Jazz Shaper: Venetia Archer

Posted on 30 April 2022

Venetia Archer is the founder & CEO of Ruuby, the UK's leading on demand beauty services platform.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the pioneers of the business world together with the musicians shaping Jazz, Soul and Blues.  My guest today is Venetia Archer, Founder and CEO of Ruuby, the on-demand beauty services platform. While working long hours as a risk analyst, Venetia found it unnecessarily hard to book beauty salon appointments. As she says, “At the time, London was experiencing the emergence of on-demand and it became clear to me the beauty services industry was ripe for change.”  After a year collaborating with software developers and recruiting expert practitioners, Venetia launched Ruuby in 2016. The beauty concierge app now connects over a thousand beauty and wellness professionals offering treating such as facials, hairstyling, manicures and massages – I am up for a facial – with consumers across the UK. I’ll be talking to Venetia in just a couple of minutes about all of this, about surviving lockdown and the record-breaking months that have followed. Ruuby is a lovely name and Venetia is a lovely name. Hello, it’s good to have you here. Why Ruuby?  I’m always intrigued about names, what does it mean and where did it come from?

Venetia Archer

Absolutely. I think one of the most challenging parts of starting the business was thinking of a name and I thought of the name Ruuby, there was a very long list, but I was thinking of that flash of red, the red soul, the red lip, that little pop of, of colour and of luxury and so Ruuby was born. And then R U B Y.com cost a million pounds to buy so, as with many tech companies, we added a U.

Elliot Moss

Well, and the U has obviously saved you a lot of money, that was free, or fifty quid or something.

Venetia Archer

Yep, that was, that was free. Yep, yep so saved some up front.

Elliot Moss

I mentioned earlier the inspiration for this came from your own problem that you encountered which is hold on a minute, I want one of those. I often say this to people who solve problems, loads of us encounter problems and most of us don’t do anything about them apart from moan.

Venetia Archer

Yep.

Elliot Moss

Where in your DNA was it in the stars that said, you know what Venetia is going to go and fix this problem?  When did you start fixing problems in your own world, do you think, in your own existence as a human?

Venetia Archer

That’s a great question. I think that I’ve always been someone who has ideas for products, for services, and I’m very intrigued by you know convenience and obviously we live in the world of convenience, you know with Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber etcetera, etcetera and I’d had this idea, you know that the beauty services industry was ripe for disruption and I think it came at an interesting point in my life, as you mentioned I was formerly working in geopolitical risk, I spent in time in East Africa there, so completely different you know professional background, however, I also had this desire to create and build and start my own business and Ruuby was one idea but I had multiple others.

Elliot Moss

But before then because I mean obviously look, you went and did Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, you’re very educated and all that and smart and again you get different types of people coming out of Oxford and Cambridge and any university, some people go it’s a nice job in a company and other people go completely left or right field. But when you were little, I read that you came over from Australia when you were very young, you were 12, you came into the UK. Is there something about landing in a quote, unquote foreign place that means you have to be more thoughtful about the way life goes, more adaptive because you’re just… stuff’s changing and a 12 year old’s a young age for stuff to happen?  Is it something about that?  I’m just intrigued about where that thread of kind of ideas comes from.

Venetia Archer

Yes. Absolutely. Well, I think you know that was a you know very pivotal time in my life to move over from Australia to England and we all think these countries are quite similar but actually in actual fact, oh my gosh England felt very, very foreign to me kind of moving in the middle of winter with all these strange children that I had, you know had to become friends with so, you know it was a key moment and I think since then I’ve always sought to seek adventure in life, do different things you know when I moved to Kenya that was about changing up the landscape, learning more and testing myself and I think this just fell and this was just the next piece of the puzzle and the next thing that I wanted to do, set up a business, work for myself, be independent and create a product that you know changed the way people live their lives in even a very small way.

Elliot Moss

So we’re talking about you being an adventure seeker but you ended up at Cambridge as I mentioned, you did your Degree and then as you said the geopolitical kind of risk piece comes afterwards. Those ideas that were percolating, what was the moment when you went, I need to do something about this idea rather than I’m just having good ideas and I… you know because some people again are happy having the ideas and going wouldn’t it be fun but there must have been a pivotal umph when you went I’m actually going to do this.

