Hosting an Event in Chicago? Venue Cricket Wants Be Your Venue Marketplace

February 16, 2012

4:30 pm

Is it being overshadowed, or flying under the radar?  Call it what you will.  No matter how you shake it, last week’s launch of Eventup, a marketplace for renting venues, created quite a splash.  However, a little less than one month earlier, Ella Lief launched Venue Cricket, a marketplace for renting venues, resulting in a much smaller wave.  I guess we can call that the Mike Jones Effect.

On the surface there are only two discernible differences between the two.  First – the former is based out of Los Angeles, and Venue Cricket is bridging the venue supply and demand gap in Chicago.  Second – Eventup is taking a location-based approach (with the home screen prompting a “where is your event” message), whereas Venue Cricket seems to be banking on size (similarly “how big will your event be?”).  Perhaps the differences is regional; Los Angeles spans a greater distance and lacks mass transit, while Chicago’s “L” is efficient.  Perhaps one knows something about event hosting that the other does not.

I reached out to Lief, Venue Cricket’s co-founder, to learn more.

Tech Cocktail:  Where did the inspiration for Venue Cricket come from? Does this stem from a personal frustration or the suggestion of others?

Ella Lief:  Venue Cricket was directly inspired by personal frustration with the tedious process that is today’s venue search. A while back I volunteered to plan an alumni event, and to my surprise the bulk of my planning time went towards finding a venue. I literally had to run around town, surveying different bars on price, capacity, and availability. In a world where most purchases can be made online through organized marketplaces, I could not figure out why venues should be any different.

The issue reemerged with a vengeance last September, when my co-founder and I decided to plan a TEDx conference. In comparison to finding a bar space, finding a conference venue turned out to be doubly challenging. While bars are prevalent and easy to spot, conference spaces can require extensive Googling. Furthermore, pricing schemes can be confusing, with a whole list of fees piled up on top of the actual venue cost. The idea for Venue Cricket evolved directly from the conference planning experience, and after the event was over, we decided we had to tackle this problem.

I also have to say that, as an Economics major, I was bothered by what seemed to be a clear market inefficiency. Small business owners were struggling to make their businesses succeed while sitting on an untapped revenue stream. Many were already maintaining beautiful venues for their primary businesses and could make a profit by sharing those spaces with others.

Tech Cocktail:  What effect has the launch of Eventup had on the amplification of your own? What challenges do you face in working with a smaller marketing budget and how will you overcome this?

Lief:  For now the launch of Eventup has not had a direct impact on us. Both of us are limited to particular geographies, with Eventup in LA and Venue Cricket in Chicago. In some ways, Eventup’s PR and marketing could even help us by making people more familiar with the concept of booking venues online.

As a bootstrapped company, we have a minimal marketing budget. This means that we need to take advantage of free marketing channels like press, SEO, social, and word of mouth. If you meet one of us in person, we will most likely tell you all about Venue Cricket. Also, we try to really please our customers so that they can’t help but gush about us to others. We make weekly releases of new features, and we prioritize our site improvements based on what our customers are asking for.

Tech Cocktail:  How has the reception for Venue Cricket been thus far?

Lief: Venue Cricket has been met with great enthusiasm. Many of the venues we are working with are the hidden gems of Chicago. It is completely free to join our network, making us an appealing choice for venues that don’t want to spend money on paid advertising. Also, quite a few of our venues are home to other businesses like art galleries, car dealerships, and schools. Serving as a venue is not their primary business, and they love that we can take care of some of the hassle.

Event organizers, the other side of our marketplace, are thrilled that we are solving this pain point for them. Our service has also been extremely helpful to individuals that do not live in Chicago and are planning their Chicago event from far away. These individuals can’t come visit the space, so they need detailed venue profiles in order to make a selection. Also, many of our venues offer great discounts for non-profits, making us a great resource for this community.

Tech Cocktail:  Are there any unique aspects to the Chicago venue marketplace that might not exist in other cities?

Lief:  Chicago was once a major manufacturing center, so we have cool lofts that were converted from factories and warehouses. Also, Chicago has so many different neighborhoods, each of which offers its own feel. And of course, the city is known for it’s green space, which means great outdoor venues.

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When Zach Davis isn’t getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail’s Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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