From Inspiration to Visualization: Randi Bushell’s Mission to Streamline Event Planning

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.


Randi bushell headshot

Randi Bushell, co-founder and CEO of Merri, is disrupting the event planning industry by bridging the gap between envisioning an event and bringing it to life.

In the frustrating process of trying to piece together a visual of her wedding, Randi came across one area where the market fell short. Drawing on her experience in ecommerce, she saw an opportunity to create an all-in-one platform for the events industry, creating a marketplace of everything you need for an event, streamlining the entire process through immersive 3D visualization, predictive workflows, and collaboration tools.

We asked Randi about her journey as a first-time founder, her methodical approach to fundraising, and the advice she has for others blazing their own path.

 

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start this business?

A: The idea for Merri hit me while I was planning my own wedding. I am a visual person and struggled to make decisions with my vendors because I had no idea how everything would actually come together. I attempted to cobble the pieces together by arranging images on top of each other in PowerPoint, and I just really could not believe there wasn’t a better way for brides (or anyone planning any type of event, for that matter) to work through this. You’re spending so much money and so much time on a single event, yet there’s no proper tooling to really facilitate the process. I also saw what was happening in the interior design market, where companies were using 3D visualization as an entry point into a marketplace and recognized the applicability of that model in the events market. 

 

Q: What was your biggest challenge during the fundraising process, and how did you mitigate it?

A: My biggest challenge during the fundraising process was that I had never done it before, and doing anything for the first time is hard! When you’re new to something, you lack your own perspective and sometimes take others’ opinions when you shouldn’t. After a few meetings, I realized that if I took everyone’s advice then I would not only drive myself crazy, but Merri wouldn’t have a coherent vision. I had to find my voice, stick to my gut, and know which advice to follow and which to ultimately ignore.

 

Q: What was the best piece of fundraising advice you got?

A: The best fundraising advice that I’ve ever received was that investors like to invest in lines, not dots. It sounds so obvious, but you need to cultivate relationships with investors much earlier than when you set out to raise. Have conversations early and take note of what their primary hesitations are. Use the next six to 12 months as an opportunity to convert them for your next round. Send them personal updates about key milestones that directly disprove their hesitations. This not only shows that you’re execution-oriented, but also allows you to build a rapport with them so that when it comes time to raise, it’s an easy conversation and not a formal pitch.

 

Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do? 

A: Prior to starting Merri, I spent my career in ecommerce (Jet.com, Walmart.com, Macys.com), which allows me to bring a really unique perspective to the events industry. I saw an opportunity to build a marketplace across all categories involved in designing an event—furniture rentals, linens, lighting, florals, and décor—and allow people to discover items in an immersive 3D environment. We have built predictive workflows and recommendations engines to help consumers discover products in an extremely visual way. For the past five to 10 years, everyone has been focused on creating inspiration, and hooking consumers with content, but nobody has focused on building layers on top of that inspiration to actually facilitate bookings. At Merri, we’re bridging that gap.

 

Q: How did you identify and approach the right investors for your company?

A: We took a very methodical approach to building out a target investor list. We first looked at all funds that invest in pre-seed and seed rounds, then narrowed it down to funds who invest in SaaS and marketplace companies, and filtered out funds that would view us as competitive to a company in their portfolio. We then scored that list using criteria such as how active they’ve been in the past year, if they’ve invested in similar technologies, and if they’ve written any literature about analogous business models or problems. Once we had that prioritized list, we found first- and second-degree connections on LinkedIn and started asking for introductions.

 

Q: What is one challenge you have faced as a female founder? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in a similar situation?

A: I got feedback from a potential investor about a year ago that has really stuck with me. He told me that the beginning of my pitch was really focused on what we’ve done to date, and I didn’t get to the vision for Merri until too late in the pitch. Apparently, this is a common trait with female founders because we feel like we need to prove ourselves by listing out our accomplishments to date, instead of selling our big vision for our company. My advice to female founders is to not get caught up in the details. The details will work themselves out if you have investors, customers, and a team that is in lockstep with your vision. Don’t be afraid to sell the vision…it’s your job.

 

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

A: Take it one step at a time. And then cut that step in half. You’ll think you’ve descoped things appropriately, and that you’re focusing on the right set of priorities. But I promise that you’ll look back every few months and realize that you could’ve done even less and focused even more. Your future self will thank you (and so will your team).


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