Ruzwana Bashir is the CEO and founder of Peek.com.
Tell us your background story.
I’m originally from the UK, northern England. For most of communities I lived in, women didn’t work. I ended up being very fortunate and doing well in school, and having that opportunity to attend Oxford really changed my life.
What was that revelation to you?
I come from this small place where many people didn’t have jobs. But at Oxford, everybody was very curious. That was a huge window for me. Seeing people that are best in their field made me realize one should have ambition!
What did you take from your upbringing to your current work?
Resilience and persistence and an expectation that I will go and figure it out myself. My upbringing prepared me to always have to go above and beyond because otherwise it wasn’t always clear that things would work out.
How did you open those doors?
The reason I went into finance was because I was this poor kid, and I knew I had to sustain myself with a job that pays well. In hindsight, I should have probably moved to entrepreneurship earlier. In finance, you aren’t creating anything! You’re doing financial engineering. But I value creation, and finance wasn’t giving me a lot of purpose.
I came to America for Business School and it changed my life. The relations here are very different in terms of entrepreneurship. This is a very special place in terms of opportunities. There always is the challenge of being an outsider because one had to fight their way in, instead of feeling “I got this! I know my way.”
I fell in love with startups and my co-founder is great. COVID has been an extraordinary experience for us. I didn’t have a technical background, and I was looking for a partner – it does help to have co-founders, it’s a very challenging rollercoaster experience. Doing it with someone who’s a true partner with a complimentary skillset is very valuable. You have to determine your own values.
Surround yourself with great people, and opportunities will grow.
How did you come up with the idea of Peek.com?
When I went to Blackstone, I was exposed to the experiences of hotel properties. I had a taste of the industry. And I love traveling and doing things on weekends. But the booking process was extremely hard. Mobile is changing everything, and these businesses have access to mobile. There’s a huge market there.
I believe in the power and value of connecting the world with friends. The value connecting experience has never been more important.
What was the business building journey like?
When we started, we thought we would have people book experiences. We didn’t know what was available. So we had spreadsheets, paper and phone calls to do it. We had to bring the whole experience online. We started to build all online activities together. The businesses we work with increased revenue by 30% and saved a lot of time. We help them to elevate the consumer experience.
What was the COVID experience? When going through a massive layoff, how did you maintain trust?
When Lockdown started, our bookings went to zero. We take a small transactional fee from the booking, that’s our revenue model so it was a scary situation for us. We made a very difficult decision of letting people go. We had to prepare for the worst.
We try to be extremely transparent with the team, and tell them, “this is going to be really hard.” The transparency was really key.
Next week, we focused on helping small businesses on getting through this, all of these things that would actually help them come back. That was very rewarding during a time when we all worked crazy long hours and just trying to figure out how to get through.
As time went on, in the summer, we had the biggest summer in terms of bookings. Americans are stuck by lockdowns, and local bookings just skyrocketed. People could do things in the local area.
As virtual work gained popularity, we worked with companies that are looking for virtual experiences. For example, doing a cooking class for the team. We need better ways to do online bonding, and there are way cooler ways to do it. People wanted different experiences as well.
What was your fundraising journey like? Then being on the other side of the table as an angel investing?
Fundraising was milestone-based. A lot of folks understand that you find yourself combating a lot of misconceptions. You need to be aware of what are some of the assumptions that people are making about you, the good and the bad ones. It would be helpful if people say it out, but they don’t. When you walk into that room, just be aware of the misconception, and think about what is a point you could come back to.
I hear a lot from people wanting to find mentors, but actually, what I found the most effective learning model for me have been my peers – people who are in the exact same position as I am. They were the most effective and helpful as we go through the journey and learn together.
Finding a formal way to do that by joining professional associations like FFA is also very healthy.
One thing you wish you had known?
I wish I had known that you don’t have to try to prove yourself in so many ways. When people don’t like your business, it’s ok. You should have the internal confidence that’s it. Only your opinion matters.