Venetia Archer

Yes. Well, I’d spent time… I was living in Kenya, I was living this really exciting life, chasing stories, researching Somalia piracy, which is obviously like a whole world away from what I’m doing now and I felt this freedom and I moved back to London and started a different job and I was… so, one I had the idea because I was sitting in this office, all hours of the day, working, working, working and I thought to myself I can’t, I can’t do this, I’m not built for this, I can’t sit down all day, I need to define my life and I need to define my work as a result and so I, that’s when I started thinking about my various business ideas and that’s you know as I was working that job, I was starting to define out what Ruuby would look like and how that would work and I set it up and I started the kind of initial process of defining out the vision and getting things set up, you know alongside my work so I was doing a little bit of both at the same time.

Elliot Moss

And then to take that plan, the defining another, the phrase you used, defining my life and defining the business and all that, you took that plan where?  How quickly did you take it from paper into some kind of reality?

Venetia Archer

So that took about a year. A year from the moment that I decided this is what I’m going to do to get you know an MVP up and out into the world.

Elliot Moss

Minimum Viable Product. Most people will know but some might not.

Venetia Archer

Exactly. So that was that first version of the app. We built the software behind it, you know that sort of allowed, we actually worked with Sounds to begin with, allowed them to kind of manage the availability and the bookings and then, yeah, one year later we had it, we had a launch party, the app was terrible and people couldn’t log in but it was live.

Elliot Moss

You’d done it. And you, money?  You got some money together, I think you got, there was a Virgin startup loan involved in that as well?

Venetia Archer

Yep.

Elliot Moss

How easy was it for you then because the environment has definitely changed over the last five/ten years?  How easy was it then to access capital?

Venetia Archer

So I have always sought to build the business in a very lean way and I think, as you mentioned, the environment has definitely evolved and you know there are a lot of stories in the press about startups raising five, ten million, twenty million very early on but my journey has been somewhat different and in the early stages I, yeah, got this Virgin loan of twenty five thousand and that took me quite a long way, you know as I mentioned, you couldn’t lot in to the app when we first launched so it wasn’t, you know…

Elliot Moss

Small issue.

Venetia Archer

Small issue. So we you know, we didn’t spend a fortune building it but then obviously subsequently building a marketplace like this you know we’ve had to raise you know more capital and so we’ve been through a couple of funding rounds since, initial with angel investors so I have you know an amazing group of people who believed in me and believed in the idea very early on and that helped us kind of build it out over the next year and make those really important first hires.

Elliot Moss

Can I just ask, what was the… in the early days when you first got that first bit of money from the angels, what was the simplest version of the pitch to them?

Venetia Archer

It was the Uber for beauty and everyone loved it at the time because there was nothing like it, you know people were so excited about the way that Uber and Deliveroo were disrupting the world and so people were excited about it and I would say actually it was probably easier to sell it then than it is now, now that it has become a little bit more normalised, people are oh my gosh, this is great, this is really exciting and again, you know you have those kind of advocates who believe in you and they I’m sure saw my energy. What I always said was, there is no plan B and I still live like that. Plan A, Ruuby, it has to work and I think I’ve always been you know quite vociferous about that.

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more from my guest Venetia Archer, she is indeed vociferous and very focussed, you can see it in her eyes over here, she’ll be back in a couple of minutes. Yes I am Elliot, I am very focussed.

Venetia Archer

Oh my gosh.

Elliot Moss

Right now though we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions and they can be found on all the major podcast platforms. Mishcon de Reya’s Victoria Pigott and Dr Rebecca Newton, Organisational Psychologist and CEO of Coach Advisor, discuss the impact of women in positions of leadership and on boards.

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast. Hoorah, he says, just because. And indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have got a smart speaker, just ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will be greeted with a taster of our recent shows. But back to today’s guest, it’s Venetia Archer, Founder and CEO of Ruuby, the on-demand beauty services platform, the Uber of beauty, as she said. How many people said no to you in the beginning?  You talked about those fans and the advocates and they’re still there. How many firstly and what did it feel like?

Venetia Archer

Oh I think that’s such an important question because it is a hell of a lot. I still have a spreadsheet so whenever we go through fundraising rounds, you put a spreadsheet together, list all the people…

Elliot Moss

The funnel.

