About face: Event platform Splash takes off, causing VCs to eat their words
A year ago, when Ben Hindman was launching his event planning platform Splash, he made the requisite round of meetings with venture investors. It was a perfectly investable idea: Hindman was the Director of Events at Thrillist. He'd wanted more sophisticated, brand-friendly event management tools, from the ticketing and RSVP utility of incumbent Eventbrite, to the branding around the event, all the way down to capturing it and keeping the experience alive on the web after the event was over.
Brands want something cool-looking and, well, "on brand," and for that, the existing ticketing sites didn't cut it. There was no better option in the market, so, along with his CTO and co-founder Brett Boskoff, he built the tools. Market demand, check. Technical co-founder, check. Relationships to potential clients (Thrillist's many brand partners), check.
VC's didn't bite.
Why would anyone adopt this new system when Eventbrite's platform was perfectly acceptable?, the thinking went. Further, they argued that the collaborative tools, the customizable RSVP pages, the social content, the community management tools, and the ticketing, was too just much to take on.
Hindman counter-argued that he was building exactly what professional event planners like himself -- ahem, the ones willing to spend money -- needed. "As a professional event planner, I can't use EventBrite," he says. So he bootstrapped the idea with a tiny seed investment from Eben Pagan of Hot Topic Media. Thanks to services like Sendgrid, Stripe and Rackspace, the platform came together quickly and cheaply.
Splash launched last year at SXSW powering 25 events. A year later, spreading on word of mouth alone, the platform has now powered 30,000 events with more than 300,000 attendees. Every time ten people RSVP to an event, a new user signs up to use Splash for their own events, Hindman says.
Brands like Spotify, L'Oreal, Billabong, Amstel Light, UnderArmour, Wired and Buzzfeed have adopted Splash for its slick-looking pages, customizable to mirror their branding. They like that their event can live on through a Splash page that includes curated social media content. They also like that the invitees are engaged with the event, returning an average of six times per invite. This L'Oreal Splash page has more than five million impressions. A quick search through my email shows I've been invited to at least 80 events via Splash over the last year without even realizing the invites were powered by the site.
Today Splash exits beta mode with a host of new functionalities, including, most importantly, ticketing. In beta, the site has processed $400,000 worth of ticket sales. Hindman says he's gotten renewed interest from some of the investors that initially passed.
The timing is ironic, as Splash is now nearly cash-flow positive. The company operates on a freemium model with a six-person team. Small, RSVP-only events can use Splash for free, but big brands wanting unlimited emails and ticketing functionality pay a monthly subscription. Once Splash begins hosting and managing their email lists, they're less likely to switch to another provider, Hindman says.
He is exactly as infectiously enthusiastic a person as you would expect an event planner to be, and doesn't hold back when describing the new product. "It's just a fucking badass event tool -- the most powerful shit ever created for event planners, ever."