Struggling to find an appropriate conference venue, Moira Johnston, at the time working in marketing at one of South Africa’s biggest law firms, realised that there was a gap in the market for a single platform that could offer comparative venue specs and quotes on event venues for hire.
“It used to take days and days to find an appropriate conferencing venue. You had to phone around and ask everyone if they had the correct amenities. That was the seed of the idea for EventRoom,” says Johnston, who had previously founded LawyerUp, a company that connects clients with lawyers.
After attending a baby shower at a friend’s parents’ house, she realised that it would also make an ideal venue for her own birthday party. This further convinced her that there was a business opportunity to showcase venues.
Johnston, a qualified attorney and conveyancer, approached her sister, Nicky Rosin, and the two decided to start such a platform themselves.
Their platform, www.eventroom.co.za, offers a variety of venues, from private homes for intimate events to big venues that host hundreds of people.
Venues from eight of the nine provinces are listed on their site, with the Northern Cape (which has fairly few venues available) the exception.
They approached a number of potential venues, and presented a mock-up website to determine interest.
“On the basis of about 20 positive responses we decided that we would develop our minimum viable product, which we did very inexpensively, trying to keep costs down as much as possible,” says Johnston, now CEO of EventRoom. The website was launched in May 2015.
Similar concepts already exist, and are increasingly being launched, in other markets, notably EVENTup in the US. EVENTup is run by Jayna Cooke, the former vice-president of business development at Groupon.
“They are currently the biggest marketplace of their kind in the US with over 10 000 venues in 300 US cities and they are still growing rapidly,” explains Johnston.
The team behind EventRoom has done a lot of research on what other companies, like EVENTup, did, changing and adapting these practices in order to produce a unique offering.
How does it work?
The EventRoom website allows clients to create an account and event, after which they can browse the site for venues. Once clients have found their ideal venue, they can request quotes.
Initial quote requests have been completely automated. According to Johnston that was one of the main things that they wanted to achieve, since her experience was that having “to phone or email every single venue”, was the most time-consuming aspect of securing a venue.
Currently clients arrange site visits and payments directly with the venues.
EventRoom’s creators do, however, hope to adapt their model to manage the process from the initial quote to payment and booking of venues.
While the EventRoom team cannot visit every venue listed, they speak to all venues, and take a close look at their websites and online reviews to vet them, says Johnston.
It is recommended that clients visit venues before making a booking.
Services on the website are currently free, both for venue owners and those wanting to book events.
Rosin explains that they are, however, planning to develop various subscription plans for clients seeking to rent out venues.
“There will be a free plan, which you will have to upgrade in order to directly respond to quotes. There are also other revenue streams that are already in the pipeline, including partnering with an [event]-planning company and an insurance broker,” says Rosin.
They will be earning a commission from the event-planning company and also plan to generate income from affiliate marketing relationships.
“We are also partnering with an insurance broker to offer our clients discounted hospitality cover and we will be getting a lead-generation fee from them,” says Rosin, adding that they are planning to add other service providers like caterers, DJs and photographers in future.
EventRoom is currently developing a new platform for its website, which will allow for such new features to be added, says Rosin.
The company is also considering expansion into the rest of Africa and other international markets, but is still working on offerings that will differentiate it from what is currently available internationally.
This article originally appeared in the 25 February 2016 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.