Mehram Sumray-Roots is a leading woman in tech, having been recognised as a 30 under 30 for her work behind YADA Events. Launching in 2015, YADA Events runs a wide range of events from conferences to concerts with attendee numbers ranging from about 50 to 15,000. The startup have also developed an events app that focuses on social and emotional engagement, allowing guests to interact and share their perspective before, during and after the event. It is about bringing communities together through live event experiences and allowing them to feel part of a bigger picture and YADA can say they have been used by the likes of IKEA, Domino’s, L’Oréal and Deliveroo. Impressive if you ask us! Just how easy was it to get YADA Events off the ground and what difficulties does one face when building an app? Find out here when we caught up wit Mehram herself…
Name: Mehram Sumray-Roots
Age : 25
Where’s home? A tiny village called Denham in Buckinghamshire
Profession: Product Director and CMO
Company Name: YADA Event Technology Limited and The Freshers Festival Group
If you went to university was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do?
Definitely not! When deciding what I wanted to do at University I chose Spanish and Italian because I wanted to learn a skill rather than head down a set career path. I thought with two languages, teaching experience and whole host of different modules under my belt it would be quite easy to go down any route I fancied. My whole idea after University was to do a law conversion course, however here I am with an event tech company and student events company… it couldn’t really be more different!
When starting this project back in 2015 when I left University, I literally said I would give myself 6 months… 3 years later and we are still here. We have acquired two more fantastic business and are growing really quickly.
What is YADA Events and when did you launch?
YADA Events which is part of the Expede Group, has experience in event organisation, coordination and consultancy. We have helped clients run a wide range of events from conferences to concerts with attendee numbers ranging from about 50 to 15,000 and launched in 2015. We specialise on start-up events at the moment that we host in co-working spaces across London and have had the chance to work with some really cool brands.
We have also developed an events app that focuses on social and emotional engagement, allowing guests to interact and share their perspective before, during and after the event. It is about bringing communities together through live event experiences and allowing them to feel part of a bigger picture. This is really exciting and we have been used by companies like IKEA, Domino’s, L’Oréal and Deliveroo. We are also launching a University based platform before the end of this year which has a similar concept but is more focused on bringing academics, students and administrators together.
How did the idea for YADA Events come about?
Expede IT Solutions (my dad’s company) which is part of the Expede Group have worked within the Higher Education sector for a long time and when I graduated, my dad wanted me to get involved to provide a young fresh perspective on a platform that we had already been talking about developing. A University based platform that is a self-service management and social collaboration platform, that is designed to engage students, empower teachers and assist universities through the key stages of recruitment, enrolment, ongoing teaching/learning, and all the way through to the successful conversion of graduates to active alumni.
That is how the YADA app idea came about.
When we tested the concept with students, we noticed that they had a lot of use for it within their own social lives so we built the event side over the Campus side first and started hosting events with student-focused companies / Universities. From here, we were branched into other event sectors which led us to acquiring the Events Marketing Machine and Freshers Festival.
Now we feel as if we have progressed far enough on the events side and done enough research to revisit and finish the Campus side too, so all of the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for YADA Events?
The initial challenges like any start-up were funding, making sure we spent plenty of time working on the business as well as in it and finding enough hours in the day to do everything! You need to wear a lot of hats when running multiple start-up companies and it is challenging but incredibly rewarding as you are learning (most of the time from mistakes!) all the time.
No company is an overnight success and it take a lot of effort to get there. We are still incredibly far off from where we want to be but are slowly climbing the mountain, even if every now and then a giant avalanche threatens to throw us off the edge. You just have to remember to be patient and not be afraid to help because everyone has been through the same thing!
How have you raised investment?
We have raised investment both from Angel investors and internally within the board however we are now leading up to our big funding round which is what we really need to take off. Developing one platform isn’t cheap, let alone two and also we need to hire more staff. The team we have at the moment works like a well-oiled machine but we all have so much on that we don’t want to burn out.
Any advice you could give others looking for investment?
Really take your time to think about your investment journey and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. There are so many grants available which we didn’t take enough advantage of at the beginning because we didn’t have the time to research what was out there. It is very easy to rush into situations and then be disappointed by them because they don’t turn out to be what you are looking for. Once you get your formula right (and it also takes a few twists and turns to get there) things will start to fall into place.
Have you got a mentor?
I have been really lucky to have lots of mentors on my journey and I definitely wouldn’t be here without them. The great thing about the Expede Group is that the Directors have worked in various industries for over 30 years, so are a wealth of knowledge! I have also met some great individuals at networking events and I think the great thing about the London start-up scene is that we are all really supportive so finding a mentor is a must.
What is the hardest thing about running an app that no one tells you?