Venetia Archer

The funnel. The fun funnel. Oh there are hundreds of people on that list. There are hundreds and hundreds and of people and I have hundreds of people say no but you know what you learn is resilience, you’ve got to keep going, you get a big batch of no’s, what you need to do is just you know what I’ve learnt to do is just go ahead the next day email out another twenty people, you’ve just got to keep going and it’s really difficult hearing the no’s and it’s still difficult today but I think particularly so early on in the journey because you know each one of those you know when people explain like why they think that your business model might not work, I mean it’s sort of, dare I say it, it’s a bit of a dagger to the heart but yeah, you build up a thicker skin over time.

Elliot Moss

So the thicker skin over time you build up and then and the other thing, you’ve now got the tech and you’ve got to build up a team, that team that you’ve built, how important is it to the success of the business beyond the charismatic, vociferous leader?

Venetia Archer

Gosh, the vociferous leader. The team has been absolutely crucial to our business success. I think one thing that I have you know recognised and I recognised early is that there are elements where I am strong but there are a whole host of other areas where I’m not and I think one of the learnings is that you know hiring people who complement my skillsets who are better than me, you know have really helped us to drive the business, drive the business along and you know it just moves so much faster when you’ve got these amazing people you know working on a problem and I’m so lucky and I’m so proud of the team that we’ve built today.

Elliot Moss

And you say better than you right but I mean secretly, Venetia, yeah secretly, do you go are they really better or is it that they genuinely are, you go I can’t do what they’re doing?

Venetia Archer

Oh absolutely I can’t do what they’re doing, you know whether it’s our CTO, Pete, who’s got this like incredible knowledge and understanding of building products, you know technical products, to our financing, I mean I am most certainly not that comfortable in front of a spreadsheet and you know so it’s just different brain types so yeah, you know I’ve got huge admiration for you know what people bring to the table.

Elliot Moss

But the rigour of what you started, the way that you approach the world, I imagine you are pretty analytical and I imagine that you can express an argument because that’s essentially the, one of the two of the disciplines within the Degree that you did in probably you were attracted to the degree because you were good at those things. How has that fared for you?  How useful have those skills been within the business, aside from your personality, aside from the vision and the attitude which is around adventure and not being scared?  What about those specific technical skills?

Venetia Archer

Yep. Well I think that they’re really important. When you are running a business, you know especially you know when I kind of wake up every day, there are all of these opportunities available to us, is that we launch in a new market is that we launch a new category, you know do we spend money on building up this area of the team?  So you have to make a lot of decisions and I think with that you know analytical background, absolutely I think I’ve probably got to a point where I make the right decision some of the time, you know and I don’t, I’m able to kind of go back and fix it so, I definitely have a very analytical mind when it comes to the way that I’m building up the business and I do love that.

Elliot Moss

And just thinking about the juxtaposition between being creative and being open in the way that you think and that when you put that alongside the necessity for frameworks for making decisions, criteria, profitability, new marketplace and all that. How do you merge those two things as you go about making all these decisions in the business?

Venetia Archer

I think that it’s understanding areas of weakness and in a lot of you know what you just mention, I need to discuss those with complementary people and minds and that may come from our board or you know different members of the team who add that little bit of rigour, add that little bit of structure so it’s something that I definitely, you know that’s definitely kind of a group effort and also when it comes to the creativity, I think when you are running a business a lot of the time you can’t be creative, you’ve got to think about team, you’ve got to think about payroll, you’ve got to think about strategy etcetera but it’s about carving time to be creative, whether that’s on holiday and just giving your brain a rest or understanding okay hold on, I’m feeling a bit, I’m feeling a bit tired this week, I’m a bit over it, I’m just going to dis… you know separate myself a little bit and enjoy the fact that I can be creative for a period of time.

Elliot Moss

Talking about leadership, we touched on it a little bit and we talked about the synthesis between the analysis and the analytical and the creative and the need for framework but the need for space. In terms of you keeping your team on their toes, keeping them feeling like this Venetia’s really up for it, this is not a game, this is real but it’s also still fun and she knows when it’s like it’s not life and death but it’s kind of exciting. How do you personally ensure that you don’t bore the people that work for you?

Venetia Archer

So, I think that sometimes it’s about understanding when to lead from the front, like if there is a crisis. Covid - that was a time where I had to lead from the front and kind of define exactly what we were doing and the problems that we were facing and be that and be that leader because that’s what people needed and other times, you know things are going well, things are smooth, everything is planned, you can kind of lead from behind so you really empower your team to make decisions and shape where the business is going so I think I always try and have like a little bit of a you know just a like finger on the pulse of where I need to be within the business and that really helps me as well because you can’t always be leading you know from the front because there’s you know a tonne of other stuff to do.

