Growth & Customers

The secret to launching a festival (without going bust)

Nick Steiert, an events expert and co-founder of wellness festival Wellnergy, reveals how to start your own event without going bankrupt.

Nick Steiert

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With the summer months well under way, we thought of no one better than Nick Steiert to divulge all his top tip on how to launch a festival—without going bust.

Nick is an events expert with companies such as AmeriCamp and Intravelr, as well as Budafest all under his belt. So it was no surprise when he wanted to create a wellness infused festival, Wellnergy.

But despite his extensive experience, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Faced with the task of having to raise £500,000 in two months to avoid bankruptcy and trying to launch a festival months before Covid hit, he’s had his fair share of challenges.

In this episode, we explore how to secure influencers to promote your business, how to stay positive in times of adversity, and the ins and outs of launching a festival.

Here’s his unfiltered advice below:

Are people are still spending money on events during the cost of living crisis?

Bex Burn-Callander:

When I heard about your plans to launch Wellnergy Festival, I had to get you on the show.

I feel like I’ve read quite a lot of doom and gloom about the festival circuit in recent years, a few didn’t survive the pandemic, and then there were some notable disasters like Fyre Festival, Woodstock ’99.

So tell me, why launch a festival?

Nick Steiert:

Well, it’s a wellness festival and, especially after Covid, everybody needs wellness right now.

We need to focus on personal development, on growth, on looking after ourselves. And it’s something I’m super passionate about, and I guess that’s why.

And I want to help inspire others and put on an amazing event and also help society grow.

Bex Burn-Callander:

But there’s a cost of living crisis going on right now.

So tell me, are people spending money on themselves? Are they investing in their personal development now? Is there cash to go on a festival like this?

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, absolutely.

So a couple of points to mention is, the whole festival market in the UK, majority, a lot of people are buying last minute now. So it’s a post-Covid trend that’s developed.

Before Covid, everybody bought things in the advance.

And then when Covid happened, a lot of events got paused or cancelled, and people lost money, so now people are waiting really until the last minute to make a decision.

Equally, the weather plays a big factor as well. So I’ve checked the weather, we are due 22 degrees and sunshine in mid-June.

We purposely picked mid-June because that’s when the weather is typically nice. We went with the 17th. It was my business partner, Dotun, that said, “Look, let’s do it on the 17th.”

It’s actually my birthday on the 18th, and so I was trying to get him to change it because I don’t want to be there the day before running around.

But equally I thought, “You know what?” Dotun was insisting we do on the 17th, so we agreed to do it then.

And so yeah, and also to your point, cost of living, at the end day, there is, but equally, people still want to do things, people still want to go out.

For us, community is a huge buzzword, and we’re trying to create a wellness community. And we also did some market research, and how we’ve priced our event is also really affordable.

It’s £65 for an adult day pass, £44 for students, and £22 for juniors.

One of my financial advisors that I was speaking with said that up here in the north, she had a local event, which was a yoga day, and that was £80, they didn’t have anywhere near the line-up that we’ve put together.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I saw that price and I thought, “Wow”.

That’s reasonable for a full-day event with music, with all these classes and all these big names.

So that must be a smart move, because anyone will be like, “Oh, for a full day entertainment, £65? Probably.”

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, it’s really, really good. And for us, we wanted the day to be really inspirational, we want people to leave supercharged.

We want them to feel like, “Wow,” they’ve felt energised, they’ve had a really fun day, they’ve learned different things, they’ve got involved, they’ve met different people.

The hidden costs of running a festival

Bex Burn-Callander:

Can you tell me how much it takes to get a festival off the ground?

And I’m also interested in the hidden costs. Because you think, right, you’ve got to secure the site, you’ve got to get your acts, you’ve got to get toilets or whatever.

But are there any other hidden costs that only really become apparent when you go full throttle through the planning?

Nick Steiert:

Like you said, the line-up, also very important is you’ve got to have a brand name.

Because from our side, when we created the festival, Dotun and I we were first introduced in January 2020, so two months before we went into lockdown.

And then when lockdown became apparent, we met outside London King’s Cross in June 2020 and said, “Right, next year we want to put on a wellness festival. We’ll need a name for it.”

