In an ecosystem that is continually looking out for new ideas, facilitating parties does not immediately strike a chord. People and companies have been throwing parties for many years now. Party planning is a $112B industry with a universe of planners and vendors. Julie Novack, then working at Vibes Media, found it difficult to find vendors online. She decided to fill that space and create a company in 2015. Today her creation PartySlate has scored $6M in funding and become a force to reckon with in the Chicago startup scene.
The way PartySlate operates is simple. The platform shows customers high-quality images of various events, helping them find visual inspiration for their own party. Event planners share visuals of corporate weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs and other get-togethers. Potential customers can click through the image to see the vendors who worked on the event in the picture. This helps them connect more easily to professionals who can make their dream event come to life.
PartySlate for Event Professionals
Likewise, for the 6000-odd vendors on the website, PartySlate has made it easier for them to connect to their audience. Supplying parties is a disorganized and distributed market, with local vendors most likely to offer the best price. While being local and small helps vendors offer their customers a better price, it also makes them harder to discover. According to PartySlate, event planners found the search for new event ideas ‘fragmented, overwhelming and time-consuming’. The internet often led them to ad-focused blogs or websites which could be misleading in terms of what was possible and plausible.
PartySlate aimed to create a visual-driven platform like Pinterest. The decision to use the platform to showcase party images instead of purely listing vendors catered to event professionals. Like Facebook, these pictures are tagged with information about the vendors involved. As a result, PartySlate offers a more tactile discovery experience, giving customers better information than web copy laced with grandiose superlatives. The picture credits help customers find the right photographer, decorator, florist, catering service, and entertainment for a party.
The platform’s popularity is further bolstered in its openness. Any party professional can access the platform and showcase their work for free. The company makes money on the Freemium model – it offers paid memberships with increased promotional opportunities. According to the ‘Pro’ section of the website, PartySlate offers value in these memberships by increasing traffic, aiding profile management, and providing invites to exclusive high-profile events for networking.
Professionals who take this membership get better placement on the website, get to customize their profile more, and are featured on PartySlate’s social media. The company offers three membership tiers – Elevated, Premium, and Platinum – with variations in benefits to cater to the needs of specific event planners. PartySlate’s current website doesn’t have any information on how much this membership may cost, but an article from 2016 on BuiltIn Chicago indicates that at the time, there was a single-tier $400/month subscription service.
It takes a village in Chicago
PartySlate’s growth is a stirring example of how Chicago’s startup ecosystem supported one of its own. The company’s vision to build a ‘party inspiration engine’ first received support from 1871, described by Crunchbase as ‘a not-for-profit community that helps digital designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs build their startups and share ideas’. Back in 2015, 1871 invited PartySlate to the first cohort of its woman-centered WiSTEM entrepreneurial program. Remarkably, this invitation preceded PartySlate’s website going live, showing the early nature of this support. PartySlate also set up shop at 1871’s 2.0 expansion. Novack credits the company’s early growth to 1871’s support and the combined experience of the founding team – herself, Co-founder John Haro, and Executive Creative Director, Mark Semon.
According to Novack, “We’re in our forties — we’ve all run big businesses. With our experience and our networks, we were able to raise money faster because they believe in our team,” she said. “Between the three of us, we have over 60 years of digital experience and a lot of connections … With that experience, I think we have a little bit of an advantage over those who haven’t seen as much in the business world that really is working to our advantage.”
PartySlate then found support in early 2016 from the Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge hosted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, according to a VentureBeat article. In June 2016, PartySlate was also selected to be one of the Techstars Chicago 2016. In terms of funding, PartySlate had scored a $1M seed round from Hyde Park Venture Partners. This was followed by a $100K Convertible Note in June 2016.
In February 2017, PartySlate received $1.9M of seed funding from 7 investors, including Hyde Park Venture Partners (which led the round), Hyde Park Angels, and InvestHER Ventures. InvestHER is another early stage focused Chicago-based VC, and invests in female founders. Three Los Angeles-based VCs – Jump Investors, Wavemaker Partners and Halogen Ventures – also participated in the round. Like InvestHER, Halogen Ventures also focuses on technology companies with female founders.
By August 2017, the platform hosted over 150,000 images and hosted 2000 professionals, and had initiated its expansion into Los Angeles. The partnership was bolstered as noted event planner, Mindy Weiss. In a Press Release, Weiss is quoted as saying “I’m excited to have a beautiful place to share all of my wedding and corporate event photos. This platform is becoming the go-to site to view photos from leading event professionals around the world”. In October 2017, the company expanded into Dallas as well.
The support for PartySlate in terms of funding as well as incubation and guidance from Chicago’s ecosystem by virtue of having a female founder is one of the reasons why Inc estimated that Chicago had the highest concentration of women entrepreneurs in the country.
After a remarkable year in which the company tripled the number of professionals on the site and Novack spoke to WGN Radio twice over, PartySlate entered 2019 with a new seed round which raised $3M. The round was led once again by Hyde Park Ventures, and the company said that the funds would be used to boost product development efforts, hire more marketers, and expand its reach to new locations across the country. Rise of the Rest Fund participated in the round, and is noteworthy because of the personalities involved. Rise of the Rest is managed by Revolution Ventures which is founded by Steve Case (AOL Co-founder), has author J.D. Vance as Managing Partner, and features such notables as Brad Keywell (CEO, Uptake), Eric Schmidt (Google Co-founder), Howard Schultz (Starbucks Founder, potential candidate for POTUS in 2002), and Joe Mansueto (Chairman, Morningstar).
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