A Q&A with PlaceFull chief marketer Cyrus Shepard. The Seattle–based company was founded in late 2011 and launched to the public earlier this month. The team raised $500K in Angel funding in July and is currently in the process of raising a second round.
SUB: Please describe PlaceFull, and the value proposition you offer to event organizers and venue owners.
Shepard: PlaceFull provides an online marketplace to book parties and events. Today, finding an entertainment venue requires lots of manual searching, back and forth phone calls to find availability, putting down deposits and often, signing paperwork. Remember when you had to call a travel agent to book an airline ticket, or call the restaurant to book a table? We wanted to streamline the process and make planning parties and events a smooth online transaction, and we believe the public is ready for it. For business owners, PlaceFull allows them to earn money from their extra inventory of unused space, and also offers a low-cost alternative to daily-deal sites if they want to offer packages.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Shepard: In our research, we discovered two types of customers who book a lot of events. The first is the professional or semi-professional event organizer. This might include one of the hundreds of admins at Microsoft who book several events a year for their team. The other is the more casual party planner, or even the soccer mom. This group is more interested in finding a place for a child’s birthday party, or a wine-tasting with friends. The casual group may only book four times a year, but there are many more of them.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Shepard: Other companies have tried similar concepts with meeting spaces, like eVenues, and super-high end rentals, like Eventup, but we feel the middle-of-the-road market, targeting the average consumer, is wide open. On a broader scale, when talking to business owners we do bump into Open Table occasionally, but we are so different it’s barely a comparison. We’re excited about the wide open opportunities in this space.
SUB: What differentiates PlaceFull from the competition?
Shepard: The three things that set PlaceFull apart are instant bookings, powerful calendar software, and discoverability. Almost every other site in this niche still works on a referral basis, where you make an inquiry and a salesperson calls you back. For PlaceFull, we really wanted to emphasize instant bookings—no waiting, no salespeople, no hassle. It works better for both the space provider and the consumer. Second, we invested a lot of time building really powerful calendar management software for space providers, and we provide it to them free of charge. Business owners can use PlaceFull’s backend system to manage all of their spaces. It’s really a great system. Finally, when people come to PlaceFull, they always discover great places they never realized were available to them. That’s what I mean by discoverability. We help great places get found.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Shepard: PlaceFull was officially organized in late 2011 by the co-founders, George Webb and Ryan Hamlin, two long-time Microsoft vets. The first staff was hired in January of 2012. It took longer than expected to gather the right development team to accomplish our vision, but by June everything was running full-steam ahead.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for PlaceFull? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Shepard: True story. Our CEO, Ryan Hamlin, leads Redmond Select, a boys’ basketball organization. He was constantly booking sports fields and frustrated by how difficult and time consuming the process was. Also, as a former Microsoft manager in charge of thousand-plus teams, he booked a lot of parties, team building events and retreats. So the idea was born out of necessity. Since then, everyone who sees the site wonders why no one has done it before now.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Shepard: Can I tell you the failed names instead? Spaceorplace, Fullofspace, Onthespace, Spayced and Woovio. Don’t ask me where Woovio came from. In the end, we actually ran an ingenious experiment using Google Adwords to see what name got the most clickthroughs. PlaceFull won hands down.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Shepard: Building the right team, by far, has been the biggest challenge. It’s hard for an early-stage startup to attract the right talent, but don’t underestimate the power of a good idea as an effective recruiting tool.
SUB: You just launched to the public. Why was this a particularly good time to launch?
Shepard: We believe in shipping early and often. We definitely wanted to get traction before folks started booking holiday parties, and we’re beating that by a long shot.
SUB: Was your Seed funding round raised from friends and family, or outside firms?
Shepard: Initially the co-founders funded PlaceFull out-of-pocket. In July, we closed our first half million round from private investors, mostly from our personal networks.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more funding in the near future?
Shepard: We are now in the middle of raising our second half million dollar round which we expect to close very soon.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Shepard: For every booking made on PlaceFull, we collect a modest revenue share, usually around 10 percent. The business owners love it because it’s extra revenue, and it works for consumers because we don’t add on any extra booking fees.
SUB: What are your goals for PlaceFull over the next year or so?
Shepard: PlaceFull will continue to add features and expand into other markets over the next 12 months. We love the feedback we’re getting and we’re listening to our customers and our data very close to guide us in our decision making.
Placefull – www.placefull.com