And I’m like, “What are we going to call it? Because right now it’s just Project Wellness Festival.”

And so from my side, I’m a very energetic person, for me, energy is really important. So I was like, “Why don’t we do something with the word energy and wellness?”

And I thought, “Well, why not combine the two into one?” And that’s how Wellnergy was born.

So you need a brand name. We came up with that ourselves.

You’ve also got to create the logo, you have to create the infrastructure around it.

You also need to, as you said, you have to pay for the talent, you have to pay for marketing costs. That can be quite significant as well because you need people to know about it.

You can put on the best event in the world, but if people don’t know about it, no one’s going to turn up. So you need to be promoting it.

Staffing costs as well to help organise the planning because it’s impossible for one person to do it, so you need a team around you. So those are other costs.

And then you need to pay for the venue and find the different suppliers, the tents, all of this, all the nitty-gritty. You need to get council permission as well.

In order to get council permission, you need to submit the drawings, so you need to do a CAD design of, “This is what it’s going to look like.”

And yeah, we’ve just put the latest version on the website, and somebody on the team put, “Is this the final version?” I said, “It’s the current version’s, not the final version because we’re probably going to tweak it again a bit more.”

And that is life.

Things evolve, you adapt, you look at how you can make it better, more efficient. It takes time.

Nothing is ever perfect first time around, so you just need to be flexible and adaptable as well.

Use your exit fund to start a new business

Bex Burn-Callander:

So what did you budget then for this kind of premier launch festival? Can you share that?

How much you had in the kitty to be like, “Right, this is our fund to make this happen”?

Nick Steiert:

Well, I don’t want to specify a set budget per se.

So my background is I went to Leeds University, studied law, graduated as president of the Law Society in 2008. And rather than going and being a lawyer like my parents imagined, I went down a very different path.

And within a month of graduating I set up an events company called Invasion.

We were basically doing UK events, taking students from say, Leeds to Manchester, Manchester to Nottingham, Nottingham to Birmingham, and then we did that for a couple of years.

And then in 2010 we launched another brand called AmeriCamp and then in 2014 we launched Camp Thailand, and then we launched Camp Bali and Camp Maldives and Camp South Africa.

In 2010, we also expanded the Invasion brand to do trips to places like Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin, Prague, Berlin, Budapest.

We also ran a festival in Budapest called Budafest, which had Fisher headlining. We’ve also helped with the organisation of another festival in Amsterdam called Spring Break Amsterdam.

So I’ve been in the event industry since 2008, and so I’ve got an understanding of how to organise events, trips, festivals.

So in October 2022 Invasion rebranded, and it became known as Intravelr and I actually exited in March of this year. So I exited that, and I went full force and into Wellnergy, so straight away.

Bex Burn-Callander:

So you had some cash in the bank, basically, you’d exited one business and then this is sort of your investment into your next venture.

So you weren’t forced to go to the bank with a breakdown of, “These are all my costs,” you kind of have it covered between you and your co-founder?

Nick Steiert:

Exactly, yeah. So I used the payout from the exit to help fund it.

And it’s ironic, I actually read a quote earlier today about Elon Musk, and it was something like “How bad do you want it?

Elon Musk made £180m from PayPal, he put £100m into SpaceX, £70m into Tesla and £10m into SolarCity and then he had to borrow money to pay the rent.

This is called passion and drive.

Can you make a profit on your first festival?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And tell me, do you expect the first well Wellnergy Festival to make a profit? Is it going to be sort of the loss-leader for the future of the brand?

Can you make money first time, first bang, first festival?

Nick Steiert:

It’s not impossible, but ultimately, we are taking a long-term approach to this. It’s not just a one-year event. Things do take time.

I’ve spoken to other festival organisers as well, and they all said the first one is a loss-leader.

You do that to show a proof of concept, to get people there. And then if you believe in the brand name and what you’re trying to achieve, then it will grow naturally.

Ultimately for me, this is the next step in my career, it’s something I’m in it for the long term and something I’m really passionate about.

So we’re probably not going to make a profit this year, but that’s okay because we believe in the longer term.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s what I read about making it successive festivals, that you have to almost have a five-year minimum outlook.

