PartyRVA, a digital platform that gives local suggestions to people planning parties and events, recently graduated from Richmond-based startup accelerator Lighthouse Labs, and received $100,000 of investment in December.
Today we talk with PartyRVA Founder, Nate Marcus, about the company’s lightning fast growth and its exciting future.
Interview: Nate Marcus
What was the inspiration behind PartyRVA?
The idea pretty much found me, over and over again, while I was running corporate teambuilding events at Mise En Place, a cooking school down in Shockoe Bottom. I taught the Iron Chef Challenge: one hour, mystery ingredients, no recipe, no smartphone, go! Every group would say, “This is so cool, we wish we knew about this sooner. What else is there in Richmond like this?”
After a bit more investigating, I learned that planners really wanted a website that would easily compile this kind of information. They also wanted a way to coordinate the event with their team or friends without an endless chain of emails.
So that was in October of 2014, and you had a product soon after. What did the first version of PartyRVA look like?
The word started to get out that I was making a list and other organizers began contacting me. They said they needed help planning their kids party, bridal shower, frat party, bachelorette party, etc. I realized this list is needed by more than just team building organizers.
When we launched in January 2015, the site had categories for Kids, Activities, and Team Building. Then we just kept adding categories - for instance, food trucks that cater private events.
What is your overall goal in launching this site?
Our mission is really to support small businesses - it has become impossible for them to advertise because of the expense. We want to be a breath of fresh air for all the non-franchise, local gems who otherwise can’t get in front of the eyeballs of people looking for event ideas.
We also have teamed up with celebrate! RVA, a not for profit that puts on birthday parties for underprivileged schools that are in foster care, in safehouses, or have incarcerated parents. So everytime someone visits our site, they help us in our mission to donate at least one birthday party a month.
What are most people are looking for when they come to your site?
Venues are one of the most popular categories right now - everyone needs a place to hold their event. While venues for weddings are really well represented online by WeddingWire and The Knot, weddings only account for about 28% of the money spent on events every year. The other two thirds are corporate social events, birthdays, graduations, bar mitzvahs, etc. Before PartyRVA there just wasn’t a resource to connect the venues with the people looking for spaces for these events.
You’ve had a lot early success as a start up. Take us through the last year.
PartyRVA launched in January 2015 and in May we won a $10,000 cash prize for best regional startup at the i.e. Competition put on by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. This past November we won the second place $5,000 cash prize at START! Peninsula 4.0 and in December we won a $2,500 cash prize in a Capital One startup competition. The acclaim of these awards helped get us into the Lighthouse Labs accelerator program, along with Painless1099 and UpChurch Chocolate. After that we got our first seed investment of $100,000, took on 2 new full-time employees, and we are finalizing an investment agreement with our technology partner Ameronix.
How has Lighthouse Labs helped to transform the company?
They’ve helped us modify PartyRVA into a model that is scalable. Very soon, we will change our name to OccasionGenius which is a much more streamlined website. We’d like to be the AirBNB or Open Table for non-wedding events.
The last time we talked, you were just about to bring on an employee. You’ve grown quite a bit since then! Can you tell us about the new team?
Yes, we’ve gone from a solopreneurship to a team of five. Christian Dixon is our Creative Director/Head of Product and Matt Steele is Director of Marketing. Alyson Beacham is our Research Manager, and Chris Robinson is our staff listing photographer. Ameronix in Midlothian is our amazing web development firm.
What are you working on now?
We are gearing up for a huge site upgrade as we transition to OccasionGenius. By April, the site will look completely new. Businesses will be able to create their own profile, and people will be able to read and leave reviews from their private parties. It will be a national relaunch for OccasionGenius!
Have you as a team created any routines or rituals to boost productivity?
Since our business is group fun, we want to try out as many of these activities as we can. Last month we chose G-Force Indoor Karting, Escape Room RVA and Fighting Gravity Fitness for our team outings - all ideas we write about on our site.
Where is your current office? Can you describe the vibe?
Currently we are working out of New Richmond Ventures, a Richmond-based early stage venture firm that donated our work space after we won the i.e. Competition. We also love working at 804RVA, our preferred coworking space on Broad Street. For the most part, we're all pretty much workaholics, and we do a lot remotely at the strangest hours.
Favorite happy hour in town?
We love whatever is closest to our next fun activity - there is no shortage of watering holes! After swinging in a hammock party we hit up District 5, and after solving puzzles at Escape Room RVA we went to Talley's. Eventually we'll be recommending nearby happy hours on our site, so groups know what's close by after, say, covering one another in paint!