Meet our Co-Founder Josh Burke
Josh Burke is the co-founder of Bongo’s Bingo with his business partner Jonny Bongo
May 22, 2020
Meet our Co-Founder Josh Burke
Josh Burke is the co-founder of Bongo’s Bingo with his business partner Jonny Bongo. Here he talks about the incredible journey they have both been on, going from one show in Liverpool five years ago to taking their Bingo rave concept worldwide.
Josh manages the business side of the company leading its expansion and working with venues and teams around the UK and wider world, as well as managing the team in the Liverpool HQ.
Describe the last 5 years of Bongo’s Bingo in 5 words?
A really crazy wild ride.
As the business brain of the company, you have managed Bongo’s Bingo’s growth from a weekly show in Liverpool to now almost 50 locations around the world, with some months featuring over 130 shows. What is it like managing that kind of growth?
It’s been an amazing journey going from our weekly show in Liverpool to 130 shows a month at venues across the world. Literally bonkers how it has all happened.
From the business side, there is always loads happening at once and there have been some really important moments. I’m particularly proud how we got Content, our own Liverpool venue, built in 8 weeks. The site was literally a wasteland in Cains Brewery Village, and we designed it and then got it constructed into this brilliant purpose-built space for all of our shows in the city. We are planning to use the venue and work with local charities too later this year and will also be opening an outdoor area and re-working the entrance to the entire site.
As well as our own venue, we work with heaps of venues around the world and thankfully we’ve got an amazing team of people both at our Liverpool HQ and out on the road that bring our shows to life.
Its gutting to have to pause our growth as the world deals with Covid-19 but we’re busy preparing for our best ever parties and even more venues when we all come out of this at the other end.
How would you describe a Bongo’s Bingo show?
Picture Oktoberfest style seating with everyone focused on their bingo game and not missing their numbers. Mad prizes from Henry Hoovers through and cardboard cut outs to hundreds of pounds. In-between our 5 bingo games we have dance rounds including our famous 15 minute rave round which sees everyone on their feet dancing. Inclusivity is at the heart of what we do and we get all walks of life partying with us from 18 to 91 year olds.
On paper it sounds so simple – bingo, music, dancing and prizes. What really makes your concept so successful?
We have always kept our focus on doing all shows in-house, to maintain a very high level of consistency in all locations, whether that’s in Manchester or Melbourne. That’s helped us become the definitive bingo experience for so many people. Everywhere you get the same sense of escapism, of letting loose, of everyone coming together and this really rare sense of unity and community.
Did you have any idea how successful it would be?
No, not at all. Jonny and I realised early on that people were really craving something different though. And what we do is very immersive and inclusive and experiential. So in the early days we could see a lot of people were bored with ‘normal’ nights out – bars, a club, a gig. They wanted more from going out and also something they could all share on social media, not sweaty, shadowy pics from a dancefloor at 6am on Instagram. It’s the way people become immersed in the whole experience – winning a prize is great, but it’s literally more about taking part and all being there together. It’s competitive but also great social fun, which is part of our success.
What have been the biggest challenges – personally and for the company?
It’s been challenging at times as the company has grown so fast to keep what makes Bongo’s Bingo so special the same. We have evolved into the defining bingo night out for millions of people during the last few years and we have worked really hard to make that happen, but also internally as a company to keep its heart and soul the same. This is essential for Jonny and me. So the culture of the business still feels like it did when it was just a few of us driving around the north, all crammed into a car, doing 4 to 5 shows a week, to now where there are over 100 people employed here and we sometimes have 30 shows a week.
What have you learnt from these challenges?
I’ve learnt to stay true to our brand and to always think of our customers who're coming to us for a bonkers fun filled night out. With these two things in mind, it can really help when making decisions. We’ve packed a hell of a lot into 5 years, and I have learnt pretty much not to be surprised unless it is something Jonny has done like giving out extra prizes to Ibiza without telling me. I do believe the next 5 years are going to be even wilder and we are all ready for it and raring to go!
There’s real escapism and community at all Bongo’s Bingo’s shows – why do you think that is, where does that feeling come from?
I think more and more people crave an escape for a few hours from normality. You go into a venue for any of our shows and you enter a different world. Everyone is in it together, there’s no judgement, you can dance well or dance badly, meet new friends whilst partying with old ones, you might end up on stage winning a prize or you’re suddenly hugging Dave from Telford during the rave round and N-Trance’s Set You Free. The shows are always funny too, but it’s laughing with, not at - it’s a very warm sort of humour. There has been a lot of political and social upheaval across the world in the last few years, and I feel we are all fed up from that and need a break. We create shows that take people away from the day to day and put them in the centre of the action. Then it’s all over by 11pm, you’ve had this wild night and are back tucked up in bed by midnight.
Fave special guest?
I think Kelis first time around, when she played 6 shows in Liverpool, is the one for me. We really upped our game there – each show was epic and to be honest it was a big financial risk for us, but the reaction was mind-blowing. Kelis absolutely loved it, too. I think she was a bit like, “What the fuck is this bingo thing?!” but after the first show she got it.
And lastly, what is coming next for Bongo’s Bingo?
We can’t do our shows currently because of the lockdown which is painful but we’re all in this together. With the lock down we’ve dabbled in a spot of online bingo through our streams which saw over 2 million people tune in. We’re already planning our comeback as well as expanding into new locations both in the UK and globally.. All our hosts and dancers can’t wait to get back on stage though. I know a lot of people are going to need our shows after all this has passed, we’ll be all long overdue a party or two!