CEO and co-founder of Side Door, an online booking platform that matches artists with hosts who have spaces to create live shows.
Alma mater: Queen’s University (Bachelor of Arts), University of King’s College (Bachelor of Journalism)
Favourite food: Coconut shrimp (husband’s secret recipe)
Headquarters: Halifax, N.S.
What does Side Door do?
“We want to give people the best shot at making a match that’s going to be great for them. So, we use the information they give us to match information that others have given us to say, ‘We think you guys would make a great match for a show.’” Since 2017, Side Door has booked over 400 shows across Canada and in the United States.
In the beginning…
Laura Simpson met her co-founder Dan Mangan in 2016. He’s an award- winning musician. She’s a music industry professional and house concert host. “At the time, it was like, ‘How do you create a business out of a house concert concept?’ It just didn’t make any sense. But we got into a (Propel) accelerator program, which helped to really crystalize that. From there, iterating and experimenting got us to where we are now.”
The turning point
A key reality check came in 2017 when Mangan sent out a Facebook survey asking people what they thought about the live entertainment industry. “We had more than 3,000 people respond and write extensive narratives about their dismay, disappointment and frustration—artists and audience members alike. It was real validation for us that it was a good idea worth pursuing.”
That time the well ran dry
“We ran out of money at one point. I laid myself off and I had to lay off the staff. The staff stuck around until I could rehire them. It was the most painful thing to let down my staff who had really poured their hearts and souls into it but when they stuck around, I kind of knew that we had something bigger than myself and Dan—bigger than our own idea.”
What triggered your current growth spurt?
“The most recent thing was when we finally launched the first self-service, fully automated version of our platform in February. We saw that all of the automation we put into place increased the rate of bookings by tenfold. We went from taking weeks to book to hours to book something. Since our launch, we have also increased ticket revenue nearly 500 per cent.”
Ready for the next big leap
Side Door got this far with $500,000 in private investment and public funding from several government and industry programs. Now, it’s in a seed funding round with a target of $2.5 million. “It’s gone from hitting the pavement around here and Dan in Vancouver to talking to real VCs. For example, the firm we’re talking to was seed funder for Uber. It’s kind of like a level we never thought we’d get to, but we showed enough traction with our initial launch that it became interesting for them.”
In May, Simpson won Propel’s first-ever Gerry Pond Sales Award, which included a $25,000 cash prize and the option of a combined investment of $30,000.
Where does Side Door go from here?
The next phase of growth will focus on making platform enhancements and expanding further into the U.S. market. “We’re in talks right now to do a major campaign with a big festival down south to basically book bands en route to getting to that festival.”
What does success look like?
“Dan and I both want to be a global company serving artists and hosts all over the world. But the metric for me will still be the same—how many people are satisfied by the service we’re providing?”
Atlantic Canadian startup you admire
“I love Room Service. I love their story. I met the founder through Propel Incite and they have a service that’s such a no-brainer. (They) basically grab anything you can think of at a convenience store and bring it to you.”
Best advice you received
“It’s the idea that you’re never going to get to perfect. You’re always aiming for 80 per cent—it’s like an 80-per-cent-and-ship-it rule. That has allowed us to just get it out there before it’s perfect because at this stage speed and validation are almost as important as getting 100 per cent customer satisfaction.”
Top tip for would-be founders
“The ride of a startup is really something else. You have to be resilient and really believe what you’re doing is worthwhile because it’s going to be a huge roller coaster. The highs are really high and the lows are really low.”
One thing you want in your office
“Rehearsal and performance space. My dream is in the future to have an office that’s purpose-built to actually house the artists that we’re serving.”