Ross Bailey: On ‘Pop-Ups’ And Raising £6 Million To Disrupt The Retail Market

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For Ross Bailey, spotting an opportunity to disrupt the property market and allow brands to rent in the short-term retail space was the easy part. The three years that followed weren’t so much.

From knocking down doors and secure funding to upending a frustratingly rigid business model, the savvy entrepreneur might be bringing the aspirations of wellness brands like ADAY, Doisy & Dam and Crude Juice to life in London, but his own vision is only a fraction of the way there.

But, with investors already ploughing more than £6m into his fledgling startup, Appear Here, and over 15,000 brands continuing to register on the digital platform. It’s headed in the right direction and Bailey is keen to keep it moving.

“If I stay sat down fuck all is going to happen, but if I get up and decide to walk somewhere right now then things might get in my way,” says the brazen 23 year old, who has just been named in Forbes’ first list of 30 under 30 for Europe.

“There are always going to be obstacles, but that’s what gets me excited. Obstacles appear when you decide to go somewhere, but you shouldn’t let that scare you. You should realise you’re going to hit things and that should energise you because at least you know you’re not sat still.”

True to his word, Bailey doesn’t do sitting. Well before Appear Here came to fruition, the high-octane entrepreneur with a forthright demeanour was a driving force to be reckoned with.

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Everyone has their own definition of what excites them, but you really need to understand what that is before starting a business, because starting a business is really hard.”

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With thoughts of raising capital never far from his mind, the enterprising teen trialled a number of money making ventures – from walking his neighbour’s dogs to creating an events business – before identifying a gap in the market that would quickly disrupt the world of commercial property.

“I always wanted to create or do stuff that would be fun and that I could make better and bigger and more interesting. I guess that was what drove me into doing things that were more serious, but it wasn’t a logical decision, I just did things I enjoyed.”

Having launched Rock & Rule in the summer of 2012, a pop-up store in London selling apparel inspired by the Queen’s Jubilee, Bailey noted how difficult it was to secure retail premises on a short-term basis and the first seeds of Appear Here were planted.

“I think it’s easier when you look back to connect the dots and see where the idea came from and also how long you spent on it,” says Ross, who admits that the idea for Appear Here was in his head long before he figured out how it would happen and what it would end up being.

“I have a notebook which I carry around everywhere so I can write down ideas and insights. I remember writing down ‘there’s loads of excess space on the highstreet, why don’t you do something that matches up?’ But I didn’t think about it again for a couple of months.”

Revisiting his notes later in the year, Bailey began to develop a proper idea. Recognising the success of Airbnb’s business model, he began to wonder why a similar model couldn’t work for all the empty retail spaces on the highstreet, so he started researching the commercial rental market.

But there was one important aspect he had to figure out first. If successful, would his potential business idea excite him?

“Everyone has their own definition of what excites them, but you really need to understand what that is before starting a business, because starting a business is really hard.”

Believing that Appear Here had the potential to fulfil his passions, Bailey, who admits he didn’t even know what an investor was, began researching venture capitalists in order to understand what they did and why they invested in startups.

“It turned into a bit of an obsession and that obsession led to me knocking on their doors. I probably got turned down about 100 times in the process, but I was so young and naive that I didn’t really care what people thought about me.

“I bugged people so much to get a meeting it’s quite embarrassing when I think about it now, but I went into it like ‘Fuck it what could go wrong, what’s the worst that could happen?’ And I still still live by that philosophy today.”

Raising almost £200,000 in under six months, Appear Here was granted the extra momentum it needed and by February 2014 the business had launched.

“The biggest lesson I learnt during that time is that you shouldn’t just sit there thinking I need to raise money. I’d done lots of little things to push the business forward, I’d created the logo, I’d done the branding and come up with the name. I’d also persuaded one of the biggest landlords in the country to agree to use the model once we’d built it. I think that’s so important.”

The hard work soon paid off, as the newly launched business began attracting top brands including British Land, Legal & General and Capital & Regional. And before long Bailey bagged a deal with Transport for London, which saw Appear Here renting out pop-up shops in some of the capital’s busiest underground stations.

But what really pushed Bailey was the fact that Appear Here was giving startups the ability to sign a lease in under 6 days, using a pay-as-you-go model instead of shelling out millions for concepts they weren’t sure would even work.

“Everything I wanted to do was about helping people find space to bring their ideas to life. At the time there was no emotional feeling associated with the word pop-up, but to me there is something magical about something appearing and I loved the idea that if something appears then it has to disappear.

Daisy And Dom Pop-Up

Image: Doisy and Dam/Appear Here

“And I think we managed to build something that not only enables but inspires people. They can go on our platform and see that Jamie Oliver has launched a shop or at that a brand new street food concept is about to launch their first market stall, and I think that’s why we’ve connected so well with brands,” he says.

Bringing concepts alive for a whole host of wellness startups like Spoon Cereals, who launched a successful pop-up in Old Street Station in 2015, resulting in nationwide press coverage, or Doisy and Dam, whose pop-up in Topshop Oxford Circus saw the chocolate brand sell 10 times more in one week than they do per week elsewhere, drives Bailey to keep growing the business.

“Like Nike we want the athletes to be using us, but also the guys that aspire to be the athletes,” he says.

And it’s not just the clients he’s keen to connect with. Appear Here’s team, which has grown from a mere 5 to 35 in just three years, plays just as much of a part in growing the company.

I think when people dream about having a team they think about what the company is going to look like, not about the individuals and their lives. But part of having people on your team and motivating them is that you end up really wanting to make sure that they’re in a good place and sometimes you don’t have the ability to control that.”

Having learnt the value of a happy and energised workforce, Bailey is enthusiastic when it comes to growing his team, regularly investing in talent, even if hiring is one of the hardest processes he says he has to carry out.

“There’s nothing better than finding someone amazing and convincing them that they should become part of the team, but we take a lot of time hiring people. I’ve hired some amazing people before, but they’ve come into the room and they just haven’t worked and the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that when they don’t work you’ve got to make a decision fast.

Now I make those type of decisions far faster than I would have a year or two ago because you want to create that energy and keep that amazing vibe.”

Investing in a stellar team is a wise move for Bailey, whose long term goal is to scale Appear Here globally.

“At the moment we’re only profitable on a booking by booking basis, but by building a team today that’s a team for the future, it will allow us to expand internationally. We want to build a company that changes the whole rental market, but we need to build a global company first,” he says.

To do this, Bailey says his team are committed to building tech that makes the current platform even more efficient and streamlined. It’s an expensive route, but if he gets that right then he believes they will have everything they need to build the foundations of an amazing company.

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 I think entrepreneurs have to be blindly optimistic, they have to believe this amazing thing is going to happen so that the obstacles they hit are so insignificant that they don’t matter.”

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That’s not to say that global expansion is on hold.

“We’ve always been focused on how we can make this international, how we can build a global network of spaces and how we can do this quicker than anyone else,” he says. This means locking up key department stores, key streets and key cities in Britain and on a global scale, which he’s currently in the process of doing.

Appear Here’s first international launch is set to take place in Paris in a few weeks time, with further plans to launch in at least three international cities by end of year, and Bailey’s enthusiasm is palpable.

Jetting in and out of three countries in the last seven days may have given him a bad case of jet lag, but that’s one of many challenges he’s happy to accept.

“Look,” he says, “I think entrepreneurs have to be blindly optimistic, they have to believe this amazing thing is going to happen so that the obstacles they hit are so insignificant that they don’t matter.”

When you believe your business model has the power to change the world a bit of jet lag won’t stop you.

 

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