The moment when a tech company moves its product out of Beta is a big milestone. This week, we celebrated that moment with the release of the new and improved version of eventwist.com. As Director of Communications for the company, where I started out as a part-time salesperson almost two years ago, I’ve had an up close and personal view of the journey here. To mark the occasion, I’m excited to be bringing you this conversation with the company’s Founder and CEO, Duane Lawrence.
Deb – So Duane. Are you excited or is this just one of those, “OK, now I need a nap” moments?
Duane – It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, but I’m really happy with this new release, as its enhancements are based on direct feedback from our users & analysis of how planners were already using the site. It’s a much cleaner interface – even easier to use than before, and we’ve increased the number of venue listings by nearly 400%. I’m definitely excited about that.
Deb – I love this product. I’ve been a fan ever since we first met at eventcamp in January of 2010. I was working in event production back then, and I recall getting extremely excited about your website. Remember I shared all that info with you about the different venues I’d been working at?
Duane – Yeah, who knew that a year later you’d be signing up venues yourself…
Deb – Right… For people who are unfamiliar with eventwist.com, give em the elevator pitch.
Duane – eventwist.com is a directory of special event venues in the New York metropolitan area. We make it easy for corporate and professional event planners, producers – anyone who is looking for a location for their event or project – to find the perfect event spaces based on their requirements. Let us know your budget, technical & catering needs, and any amenities that are critical for your event, and we show you the best suited venues. And once you find multiple spaces you like, we make it even easier by checking date availability for you.
Deb – So, it’s not about getting involved in negotiating fees or producing the events.
Duane – That’s right. We’re more facilitators – matchmakers. We make it easy for planners to have conversations with the right venues – saving time and minimizing wasted effort on both sides. We make event planning easy.
Deb – That sounds like a motto.
Duane – We’ve got a few of them.
Deb – Indeed… so tell us what makes this new release so exciting. What kinds of improvements have been made to the site?
Duane – We did a number of things with this release to improve the experience for planners:
- We streamlined the venue search process. We took a look at how people were using the site, and realized the process was more complex than needed, so we simplified it.
- The site is now much more visual than before. People do want to understand the technical details of a venue: capacities, services offered, appropriate types of events, but it all starts with getting a good feel for what the venue looks like. So, we’ve placed images of our venues front and center wherever possible.
- Similar to how we’ve streamlined the search process for planners, we’ve streamlined the self-listing process for venues. Venues can choose to go with a free listing that contains basic information about their venues, or a Premium one that adds more information: multiple images, multiple event spaces & pricing guidelines for our budget matching features. The former represents the bare minimum that a planner wants to understand when considering a venue, and the latter really allows the planner to get a very clear and complete understanding of what the venue has to offer.
Deb – Awesome. Clearly this is something that you’ve put a lot of thought into… tell us a little about how you came up with the idea for eventwist in the first place.
Duane – The short story? Well, I was a DJ all through high school & college (that’s how I paid my rent), and after that, built a party and promotion company that ran out of Boston for 7 years. When I moved back to NYC, I got out of the promotion business, but still planned a few events each year. I quickly realized that while spending several days taking cabs and visiting venues in person was fine for choosing a venue for a recurring weekly or monthly event, it was excessive effort for a single event. I discussed my frustrations with a few event planners I know, and discovered that they shared many of them. So you can say, I started eventwist to scratch my own itch.
Deb – What is one thing about our product that you think people may not realize?
Duane – Aside from the way it really helps streamline what can be a terribly arduous process (getting five or more venue managers on the phone to ask them each the same questions), we have this feature where planners can leave Tips about the venues where they’ve already planned events.
Deb – Is this like Yelp?
Duane – It’s definitely an opportunity for users to interact with other users and share their experiences, but these Tips are by event planners for their peers. So all Tips will be related to actually planning events at a venue, not just stopping by for say, a drink. The feature is designed to allow venues to become known for what they do best.
Deb – Very cool… What are some of the main reasons planners have told you they enjoy using our product?
Duane – Well, it definitely saves time. Also, it gives a lot of people who may only plan a couple of events a year the opportunity to easily survey what’s out there. It can be very overwhelming to just search blindly through random ads or listings. That’s another reason we’ve been working so hard to make our database of venue profiles more comprehensive.
Deb – There are other companies out there that offer a similar service. What makes eventwist unique?
Duane – In order to make it easy for planners to find the venues they need, we need to make it convenient for the venues to participate. When we talk with the event managers at our venues, they appreciate a number of things about us:
- our singular focus on professional and corporate event planners,
- our ability to let event planners know when a venue is within their budget range, without tying them down to specific packages, or limiting their ability to negotiate,
- our business model doesn’t involve a burdensome amount of overhead and communication before, during or after a planner has engaged with a venue.
We feel that those are 3 things that separate us from some of the other venue directories & booking services online.
Deb – What other kinds of developments do you see for the company going forward? Ha… I’d kind of like to know myself…
Duane – We’re continually asking ourselves, and our end-users and venue partners about the most frustrating aspects of finding, communicating with & booking venues. I won’t go into too much detail, but there are many little tasks that planners tell us they find time-consuming once they’ve decided on a shortlist of venues & are trying to narrow it down to one. We plan to address those tasks. Another thing we’re looking closely at is reputation management beyond simple reviews. Both planners and venues are very interested in ways they can distinguish themselves in the marketplace.