Q&A: Michelle Dewberry, LikeBees.com

Why did you decide to launch LikeBees?

Having a child is expensive. It can be tough to come up with endless ways to keep your family entertained. I wanted to create a bespoke deals site that helped families to live the life they want for less. We broker our own deals and promote them on LikeBees.com and through Twitter, allowing people to spread the word virtually. We went live four weeks ago on the 17th March. It's been a rollercoaster ever since.

Are people spending freely again?

If money's tight, the last thing you'll cut spending on is your child. You don't want your family to go without. This puts LikeBees in the sweet spot as it's a recession-proof niche in the marketplace.

Let's cut to the chase. Are you trying to copy Groupon?

No. We are not a target or a competitor for Groupon. The online deals space is crowded. Players like Living Social, Kelkoo and of course Groupon have the bulk of the mass-buying market. But LikeBees isn't a mass-buying concept. We're a family-focussed deals site. It's slightly different. Would we feature a spa deal? Yes. But it'll be a mother's spa with a crèche. Would we list a hair salon? Absolutely. But it'll be a children's hair salon.

How does your business model differ from the other players?

We want to work alongside small businesses to help them grow. If we're featuring a baby massage class that takes place once a week in the village hall, we don't want thousands of people buying the voucher. That would put them out of business - there's no way they could fulfil orders that big. But, we want to become a real enabler for these kinds of entrepreneurs. If a customer wants to launch a new class, I want them to come to us and know they can fill that class through LikeBees. If you think about it, we're a completely risk-free marketing tool for them.

Doesn't that limit your growth potential considerably?

I don't think this model limits us in terms of growth. We'll be featuring multiple deals every day for multiple cities. If I thought this was a small thing that would only make me £1.50, I would not be investing my time and money into it.

How did you meet co-founder Vicky Zadeh?

I met Vix when I was 18. We were both working at Kingston Communications: she was in accounts and I was in IT. Then I went off and did The Apprentice and she became a mum. Our lives went in separate directions. We met up and started thinking about how we could work together. I was already in the discount space with Chiconomise. We launched Daily Chic together and began to research opportunities in the deal-buying space. And that's how LikeBees came about really.

Who does what in the company?

We're a start-up so it's all hands on deck. We don't have clearly delineated roles, except in a few obvious cases. Vicky is good with figures, so she handles the finance side. She's also a mum, so she knows kind of deals that parents want us to offer. I do more of the PR and marketing work.

Why the name 'LikeBees'?

We acquired the brand. I came across LikeBees about a year ago and liked the name. When I found out the company had stopped trading, I bought the whole package. Funnily enough, the assets included the domain, website, logo and brand name. When we got hold of it all, we completely redesigned the logo and rebuilt the website from scratch, so it's a completely different company now.

What's the focus of your energies at the moment?

I'm really excited about our Beekeeper campaign. Rather than have hoards of sales people work for us, we decided to recruit parents. We launched the campaign in The Sun this week. We're looking to hire 200 people - we call them Beekeepers - to work for LikeBees. Beekeepers will be allocated a local postcode and they will have to track down and sign up local companies for their area. So, for example, our Beekeeper for Bristol will manage the Bristol page, supported by us - the Beehive!

Are you very strict on your commission terms?

Well, the Beekeepers have a framework that they need to work towards, But let's be honest, if McDonalds comes to use and offers an 80% discount on children's parties, I'm not going to turn them away if they won't pay the full commission we're after. We're a young business and we're pushing for aggressive growth.

What's next on the business plan?

So far, we've just launched in London but we want to roll out LikeBees nationwide. The next city should go live within the coming months. We're going to add a lot more content to the site too. Interesting articles for families - what to do with the kids at Easter, that kind of thing.

Howe are you funding growth?

It's been self-funded so far but we are looking for investment at the moment.

Is Lord Sugar an angel candidate?

I haven't asked Lord Sugar. We're not just looking for cash - you can get money from anywhere. We're looking for an investor with lots of clout in the online space. Someone to bring insight as well as financial help.

How have you drummed up interest in LikeBees?

The Sun campaign has been fantastic. I'm also on Sky News every other week so I always get a plug for the business in there. We also did four days at the Baby Show, which was purely a data mining exercise. That, coupled with the pre-launch online ads and the hype on Twitter - Jeff Brazier tweeted about us to his thousands of followers - has really paid off. We've got nearly 20,000 sign-ups to the newsletter so far. Not bad for four weeks in business.

Any mistakes so far?

Should we have delayed the launch? Probably. We had a massive issue with our payment platform and we had to upgrade to a whole new system. But that's what happens when you're a start-up. You do things on the run. It's was an incredibly useful learning experience for us, and we used to launch to find all the bugs in the system, collate feedback from merchants and customers and generally work out how to improve our service. When you look at it like that, it wasn't a mistake.

Are you worried about other businesses stealing your idea?

I'm surprised no copycats have come along already! We're not naive; we know that other companies will follow in our footsteps. But it's up to us to create a value proposition for our customers. They say that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", so I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's a sign that we're doing something right.

What's your predicted turnover for year one?

It's a little too early to say. This is a numbers game: number of deals times the size of the audience. We need to crunch the numbers.

Five-year plan?

I want LikeBees to have a presence within the school gates. It should be a website that parents chat about when they're picking up their kids. We're already finding that companies are starting to come to us and offer deals, so the growth should be massive.

Are you getting tired of your association with The Apprentice?

The Apprentice is something I'm really proud of. It was a massive achievement. But now I want to have more strings to my bow. I want to be Michelle Dewberry, who won The Apprentice and... That's why you won't find me going to Apprentice reunions, I'm not going to do an Apprentice Come Dine With Me special. But I'm so pleased to have won the show in the first place.

Watch our video interview with Michelle Dewberry

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