Elliot Moss

But do you consciously do that I mean or does it just happen in the sense that you know sometimes you can be self-aware enough to go I’m going to slowly explain this and I’m not quite that dramatic or here I’m going to speed up and I’m going to show the energy, are you conscious you are going okay this is a behind moment, this is an in front moment?

Venetia Archer

I think probably not consciously, it’s something that I reflect on afterwards and you know and again I learnt a lot during Covid and that was something that I really thought about, about my leadership style but the other thing that I always say to my team is, you know we’re here to have fun like I know there are moments of stress and we are you know as a kind of scrappy startup, we are always pushing, we are pushing to hit our growth targets, you know there is definitely you know a degree of pressure but I always so you know we’ve got to be having fun and sometimes you guys need to remind me if I’m not having fun, you know because you know I might be super stressed out about something so it’s just something that we check in on quite regularly because it is, it’s a beauty tech startup, you know it’s fun.

Elliot Moss

She says through gritted teeth. It’s fun, it really is. The fun bit though when you are juggling motherhood and you’re juggling being a partner and you are juggling setting up a business and running a business and as you say, Covid, whatever people were doing, wherever they are at, it was an absolute smash, it was horrendous, you know it was horrific, the change and the dealing with all that. When is it really not fun, Venetia, and what you do you, how do you manage in those periods, for you personally?

Venetia Archer

Yeah, I mean listen, you know you are right, there are times when it really isn’t and Covid was the prime example, you know for us, we were about to close a very big funding round and then that fell through, our revenues dropped to zero and you know we had all of the thousands of people that we worked with us who you know were unable to work overnight so there was a lot of you know there was a lot of stress, you know we were running out of money, we didn’t know how long this was going to last, was this twelve months, twenty four months, was it a week and so that really wasn’t, that really wasn’t fun and you know luckily we managed to get through it and probably made, looking back, what were the right decisions at the time. You know but at those times, like you learn a lot about yourself and also you learn a lot about the business so you know I’ve taken a lot of those learnings in to the way that I run the business now in terms of you know making sure we remain lean and we keep our eyes on the prize, eyes on the goal so it’s really helped me in that sense but you know they were tough times and I think, as I am sure so many of the entrepreneurs have said on the show, you know it is a rollercoaster ride and what I always say is, sometimes the worst day is followed by the best day, in fact it usually is so, it’s wild.

Elliot Moss

We’ll have our final chat with my guest today, Venetia Archer and we’ve got some Brazilian magic for you from Antonio Adolfo, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

I’ve just got my Business Shaper here, Venetia Archer, for a few more minutes. We’ve been talking about all sorts of stuff. So, you talked about zero revenue and Covid, just for a context now, we are looking at £4 million of revenue last year with hopefully a target this year that you are going to get to of 7 million.

Venetia Archer

Yep.

Elliot Moss

And profitability at some point in the not too distant future, which for a young business is extraordinary. Does that make you feel good or does it just make you think, you know there’s still loads of room, there’s still loads of work to do?  I’m just interested because success, it’s the old Rudyard Kipling thing, you know if you can treat failure and success with the same feeling, that’s not and I’m not paraphrasing here but have you managed, is it working for you or does it actually make you more worried that now you are on this upward trajectory? 

Venetia Archer

Just to sort of touch on that, I’m so proud that the Ruuby team has been able to get back up on our feet after Covid and we’re delighted that the market has kind of evolved with us and there is this greater demand for at home beauty services than we’d ever experienced before and there are also so many more beauty professionals who want to work with us so, you know I definitely have taken time to just sit and enjoy the fact that we are here and we got through it and I always say, take a moment to look back you know and look back and look at the successes because otherwise it really is just too stressful all the time. So, you know I definitely do a bit of that and naturally you know we’re always looking ahead, you know we’re always looking okay when you hit this milestone, the goalposts have moved, what’s next?  But I think that is just part and parcel of being an entrepreneur.

Elliot Moss

And for you and you don’t have to answer this honestly but it would be great if you did, you mentioned very early on I’ve had lots of ideas, you know that’s where I go with this, my instinct is, you are going to do this but this is not the only thing you are going to do so I guess my question is, at what point do you go, okay that can deal with itself, now I want to do ideas two and three?

