Ross Bailey – Irreversible Change
Having launched Rock & Rule in the summer of 2012, a pop-up store in London selling clothing/ apparel inspired by the Queen’s Jubilee, Ross Bailey realized how challenging it was to secure retail premises on a short-term basis, and the first seeds of Appear Here were planted. His business has now raised over $10 Million from investors and is one of the fastest growing startups in London, allowing both startups and multinationals to find and rent short-term space. Now active across the UK and Paris – with plans to launch in New York shortly – Ross shares his thoughts on the future of proptech and what drives his business forward.
Favorite Book/ Blog
Shoe Dog, by the CEO of Nike.
Hottest UK Tech Company
If it wasn’t Appear Here – Tapdaq. Firstly, because it’s an amazing company and secondly because the CEO is awesome.
Inspiration in Business
Neil Hutchinson who sits on our board. He’s very understated however one of the most successful technology entrepreneurs having founded Forward Internet Group. Now that he’s sold a lot of his businesses he is focused on Kindness.org – a platform to inspire real life action.
My second inspiration would be Tom Ford – the man who took failing businesses like Gucci to being worth billions. A perfectionist in a commercial and creative sense, having gone from business to directing movies. As millennials want to do everything, and Tom Ford is one of the guys who has truly done that.
What does disruption mean to you?
Disruption is not asking what the rules are – you do what feels natural. It is about irreversible change; once something is disrupted it becomes the norm. There is no denying for example that using something like Spotify is a lot easier that using CD’s. Using something like Uber is much simpler than calling up a cab company. Hopefully, the same will be said with renting space; it takes six months offline, but three to six days on Appear Here – there’s no denying that that’s change. We have launched thousands of shops and there are tens of thousands of people looking for shops.
If you’re going to disrupt, you’re going to have enemies. If you don’t have enemies you’re not actually disrupting stuff. You’ve got to have tough skin because you’re going to come up against people that are opposed to what you are doing.
Appear Here is certainly making it easier for companies to find and rent short-term retail space in London and beyond. What you are currently working on?
We’ve just launched an office in Paris and are currently launching in New York. We’re taking Appear Here to new cities. Our aim is to apply what we have done in London to multiple cities. What we have done well is a team is built an amazing culture where people are pushed to do their best work, are excited, and have purpose. We want to make sure that when you go into these offices in our new cities that not only are we able to create the same product, but create the same environment for our teams.
What skills from your previous business ventures have you found most relevant since founding Appear Here? What are greatest skills you have developed?
I went to an amazing advertising school and learnt how to challenge conventions and not give up. What I learnt there was that every decision should be led from an insight. You should have multiple layers; if someone says to you ‘why?’ several times, you should have a reason justifying how you got there. As an industry it teaches you to respect the importance of building great brands. Brand is at the core of Appear Here; everything we do starts with the brand.
A second learning would be that whilst technology is exciting, true disruption requires both timing and emotion. It’s making sure that you use those insights to create an amazing brand, narrative, or emotional attachment that inspires people to change their way. There were apps like Uber before Uber… why did they get it right? Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes its capital – a lot of the time however it is that they somehow told their story differently, and that comes down to brand and insights.
What do you wish you had known before setting up Appear Here?
I wish that I had trusted my gut instinct more. Trust your gut, instinct, values, and follow them through – if you can make decisions faster sometimes it’s better for everyone.
What were the largest obstacles faced when launching and what is the biggest challenge today?
Persuading the property industry to use us. We’ve moved a long way; we’ve got nine out of the ten largest landlords in the UK on board. No one had done this before – I was twenty years old with a PowerPoint trying to convince these people and it was no mean feat getting them over the line! Today, it is growing fast enough to keep up with the demand. There are so many people like us that want the space to create something, and it’s hugely frustrating when we have ideas come through that we can’t put into spaces because we don’t have enough of them. The greatest challenge is trying to obtain more space.
Can you share fundraising history and advice? What do entrepreneurs want in an investor?