It takes a hell of a lot of time and finding developers that you can trust to do the job is actually really hard. We have struggled a lot between outsourcing or going in-house with developers and because of the scale of our platforms we have always outsourced which hasn’t always worked out in our favour. Luckily though, we now have a great team working on the app and things are coming together.
Any tips for anyone thinking of setting up an app?
Do plenty of research and get someone techy on-board right from the start! With me being a creative, I am always thinking of new ideas and just think that every one of them must be possible but it isn’t always the case and you definitely need to expect longer timescales.
Also, do your research. There are almost 4 million apps on the app store so check that someone isn’t doing something that you want to do. Competition is so high but if you find your angle, you can make it work.
Do you ever doubt yourself?
Every single day! We really believe in what we are doing but we are realistic about the work that we need to do to get there. I think if you don’t doubt yourself then you won’t necessarily make it because I have met a lot of arrogant start-up entrepreneurs in my time and it is safe to say that they are no longer working with their original idea. Building connections with people and a community around you is the best way to get your name out there, you can’t do that if no one wants to have a coffee with you or is already sick of hearing about your “amazing idea”. The whole fake it until you make it thing doesn’t really work.
How are you marketing YADA Events?
We do a lot of our marketing on social media, via email and also in person at face to face events.
How do you think YADA Events differs from the competition out there?
There isn’t an app out there that does exactly what we do. We listened to event organisers when they said that they were fed up of using 5 apps and just wanted to use one that did it all. We also have the complete package in the group with IT Consultants, Event Marketing professionals and Event Organisers so there is a whole support network around the app.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
We have made a lot of mistakes and have probably taken longer to get the app to the right level then we should have but I don’t think I would do it any differently. Learning from these mistakes has meant that we have come a lot further in terms of our business and concept, plus we won’t make those mistakes further down the line where it could be detrimental rather than a bump in the road.
Anything you would tell yourself then, that you know now?
Don’t rush and think that you will get it right the first time. When you are learning a lot from scratch, it takes experience to be able to do things properly at the first attempt. Also, don’t listen to the people that act like they know it all because all it will do is make you feel shit about yourself and they probably don’t know any more than you do – they just aren’t willing to put in the effort to learn.
How big is your team and what do you look for in candidates who want to work for you?
On the YADA side we have four staff members including myself and in the Expede side there are 6, so there are 10 of us in total. Every year we host a YADA Academy where we take on 10-15 students from Universities across the UK and do a 12 week programme that includes workshops to enhance their skills. This year the Academy was great and the team really pulled together and learnt so much.
YADA is an exciting fast-paced, high-tech and start-up business that is really making an impression on the events industry. Although we may be a small team, we work well together and have an incredible time. The perks of working in the events industry is that it is our job to be out and about, talking to people and building new relationships. Networking is at the heart of our company so it is really important for us to build a team of social, fun and interesting people.
What’s a typical day for you working on YADA Events?
There is no typical day! Every day is completely different and we all do a little bit of everything. One thing that is a constant, is that we are more like a family so we all help each other out and have a lot of fun doing whatever it is we need to do. Whether that is setting up a festival or answering emails!
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
I am lot more resilient than I thought I would be and have learnt to have a lot more patience when things don’t turn out how I want them to.
Any fuck ups along the way?
There have been some fuck ups for sure – there have been small fuck ups and there have been big ones but they are all part of our journey and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We should have probably learnt a lot more about what it takes to build an app before starting out but we learnt pretty quickly and we are still learning every day.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up YADA Events?
Building a fantastic team and seeing other people passionate about what we are doing. We are at a really exciting stage where things are coming together so it just takes that little last push and leap of faith then it should all hopefully work out okay. We have been shortlisted for 3 awards at this year’s Event Technology Awards and we never thought that would happen so things are moving in the right direction!
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
Give it a go. If you don’t try, you will never know whether it will work or not and your 20s are the perfect time to make mistakes.
What do you think is next for YADA Events in the next year?
The next year is shaping up to be huge for us as we have just hosted the Fresher’s Festival in Glasgow and London, we are attending Event Tech Live and the Event Tech Awards with YADA and I was recognised as a 30 Under 30 for two leading publications in the industry. This all helps us get our name out there as we are launching both the Powered by YADA and YADA Campus platforms and gaining some great clients. We are at that stage now between start-up and scale-up so we are excited to see what the future holds.
What’s the dream?
The dream would be to be able to run my business from wherever I am in the world. I think so many people believe that running a start-up (especially a tech start-up) is living the laptop lifestyle but it really isn’t. I love travelling, so it would be great to be able to do both and still feel connected no matter where I end up.
Just for fun…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are Gin, events and travel
One start up I’m excited about is The London Lightbox
The Twenty Mile Club is a fantastic idea and something close to home. I’m looking forward to working with the Twenty Mile Club on some exciting projects and plans and seeing them become a reality!
Find YADA Events online and on their social media handles here