In her early 20s, Louise Broni-Mensah became the first Black female entrepreneur to secure capital from a seed fund provider in Silicon Valley to grow her fledgling business Shoobs (pronounced Shubz).
The provider was Y Combinator – a company known for supporting such names as online renting service Airbnb and Genius – a lyrics and music knowledge database. Three years later (in 2017) and thanks to the funding and expertise she received, Louise’s online ticketing and discovery platform is changing the way party-goers seek out, buy and engage with urban events across the UK.
Louise took the traditional route to entering the business world. She holds a Mathematical Economics BSc from Birmingham University, worked in banking and finance and had her own property all by her early 20s. But music was never far from her thoughts.
“I’ve always had a passion for music but I did it this way round because my parents wouldn’t let me otherwise,” she told MisBeee Writes. “At university, I worked for Sony music part-time, managing all their marketing on campus.
“I also worked for Relentless Records – the label responsible for launching UK garage, grime and hip hop group So Solid Crew, and managed rapper Mikill Pane for about a year. He went on to record the track ‘Little Lady’ with Ed Sheeran.”
Her side hustles really paid off because it was that hands-on experience in events management and promotion that gave her some valuable insights into the business of the music industry. “I realised how difficult it was for events organisers, particularly those in urban music, to promote shows. Most were using offline methods such as handing out flyers, advertising on pirate radio stations and selling paper tickets face to face. It was a really ‘old school’ way of targeting business and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stand in the cold when they could book it from their home or from their phone, which is why I came up with Shoobs.”
Raving to the community
Shoobs – slang for house party/rave – is an online platform that allows people with a love for urban music to look for events and network within an online community.
Louise was still working full time in the financial sector, when she established Shoobs in 2010 on her own. Despite the uncertainty the financial crash created for some, she felt that the economic downturn was the boost she needed to commit to Shoobs full-time and satisfy her deep-seated desire “to do something that spoke more to her passion than just a mundane job”.
“The actual great thing about the financial crash and any sort of down time in the economy is that it spurs entrepreneurship,” she said. “When I was starting out it just seemed like there was this new energy in the air which I guess came about because people were reassessing what they wanted to do with their lives.”
Louise secured funding from the Bright Ideas Trust owned by Tim Campbell – the first winner of the UK TV programme Apprentice – and used that to fund the first version of her online platform. Within 18 months, she was making a living.
“I’m just a big believer in aiming high so I asked myself: ‘where people go when they want to make it big?’ and correlated that to Silicon Valley. I took myself off there and applied to the Y Combinator programme.”
Being accepted on to the Y Combinator Programme in 2014 gave Louise her next boost.
“I didn’t want to go to Y Combinator with just an idea so I made sure that I already had traction with my business. I showed them that I had a good number of platform users – it was tens of thousands – and evidence to show that the platform was growing. They were excited because, I guess, the business was tackling a market that had not been tackled before.
For Louise – the appeal of getting a place on the ‘business bootcamp’ was not just about securing funding. “It’s about the expertise and networks you gain to grow your business. Y Combinator has some of the top companies in the world in their network and I now have access to them and that’s the kind of contact that money can’t buy.”
Coming from a supportive family of driven individuals, (her brother Edwin is the founder of charity GiveMeTap) Louise is comfortable being a trailblazer and role model for women and young, Black women in particular. She is also sharpening her computer coding skills, and remains an advocate for females pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
You never stop learning, she says. “I have a network of advisors that I am constantly reaching out to. Networking is key,” she said.
Louise is not averse to taking advantage of the perks of Shoobs and got to see WizKid – the first African artist to perform at the Royal Albert Hall recently. She has not ruled out plans to internationalise her business to African markets. Urban music is such a fluid term, which means it incorporates a range of sounds, including Afrobeats, so in order to grow we will evolve with it, she said. For now, she is keen to make a national impact and become a household name.
“There are certain brands that even if you don’t use them, people know of them so I would love for Shoobs to be that as well.”
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