Because even Glastonbury, arguably the biggest festival in the world, they have to have a £10m contingency fund because some years they don’t make a profit at all.

Some years they do, but so there was one year where it was a £40m turnover, and they made £300,000 profit. It was like a nightmare for them.

So having that long-term view is probably, you have to have that if you’re creating a festival brand now.

Nick Steiert:

100%, yeah. You got to believe in it, you got to believe in the long-term.

Ultimately you’ve got to believe in the mission and trust that things will all work out at the end.

And also, it’s something to focus on in the future and the fact it’s tough makes it more fulfilling and challenging as well.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, that’s interesting, you kind of like the challenge, you feel like that’s the journey of the disruptor, that you want to have some pushback almost?

Nick Steiert:

Exactly that, yeah, it’s part of the journey.

Social media influencers will help to effectively promote your business

Bex Burn-Callander:

I noticed that you have some really big names taking part.

I was looking down the kind of list of people attending, and I saw cold water expert Laura Hoff, who’s obviously daughter of the legendary Wim Hof, and then you’ve got Love Island alumni Dr Alex, who we all know and love.

So is that vital when you create events these days to have people with a massive social media following, for example?

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, absolutely.

And alongside that, Grace Beverley is going to be there. We also have Alice Liveing, Maude Hirst, I don’t know if you’ve seen the TV show Vikings, she was on that.

It’s important that you have names that people relate to because they help generate interest. They all help promote the brand, they’ll help drive awareness of it.

Then also as well, what makes us very different to typical wellness festivals is the music side.

We’ve partnered with a company called The Gardens of Babylon, and I first came across them during lockdown, and their music was really fun, really energetic, really kind of like tribal house and I listened to it a lot during lockdown.

I was like, “Wow, this vibe is amazing.”

And then when we were curating the festival and how it’s going to look like, we thought, why don’t we reach out to them and see if they want to get involved because we want music to be really important?

And they have a really great style, and we did.

Ironically, their founder, she studied law at university as well, but set up an event company instead. So straight away it’s like there was an alignment there.

And she really liked what we were trying to do, what we were trying to achieve. And she said, “Yeah, we’re happy to get The Gardens involved.”

And so they’ve curated the music side, and they reached out for the different DJs and confirmed the line-up and how that was going to work and look like.

It’s been great working with them as well.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I love that, that you go do your yoga class, and then you go get your groove on and shake it all out afterwards with some great DJs.

But that point about the alignment with The Gardens of Babylon founder, that’s really interesting because I wanted to know how you got these big names to sign up, how you got them interested because you don’t have a track record with this particular festival, so it must have been an interesting conversation.

How to approach influencers

Bex Burn-Callander:

So how did you reach out to say Dr Alex George? Were you kind of sliding into his DMs like, “Hey, fancy speaking at a festival?”

How do you make the approach?

Nick Steiert:

Interestingly, Dr Alex George, we wanted to run the first one in June 2021, but that wasn’t possible because of all the restrictions.

So then June 2022 wasn’t possible because travel reopened, and we were super busy. So we started planning for the June 2023 event last August.

And Dr Alex was somebody that we had committed to for the 2021 event. And so it involved going back to him and his team and kick-starting the discussions again.

And it was interesting because he was already confirmed, and I guess when we reached out to him the first time around back in 2021, it was Covid during that time and for us to position ourselves as probably an ambitious wellness festival because we just weren’t able to, we thought things would be reopened by June, that wasn’t possible.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Little did we know.

Nick Steiert:

Exactly, yeah, two years later. But I mean, the good thing is because I have other brands that had reputation we could approach on that behalf as well.

So the Invasion brand was established as a travel brand. People like Dr Alex, great, they also want to partner with brands as well.

And the great thing about the brand Wellnergy is there are a lot of positive connotations that come with it.

Always be aware of your financial position

Bex Burn-Callander:

So I want to hear some of the lessons that you’ve taken from your previous ventures and brought into Wellnergy.

And you mentioned earlier that one of the things that you are conscious of with events is that things change all the time, and you have to be focused on the current plan, but also be aware that things are going to change, you’re going to have to shift some things around a bit, you’re going to have to be flexible.

And I love that bit of advice.

