Founded in 2019, Discussion Box is a Bristol-based startup that helps global brands bring together high-level stakeholders for conversations that change history. Lisa Carter is the inspirational woman behind the bootstrapped business and is leading change for many reasons. Discussion Box is currently the only black-woman owned and run business in the industry, and, in its first year of trading in 2021, it generated over €1.3 million.
The virtual events platform carves out a space for brands, communities, and individuals to come together and connect with changemakers from around the world – a place to empower and explore freedom and culture and give space to underrepresented communities.
“I wanted to include people from all around the world, from different time zones, cultures, backgrounds, and put them in the same room, where they could access life-changing information they could genuinely use to nurture and expand their knowledge.”
As well as being the CEO and founder of this venture, Lisa is also the founder and designer of jewellery brand NIKAO, which Beyonce and Zendaya are fans of.
We chatted to Lisa to learn more about her story and her plans for Discussion Box in the years ahead.
Can you share more about the vision behind Discussion Box? What initially prompted you to create the company?
Having been in the events industry for 10+ years, my continued pain point was the inability to reach audiences located outside of a particular geographical or physical location. The events I hosted were always rich in content but it often felt a huge disappointment that other people were unable to benefit from the knowledge and insight shared at the events due to them being restricted by their physical location.
It was important to me that my event participants and audiences were as diverse as possible and a reflection of the world we live in today. Therefore, I decided to create a platform which would remove the geographical barriers, and virtual events seemed like the way to go.
Discussion Box’s mission has always been very clear and intentional:
We make powerful insights and virtual experiences available to anyone in any location.
We believe this helps bring the world closer, democratising event experiences on a global scale. Our vision was to provide a platform that helped brands, creatives and communities reach and engage global audiences in a way that is memorable and meaningful; whilst generating industry-wide recognition and actively shifting culture.
You bootstrapped the business to over £1m in earnings in its first year which is incredibly impressive! What were some of the learnings from the first year? Do you plan to raise funds in future?
I believe and have learnt that as a business, you are limited by the abilities and willingness of your people. Although I understand the importance of recruiting certain skill sets into the business, it is even more important to hire people with the right mindset who understand the complexities of working in a startup during its infancy.
I learnt the necessity of nurturing talent and developing your teams from within.
Obtaining the right balance of staff meant prioritising recruitment from a place of like-minded character and cultural parity as opposed to documented skills and experience.
With regards to raising funding, my ideal scenario would be to continue bootstrapping and sustaining the business independently of investors. However, I anticipate Discussion Box being a huge success and understand external investment may be required to scale the business at pace; so I am open to taking the funding route to ensure the best possible outcome and future for the business.
Discussion Box customers include industry-leading companies such as Comcast, Intel and Google. How does your platform differ compared to other virtual events solutions and what do you believe is the key to hosting a great event?
One of the main differentiating factors that I believe sets Discussion Box aside from other virtual event platforms is the onus on building and bringing communities together. With this being the focus, I understand that although the technology behind the platform is superb, it is simply an enabler. Our DNA is what makes us different and this is the draw card for users and is what helps us cut through the noise.
With a saturated and noisy event marketplace, the key to hosting a great event is the experience. An event must be memorable, engaging, valuable, worth someone’s time commitment and leave them wanting more.
Virtual events really took off during the pandemic, however, now we are seeing a return to in-person events. Has this impacted how you have thought about the company’s future growth?
I believe there has always been space for physical and virtual events to coexist; the pandemic has not and will not change this. The pandemic has simply accelerated the uptake of virtual events and given businesses an opportunity to educate their users on the importance of digital. If anything, the pandemic has helped this narrative and served it and Discussion Box well. This has only increased my confidence in the future success and growth of the business.
Now that we have the world’s attention and understanding of what virtual events can achieve, Discussion Box can further compound this narrative.
What is your main focus as a business over the next 12 months? What are you most excited about?
My main focus for Discussion Box is to continue growing our communities and creating awareness of the platform and how well it can serve users.
With the soon-to-be launched subscription-based SaaS model, I am excited to see Discussion Box provide a global stage for more voices to be heard. Wider audiences will be reached and people, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented communities, will have the option to access life changing information through virtual events.