This week we are celebrating the ten year anniversary of the opening of Lucky Voice. In 2003 two friends, Jonny Shaw and Julian Douglas and I went to Tokyo and the idea of Lucky Voice was dreamt up. Buoyed up by their enthusiasm and the amazing time we had I approached Nick Thistleton to see if he would like to start the business. After a lot of questions, he did so in 2004. We opened our first venue in 2005. I say we, but that is a gross exaggeration as I was knee deep in hospital through 2004 and 2005 after a car crash so Nick and the team really did all the work. I remember that they would come to visit me and show me models of how the site we found on Poland Street was developing. They would hold designs up over my hospital bed and show me colours and ideas. I thought I was being very useful but I was so high on morphine its a miracle they understood a word I was saying.
The concept is a version of the kind of bars and clubs you find all over Asia. You hire a private room with your friends and let rip over the huge array of tunes we have to sing along to. Only we have made it even more irresistible. There are great cocktails, awesome staff and each room is its own private party. We have quite a few sites in the UK both owned and franchise and we are close to opening our first international franchise too. The business is profitable and has an accompanying digital business that means you can sing at home if you would rather be in your pyjamas. Ten years of chairing and helping this type of small business start and grow has taught me a great deal and here are my top 5 lessons :
1. Partnerships are great. Its tough being a founder and so I urge people thinking of starting a business to look for a partner. Nick is an amazing co-founder and ceo and we have very complimentary skills. We have never come to blows although we challenge each other and I think the business has endured partly because of the different personalities we have.
2. Absolute attention to detail on the customer experience is VITAL. Its obvious in some ways but people dont always get it right. Nick and all the teams in the bars are obsessed with everyone having a great experience. We have to move drunk people out of rooms with good grace, we have to make sure sound quality amazing, online booking easy, cocktails delicious – you can never pay too much attention.
3. Singing makes you feel fantastic and a business based on such exhilaration is wonderful. I knew this after my first sing and I am a terrible singer! It’s subsequently been empirically proven.
Anything that can make customers feel so fabulous is not only fun but a good business. We have had all sorts of people – journalists who have fallen out with each other, politicians, pop stars (often singing their own songs) but we hope everyone leaves buoyed up. Lucky voice engenders extreme loyalty – an asset you always wish for in a start up.
4. Financing real world venues is tough – I invested most of the money into Lucky Voice but we also secured a round of angel investors and some bank debt. I wish we had known more about different options as cashflow got quite hairy at times. I’m used to the digital world and the idea of building a minimum viable product – you can’t do that in a premium venue…
5. Getting the interplay right between the offline and digital is vital. Customers might be different through different channels but they might not, and you need to offer a cohesive experience. No big revelation there, but what I have learnt through Lucky Voice is yet again the essential skills needed in any small business are partly digital and that can be tough in an environment where you are bootstrapping products and have competing demands. I don’t find it surprising that only 30% of the UKs SMEs buy or sell through the internet but I do find it frustrating for them as its hard to get a competitive edge. You cant afford to underdevelop your software, data or analysis.
I can’t wait to celebrate with the team tomorrow night. I want to thank Julian Douglas who still sings so enthusiastically. I want to thank karen Jones and tom teichman who sit on our Board and everyone who works so hard at Lucky Voice for the amazing job they do.
I especially want to thank Nick so very much for putting up with me and creating something such fun for customers. Here is Nick (on the right) with Phil who runs our bar sites. I think they are about to burst into song…
You cab right now – go on! Get singing at http://luckyvoice.com