But what other, I suppose skills or practical knowledge have you brought into this business from your previous ventures?

Nick Steiert:

So the other thing I’ve learned the hard way is figures need to be airtight, and you need to know the position because every decision you make is driven by a financial impact, and you need to know what the figures are, and you need to be aware of what’s coming up, what is due when.

So financials and figures is the other thing I’ve learned that’s really important.

Also, marketing and branding as well, getting the festival all out there, getting people talking about it, getting people engaged with it, getting people interacting with it.

You might get older but your demographic doesn’t—stay focused on new trends such as TikTok

Bex Burn-Callander:

Do you have a killer marketing tactic that you use?

Do you know that particular wording or particular kind of image or particular time of day or something tends to work really well for getting people engaged about an event?

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, TikTok is really important these days. A lot of the people that we’re trying to target are on TikTok, so we’re just about to start some TikTok ads.

Equally, brand ambassadors, people that have big followings, that’s also a good way for a brand to position itself as trustworthy because you can partner up with people that do have that influence and people trust.

So I’d say definitely say get brand ambassadors and utilise TikTok.

I mean, for me, when I first started in business in 2008, Facebook was the new kid on the block then. And if you were to say to me as a kid, I was going to own a travel company, I would’ve been like, “No chance in hell.”

But through Facebook, it allowed us to reach large numbers of people, it allowed us to talk to them, connect with them.

And yeah, then Facebook people stopped using it as much and it became all about Instagram.

We’re definitely seeing a trend shift into TikTok now because I guess, that’s the other thing, is every year I get a year older, but our demographic stays the same age.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s a great point about TikTok, and we have had some episodes on this show focusing on how to build a brand on TikTok so that’s useful.

And then I always like to hear about the challenges, Nick. So the road to a successful event is never smooth.

Raising £500,000 in two months

Bex Burn-Callander:

So tell me one or two examples of some stumbling points in that road and how you resolved those challenges.

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, well challenges are cash, definitely, as I mentioned earlier, being on top of the figures.

So my toughest lesson in business was in 2017 where we got told we had two weeks raise £150,000, or we were bankrupt.

We were completely blind sided by what happened, and we had a CFO at the time that was on top of the figures or meant to be on top of the figures, and two weeks before she told us we had a tax problem and that we had to spend money.

So we went from that to two weeks later, we have two weeks raise £150,000, or we’re bankrupt. It’s like, “Wow.”

Bex Burn-Callander:

What did you do? Did you have to sell a kidney?

How did you do that?

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, it’s quite an interesting story.

So at the time, this happened on Thursday the 20th of July, that’s when we got told that news. And I was meant to be going to Tomorrowland Festival at the time, ironically, the music festival.

And I had to change my plans because I got called back to an emergency board meeting in Manchester where we got told the news, and I wasn’t aware that’s what it was going to be because I then changed my plans to head there on the Friday.

And in the end, I spent the Friday just calling short-term finance options. Because again, at the time we were doing a lot in revenue. I think we had over £3m in revenue, so we had a good business that was doing well financially from that perspective, it was just we weren’t on top of the cost.

And by the end of the day I spoke to about 20 different companies and on paper had offers that I think we had 10 different options that would fund it.

And I then went to Tomorrowland on the Saturday, so Saturday, the 22nd of July, went there for 24 hours and I thought, “Yeah, this is bad. The money that we’re going to raise, we need to pay that back.”

Equally, I just went there to get inspired and get so much inspiration and be in a different zone and kind of think about how to work on the business rather than be in the business.

Then I went back to Manchester, and I went on the Monday and spoke with my business partner and said, “Look, ultimately we can raise this cash, and then we’re going to have to pay it back, but it keeps us in the game.”

And then once I finished that meeting with him, we had another call come in from our partner in Thailand, and he said that the money that we thought was coming in a couple of weeks, that was no longer the case because a lot of people had cancelled.

And then that became an extra £200,000 on top. Plus we had payroll of about £50,000 per month to pay. So we had close to £500,000 we had to raise in the next two months to stay afloat.

And we did.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I mean, I’m glad there was a happy ending to that story, but oh…

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, in the end my parents, bless them, they had to remortgage their house partially, and they put £100,000 into the business.

