fidelity really struck me — how they hired Kelsey and let her take off — the ability to recognize her potential contribution even without the previous experience or skills. I think companies would build such better teams if they got better in hiring the right people and not necessarily just hiring the right person for a particular job. I’ve seen companies miss out on so much potential by not being more “investment oriented” in their thinking. I understand the needs created by limited funds and pressing demands, especially for a young business/startup, but still it is a pity.
I agree Donna. It isn’t easy to take on responsibility outside your comfort zone. However, it really helps develop employees.
Excited to see Venuebook expand to different cities. Kelsey is impressive indeed!