Venetia Archer

Yep. I mean, I don’t know, I really don’t the answer to that question, very honestly, you know I live and breathe Ruuby, I love it, I love seeing the successes that we’re having and seeing myself working on it for a long time but that’s not to say that I don’t have crazy ideas in the middle of the night that I’d love to work on at some point.

Elliot Moss

And again, once you’ve got the success and the credibility, people will back you I’m assuming so it’s not impossible to think that at some point and that doesn’t mean a full exit either, right, that can still mean that you are involved but I’m really, we’re just mapping this out, I mean I just want to, I’m just thinking right, Venetia, let’s go and have a little session here, we can talk about… I love that again, the defining, the life plan, fine, I’ve got ideas two and three for you all, we’ll talk about this later. And in terms of the, again you’ve talked about in your own way you are doing good things, the values of the business and where you are as a human and what you want to do and I’ve read a bit about some of the environmental initiatives that you are up to, how central is that to the mission or is it just a, well listen we’re in business and we should be doing nice things?

Venetia Archer

Yep. I think it’s central to the mission, I think what you know I mentioned community earlier and that’s absolutely key, like community and entrepreneurialism, you know with our platform, with our software, we’re allowing and enabling over a thousand women to build up their own businesses, utilising the Ruuby technology so you know we see everyone that we work with as a budding beauty entrepreneur and that’s what’s you know really core to our mission. Yes, we do other things where we can, for example you know we plant trees, we’ve planted over twenty thousand trees over the past few months to sort of seek to offset our carbon so you know I think it’s really important you know once you get to a certain stage, you need to think what can we do, how can we give back?

Elliot Moss

And 250,000 treatments since you opened the doors of the app that eventually worked.

Venetia Archer

Exactly, the app that eventually worked, yes so 250,000 treatments, which is a pretty, pretty amazing milestone, so that’s many manicured fingers on the street.

Elliot Moss

Yes, that’s a lot of those, yes. Listen, it’s been great talking to you, thank you for your time. Good luck and I don’t think you need luck, I think you know exactly what you are doing. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have chosen it?

Venetia Archer

So my song is Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. I love this song, in fact it was the soundtrack to once of the most incredible dreams I had years ago that stayed with me forever and I just think it just reminds me to live life with joy and excitement and adventure.

Elliot Moss

Stevie Wonder there with Sir Duke, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Venetia Archer. She talked about being an adventure seeker, critical if you are going to be a Founder. She talked about defining her life, she wanted to be in control, she wanted to set out exactly where it went rather than waiting for someone else to do it. She talked about carving time out to be creative, a really important thing in the hurly-burly of running a business when there’s so much going on. And finally she talked about leading from behind but also leading from in front and understanding when to do one rather than the other. Fantastic stuff. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

A disruptor in the beauty services space, Ruuby launched in 2016, and now connects over 1,000 beauty and wellness professionals with consumers across the UK - delivering a service every six minutes.  

Venetia has been named one of the Forbes' 30 Under 30, Management Today's 35 Under 35, and she is on the advisory board of the British Beauty Council's Sustainable Beauty Committee, and the Technology and Innovation Committee. Venetia is passionate about entrepreneurship, women in technology and beauty, and serves as an advisor to a number of emerging businesses in the space. 

Highlights

I think that I’ve always been someone who has ideas for products, for services, and I’m very intrigued by convenience. We live in the world of convenience. 

I’ve always sought to seek adventure in life, do different things, learning more and testing myself. 

I wanted to set up a business, work for myself, be independent and create a product that changed the way people live their lives – even if in a very small way.   

I have an amazing group of people who believed in me and believed in the idea very early on ,and that helped us build it out over the next year and make those really important first hires. 

What I always said was: there is no plan B. And I still live like that. Plan A, Ruuby, it has to work, and I think I’ve always been quite vociferous about that.   

The team has been absolutely crucial to our success. One thing I recognised early is that there are elements where I am strong but there are a whole host of other areas where I’m not. 

Hiring people who complement my skillsets who are better than me, has really helped us to drive the business along. 

It moves so much faster when you’ve got these amazing people working on a problem and I’m so lucky and proud of the team that we’ve built today.   

Leadership is about understanding when to lead from the front, such as in times of crisis. In crisis you need to define exactly to do, identify the problems you face and take the lead – that's what people need. 

When things are going well, you can lead from behind - empowering your team to make decisions and shape where the business is going. 

I always say, take a moment to look back at your successes, because otherwise it really would be too stressful all the time.   

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