On top of that, we found a new supplier for our Camp Thailand programme where we renegotiated the terms into something that was more favourable. And then also we made sales over the next few months.

So we managed to plug it, but we had a three-year repayment plan kind of cycle that we had to pay everything back.

And just as we were going to come out of that three-year repayment, Covid hit, and then we went right back down again.

We live and we learn—surviving Covid as an events company

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, that’s an insane challenge.

But no wonder you are so on top of costs now, and are you like a spreadsheet jockey where you’ve got everything highlighted red, green when it’s going in, when it’s coming out?

Are you that guy?

Nick Steiert:

Exactly, exactly that. I need visibility, I need to know what’s happening.

Because just coming back to 2020, we thought we were going to come out of our three-year of repayment cycle and then getting hit with Covid, for us being a travel company, travel got shut down for two years, we went two years without sending people away.

And when you have a young team, again, it was very, very tough to try and motivate them and coach them through it. And we were trying to find victories, but there were a lot of setbacks along the way.

But everything did work out in the end and things worked out for the better.

So again, I think the other lesson in that is you just got to keep the faith, even when it sometimes seems like there’s really dark moments, it’s show up, work hard and trust that it will work out in the end.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I also now understand the motto you’ve got on your Instagram, your quote there is, “We live, or we learn.” And I thought, “I’ll ask him about that,” and now I get it.

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, that’s exactly it. We win, or we learn, and that is life. And when you have that mindset, you never lose as well, because it’s either winning or learning and learning equals growth as well.

Stay positive and you will manifest positive outcomes your way

Bex Burn-Callander:

And just finally, Nick, because you’ve got so much passion and enthusiasm, and you’re talking about these dark days with a smile on your face, just how do you keep that mindset, that positive mindset?

And you’ve brought this up a few times during the call that basically you bring all this positive energy to everything that you do.

So where does that come from? How do you do that? How do you maintain that?

Nick Steiert:

I think it’s just how you feel on the inside.

So for me, I like to radiate positivity, I like to try and be a positive influence to people. Sometimes people say I live in la-la land, where reality is not true.

But equally, perception is reality, and it’s how you feel. And if you feel like things are going to work out, things are positive then you can manifest it as well.

I once heard, one of my business idols was a guy called Tony Shea, and he talked about the difference between a realist and a pessimist and how again, it’s just outlook.

It’s like there’s another quote that says, “Those who say you can and those who say you can’t, are both usually right,” and it’s true, it’s just you have a can-do approach or a can’t-do approach, and if you believe you can do it, it will manifest itself.

So I guess that’s why, it’s at my core, I try and be as positive as possible and emit a lot of positive energy.

Expanding Wellnergy in 2024

Bex Burn-Callander:

And we are recording this, I think, just a few weeks before your festival happens, but when we go live, I think it will have just taken place.

So do you want to tell us a bit about your plans for Wellnergy 2024 and tell us where people can go and check it out, maybe buck the trend by buying tickets a whole year early?

Tell us all about that.

Nick Steiert:

Well, we want to definitely grow the Wellnergy brand into something bigger. We have plans to grow into 2024. We want to do an event in the north as well.

So the first event’s going to happen in London, we also want to do a northern one. And also as well, we’re having discussions about how we can expand Wellnergy into being a general wellness brand.

So we’ve been speaking to a hotel, for example, about us organising Wellnergy events at the hotel so that’s something that we’re looking at.

And yes, I guess it’s, how do we connect ourselves even closer to the wellness industry and also potentially take it abroad.

We’re inspired by some big American festivals like Coachella, Burning Man.

Could Wellnergy USA work? That’s something that would potentially fit in the two-year plan.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, you have experience doing that. You are the great exporter of events, so this would be a familiar path for you.

Nick Steiert:

Yeah, absolutely. So kind of makes sense.

So I think let’s also not be too ambitious at the beginning, people are saying we’re already being a bit too ambitious with what we’ve put together.

So let’s have the first event, let’s show proof of concept and then let’s brew it from there.

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Want to know more about Nick Steiert and Wellnergy?

You can find out more on Nick by following his Instagram or you can check out his LinkedIn.

For more on Wellnergy, check out their website or drop them a follow on Instagram.

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