HCP Founder Spotlight – Merri
by Harlem Capital
HCP introduced the Founder Spotlight series in August 2021 to highlight our exceptional founders that are changing the face of entrepreneurship. We are continuing our series with Randi Bushell, Founder and CEO of Merri, a 3D visualization platform made for event planning.
Randi takes us through her fascinating journey starting Merri and shares key insights on what’s next for the company.
HCP: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What were you doing before you started Merri?
Randi Bushell: Prior to starting Merri I spent 10 years in e-commerce, most recently at Jet.com where I held a variety of roles ranging from Category Management to Product Strategy, and prior to that at Macy’s.com as a Digital Merchant/Buyer.
I attribute my ability to juggle the many roles of a Founder/CEO to my time spent as an Ecommerce Buyer at Macy’s, where you’re pretty much a mini CEO of a vertical and responsible for driving your business within the broader business. There are so many levers that you can pull to drive both the top line and bottom line…I love wearing a lot of hats and tapping into cross-functional partners to help drive results.
HCP: What is Merri?
Randi Bushell: Merri is an all-in-one platform to design, plan, and book events.
HCP: Tell us what Merri does? How has the company reinvented event planning?
Randi Bushell: We are streamlining the historically non-digital live events industry through a first-of-its-kind interactive 3D platform with collaborative workflows bringing venues, vendors, and event hosts onto a single platform. Whether a wedding, non-profit gala, annual meeting, or brand activation, Merri’s facilitates all of the decision-making that goes into planning a flawless event — from the venue to the menu.
There are so many challenges when it comes to planning an event, mainly because you’re dealing with a lot of stakeholders and a lot of emotions, with little transparency into what the result will be until the day of the actual event. We’re in the very early stages, but bringing everyone onto one platform with tools that solve challenges for each constituent will save time, money, and stress.
HCP: While building Merri, what were some roadblocks that you faced and how did you overcome them?
Randi Bushell: Well, there was that little pandemic thing that happened right as we were gearing up for our public launch in early 2020 😊 Our industry was completely shut down, and it really tested our team’s ability to adapt and stay strong under inconceivable circumstances for an early-stage startup.
We survived because we had unwavering conviction in our product. There was never a moment where we contemplated pivoting, and now I feel grateful that we had an extra year to go heads down and just build.
HCP: Wow, that conviction seems to have given the Merri team more time to refine the product, what sets Merri apart?
Randi Bushell: We are industry outsiders, which some people might view as a weakness, but it’s given us a fresh perspective to build a product using marketplace fundamentals that translate to the events industry quite well.
Our mantra is, “we make inspiration actionable” – it’s no longer enough to inspire a consumer, you need to walk them through exactly how to bring that inspiration to life.
HCP: Aside from the mantra, is there a quote that your company lives by?
Randi Bushell: It’s not really a quote, but we always say that bad ideas lead to good ideas. We’re solving a lot of problems for a lot of different customers, so our product discussions are often long and energetically charged (we’re a passionate group). We often get to the “right” answer after a few hours of talking through bad ideas. I’d never want anyone to hold back on putting an idea out there, so before we throw something into the discussion we often say “ok bad ideas lead to good ideas…” and lay it out.
HCP: I like that, bad ideas lead to good ideas, going off of this, has your company vision changed since Merri launched?
Randi Bushell: Our vision hasn’t changed, but the path we’re taking to get there has definitely evolved. As a venture-backed business, we’re expected to scale incredibly fast. This is particularly challenging for a business with both technical AND operational complexity. We have spent the past few months focusing on solving for the operational complexities of 3D modeling venues and rental inventory nationwide with limited resources. Our supply side onboarding has changed immensely, but it’s what is necessary to scale as quickly as we need to.
HCP: We’d love to hear more about what customers were using before Merri, and what draws them to using Merri more?
Randi Bushell: Over the years, venues have been using a combination of PowerPoint, Canva, Pinterest, and legacy floorplanning tools. Event Planners use the above for floorplanning and a combination of PowerPoint, Canva, and Pinterest for design. What differentiates us is our ability to combine the logistical, inspirational, and transactional elements of event design onto a single platform.
It is hard for me to name one of the most rewarding customer experiences we’ve had, but the reaction of “this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for” never gets old.
HCP: Let’s shift gears, what led you to become interested in partnering with us?
Randi Bushell: We were first introduced through SVB. During our first call, I felt Jarrid’s excitement for what we’re doing through the computer screen. Finding a potential partner who is that excited about your product, is a dream for Founders.
HCP: What advice do you have for other founders that are seeking early-stage investments?
Randi Bushell: Focus on getting your business to the point where there’s strong evidence that what you’re doing is working, and then go raise. There’s no magic number, but have strong qualitative evidence (customer reviews, partnerships) and initial traction numbers to give investors confidence that this will take off with some capital
HCP: What’s next for Merri?
Randi Bushell: Growing our presence in all key markets with new venues and rental inventory/décor added every week. We are also hiring across every function! Check out job descriptions here.
HCP: Where can readers learn more about your business?
Randi Bushell: Visit us at www.bemerri.com or follow us on Instagram @merri.