You want more than just capital. As an entrepreneur you have incredible highs and incredible lows, and I look for someone who I trust, that will bring me down when I’m getting too high and bring me up when I’m getting too low so you can stay on a constant. The world is constantly changing and investors are amazing in providing insights from their history of portfolios. At the same time they’ve backed you and your team because they believe that you are the best at doing what you’re doing. You want people with candor, experience, who believe and trust you, but you also want people who are going to let you do what you need to do.
What are some of the KPI’s that you measure success by for both you and your team?
As a business, we’re focused on supply, liquidity, and revenue. We really trust service and track a number of KPI’s in terms of how we’re changing the market such as speed, efficiency, and number of touch points.
On a personal level, retention of team. In startups retention can be hard because you’re fast moving and working hard. We’ve had a lot of people from the beginning stick around for three years – in the last year we’ve had one person from each team leave and we’re a team of over fifty people.
The second point is focused on energy and momentum. We do something called the 100 days concept; at the beginning when you only have 100 days to go until you run out of money, you have this insane momentum where you’re making everything happen. We have 100 day sprints where we commit to making something happen – be that an event, press release, something that is immovable – it means that every single team is working towards that goal. It prompts us to make the best decisions in light of time.
What is the long term vision as well as the more immediate milestones?
Our vision is creating a world where anyone with an idea can find a space to make it happen: entrepreneurs, makers, designers etc. People have stuff that they want to present to the world and we want to make that possible globally. We are looking to create a global marketplace, where if you walked into the street of any global city you could see things happening, concepts appearing and disappearing. We want to make that possible and that is what excites us.
Immediate milestones are to be the biggest player in the three biggest markets.
Above: Appear Here’s Trump vs. Hilary election pop-up at Old Street Station. Video: Trump vs. Hilary
What is the biggest competitive threat?
We’re a marketplace, and have to make sure that we always have liquidity and supply matching demand. When we launched there were six or seven competitors in the UK and now there’s only a couple. We’ve had a head start and seen off a lot of the competition. Our aim now is to deliver a world-class service, with the very best spaces. We want to inspire people by creating amazing events and editorial. If every brick is laid perfectly when you step back there will be a wall, and that is our defensibility.
Do you have a key business partner?
TFL were a superb partner in the beginning and we now have some superb partners like that in Paris and New York who we’re really excited to get working with.
Burn the Boats
Burn the Boats moment – what enticed you to co-found Appear Here? What advice would you offer anyone trying to conceptualize an idea/problem?
I had seen the increasing number of empty shops on the high street, was aware of trends in collaborative consumption, and therefore decided to launch my own shop.
I found a small store, and launched a shop called Rock and Rule in Carnaby Street in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, selling limited edition apparel inspired by the Queen. Everything went wrong that could have gone wrong, the T-Shirts got banned by Buckingham Palace, but we had hundreds of people outside, made great sales and had a huge amount of fun. I thought why couldn’t everyone do this? I got a phone call a few days later from a big US brand who wanted to find a space for the Olympics and realized that I had to commit to this idea. There were small brands like us and big brands both looking for space, and all these landlords with empty space.
I left school at 16 and don’t really have any formal qualifications. If you don’t have a safety net, there’s little to fall back on. In my mind at the time I had no other option – you win or you’re dead.
How do you think founders should identify nascent and attractive markets that are ripe for disruption?
Only do it if there’s a real problem you need to solve.
What is your motivation/ what makes you tick?
Being very aware that you’re never going to get each day back. Wanting to make the most out of life. I want to work with amazing people, and see them do outstanding work. What drives me is an obsessive curiosity whilst worrying that time is running out and wanting to make things happen.
Who do you surround yourself with/ what business support networks do you value?
People with ideas and those who want to do something differently; people that have a deep knowledge of certain elements, are curious, who are aware of things that are going on and think about what could they could do better.
What keeps you awake at night?
Calls from the team! We call each other all hours – probably not very healthy but I’m always answering the phone.
In ten years’ time how would you like people to talk about you and Appear Here? What does success look like?
If someone was talking about an idea, to say ‘You should Appear-Here it’ – the go to platform for new ideas.