The BoF Podcast | Ross Bailey on building a business from humble beginnings

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Ross Bailey’s love of entrepreneurship didn’t start in business school or a corporate job, but at the barbershop his parents owned in suburban London.

“I saw my parents take over this little store and it became their livelihood,” he tells BoF founder and editor Imran Amed, describing himself as a “busy” who rearranged furniture and conducted customer satisfaction surveys from an early age. “For me, entrepreneurship was a game. It was about ‘how can I get people involved and have a little fun?’

This mindset eventually led him to found Appear Here, “the Airbnb of retail,” in 2014. “The story of the world…was that Main Street is dead, no one wants it. And we had a vision contrary to that. When you have small stores and small streets, people want to be there… our data has always backed it up.

In 2019, Appear Here was a global company with 250,000 entrepreneurs registered on the platform and around 30,000 stores launched. The company has facilitated pop-ups for fashion giants like Louis Vuitton, Loewe and Supreme, a bookstore for Michelle Obama’s autobiography, as well as Harry’s House for pop superstar Harry Styles.

Then the pandemic hit. Appear Here went from its best year ever and closing a funding round at a nine-figure valuation, to losing 95% of its revenue with just a few months of cash remaining.

On this week’s episode of the BoF Podcast, Bailey shares her lessons and advice from the early days of building a business and the role leaders play in leading employees and stakeholders through tough times.

Key ideas:

  • The traditional world of commercial real estate and retail is inaccessible and opaque, creating systemic barriers for entrepreneurs from marginalized backgrounds. But small, independent stores are also the backbone of entrepreneurship for immigrants and other communities. “Whether it was the local takeout, whether it was the local store, all of these places…were people who were entrepreneurial, doing something, trying to make a living.”
  • Despite Covid’s impact on retail, Bailey doubled down on Appear Here’s mission. Seeing people return to the streets, even when non-essential retail businesses have been restricted, and queuing for cafes has highlighted the human desire for an in-person community. “I just felt like now was not the time to pivot, now was not the time to relax on our idea or put the brakes on it. In fact, Appear Here would make more sense than ever.”
  • The future of retail is hyper-local, says Bailey, citing examples of global brands playing in cultural niches, such as Adidas and Gucci’s takeover of a men’s social club in Peckham. “It’s not about Fifth Avenue and Regent Street or the Champs-Élysées anymore, it’s about interesting neighborhoods and places.”

Additional Resources:

  • How temporary pop-ups became a permanent strategy: Once a way to temporarily fill vacant storefronts, owners and brands see pop-ups as a long-term fixture in the retail landscape.
  • What Happens When The Ecommerce Boom Ends: Online sales growth is returning to its slower pre-pandemic trajectory. As shoppers return to stores, new service expectations are paving the way for the next chapter in retail.
  • How to open a store in 2022: From seamless online and offline offerings to Metaverse-inspired facilities, physical retail standards have evolved since the pandemic hit.


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