London-based Wonderush is the self-styled Airbnb for your social life the UK’s first lifestyle subscription platform offering experiences, events and classes to London members for a monthly fee. Business Advice spoke with founder Nelson Sivalingam about the joys of starting out and why the best innovators have a knack for fusing creativity with commerce.
Launched in June 2015 thanks to a 500, 000 investment from Fuel.Ventures, Wonderush already has over 10, 000 subscribers, taking advantage of more than 1, 000 unique activities each month. The service will be rolling out in major cities across the UK over the next 12 months.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name’s Nelson Sivalingam and Im the founder of Wonderush. Born and bred in London, my parents originated from SrI Lanka. After graduating from university a few years ago with a degree in business management, I worked for some major brands like Loral and Apple before deciding to set up my own company.
Wonderush is a new lifestyle subscription service, where subscribers can benefit from over 1, 000 experiences and activities in London for a flat monthly fee of 29, and people who have a hobby or a fledgling business and want to start making money from it can promote, sell and monetise their service to the general public via the Wonderush platform.
(2) How long have you been around for?
We began testing the site in January last year and officially launched in June. The testing period was crucial because we werent clear at first exactly how our business model could benefit people. We thought our idea for Wonderush had legs, but we couldnt guarantee its success at first.
(3) How do you make money?
Wonderush makes money through two revenue streams. The main stream is the flat monthly fee of 29 we receive from subscribers, for which they enjoy unlimited experiences. We are also a marketplace for individuals to find experiences via hosts? websites or search engines. We arrange bookings for users for a fee, taking 5 per cent of the price of a hosts? ticket.
Weve grown very quickly, and now have over 10, 000 members. The service kind of sells itself, and our main challenge is to make sure we have enough hosts in place supplying activities we want to have enough variety and geographical reach.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
Wonderush has turned the bucket list? concept into a business a Netflix for things to do . There’s currently nothing else like it. There are equivalents in the health and fitness sector, but Wonderush is more about enriching people’s quality of life, encouraging people do more with their free time.
We are a two-sided market place servicing consumers and hosts. For consumers, until Wonderush, a platform did not exist that allowed them to book individual tickets. It hasn’t been economical to try new experiences or be flexible with how you spend your free time, because it takes so long and is so much effort.
By combining a subscription service with a market place we can 99 per cent guarantee that we can find last minute participants to fill spaces in hosts? classes and events. Weve made it easy for hosts to market activities to new customers doing what Airbnb has done for the housing/rental market.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
We needed to prove two things when we started out that there were hosts out there that understood the Wonderush business model, and also that there were users out there that were willing to pay the monthly fee. Within days wed confirmed the interest from hosts, as 500 people answered our initial email with a proposal and outline of the business. We also quickly confirmed the demand from the consumer side, testing different price points before finding one that stuck. It was important to start building the platform only once we felt comfortable with these initial two confirmations.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Im pretty proud of the fact we were profitable before even getting in front of investors. We didnt rush things at the beginning, and after just three to four months we secured investment worth 500, 000, which we put into building out the team.
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
Nothing has really held us back. Of course, it’s true to every business that there’s challenges posed by finance and time management. Challenges change and are ongoing, but that’s what I find so exciting.
Getting 50 new members in a month when we started was a huge challenge, but now we get almost 1, 000 members a month.
When we started, it was just me in a coffee shop with a phone. Now there’s eight of us, and were beginning to build the company culture we want reflected in the business, there are challenges around that.
(8) In five years? time, I will be?
As a business, we want to be in any major city in the world where people are looking for things to do and step out of their comfort zones. We spend most of our lives boxed in by our jobs or where we live. We want to make it easier for people across the world to try something new to be creative and different.
(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Make sure you test your product before throwing money at it. Always test things before jumping in headfirst. In my previous business, there were mistakes I made that I only realised a year down the line. With proper testing I would have realised the mistakes in weeks. You can test on a small scale before you have any resources. You only have to take a big leap once you’re sure a business has legs. We went back to the drawing board every day until we were confident we had the right product.
Also, as an entrepreneur your attitude towards failure is very important. Being a failure is a personal choice, you should take what you can from the mistakes you make and move forward.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
Im a big fan of the filmmaker James Cameron. I love watching and making films myself and he, for me, is the definition of an innovator. He is living a truly creative life sometimes contributing to innovating entire technologies to make one film. What’s admirable is his endless curiosity you can’t limit the man.
Similarly, Steve jobs. He looked at business with an artist’s eye and was commercially savvy to boot. He was a genius at bringing creativity into business, and combining art with commerce.
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