The problem with Event companies

First of all, let me disclose the obvious: these people are my competitors.  It’s probably in my best interest to make them look silly.  At the same time, we decided to enter this market in large part BECAUSE our competitors had major issues, so take that as you will.

Historically, event discovery sites have been plagued with problems.  These problems vary by individual company, but I think most of them fall into two categories: Too Big and Too Small.

Services that are Too Big: Eventful, Eventbrite, New York Times

There’s nothing inherently wrong doing event discovery on a massive scale- that’s what we’re going for, after all.  But when sites get this big they tend to run into the issue of information overload.  When users try to use one of these services to discover events, they end up drowning in a sea of “noise.”  For example, Eventful claims that there are 1,938 events going on today in New York City (today is a Wednesday).

There are really only 30 or so going on that a user might care about.  What are the other 1,908 listings?  Broadway shows that have been on every night for years.  Art installations that can be seen all day, every day for the next 6 months.  Expensive seminars for things you probably don’t care about.  And worst of all- advertisements for things that aren’t even events.  Take a look at the picture above for one of many glaring examples- Eventbrite lists 7 “events” for today that are all hair replacement ads.

I’m sure that the fine people at Eventbrite wouldn’t be happy if they knew that anti-balding ads were making it difficult for their users to find real events.  Unfortunately for them, it seems like they’ve reached a size where they no longer have control over their largely crowd-sourced listings.  Then again, they probably don’t even care, because they make their money on providing ticketing services, rather than as a discovery platform.

The endless stream of useless listings wouldn’t be an issue if users had a great way of sifting through them, but sadly at this point they don’t.

Services that are Too Small: Everything else

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration- there are many hyper-local blogs that do a pretty good job at finding cool events for people in their area.  However, they are tied to a local area, and mostly rely on tracking down these events by hand.  If you can track down a good one in your city- awesome!  For the right reader, they can guide you to a handful of interesting events… in a certain niche.  As far as I know, nobody has yet figured out how to make the transition from cool local niche blog to major event-discovery business.

Non-cliche ending paragraph

This is part where I’m supposed to rant about all the reasons why we are better than everybody.  And we are!  But this post is about the problems in the industry, not how cool we are.  Our solution for doing everything better gets to stay a little secret between us and our investors.  I’ll share the details in my March 2015 interview with Forbes.  Until then, enjoy TonightLife.

Work hazards at the Tabbie office: Part 2

The fine gentlemen working over at Tabbie West have it pretty set when it comes to working environment- the office is literally a mansion.  Over here at Tabbie East we’re still rocking the startup “office,” which is to say any and all locations that we can find to work out of.  Given that most of our work is business development and sales, it’s usually not a problem to be running around New York City taking meetings in bars, restaurants, and clubs or taking conference calls as we rush around Manhattan.

However, sometimes we do need to put in some solid sit-down work in front of a screen, and inevitably the lack of a real office leads to some interesting issues.  A few months ago I wrote about one of many run-ins I had with a drunk customer at one of my favorite Blacksburg work spaces, and New York hasn’t disappointed in taking things to the next level.

For example, Justin and I were slaving away in our local Starbucks down in FiDi, when a homeless man in a wheelchair pulled up next to our table and peed all over the floor.  And I don’t mean that in a “oh maybe he has a medical condition and had an accident” sort of way- he whipped it out and went to town on the VIA display with a grin on his face.  And then he asked us for change.

Needless to say, we gave him no change.  Instead we (and everyone else in this busy Starbucks) proceeded to gather our stuff and get the hell out.  As furious baristas forced him to leave and worked to clean the mess, I couldn’t help but reflect on how shocked I was that this had happened in a Starbucks.  Not because public urination is uncommon in the city, but instead because Starbucks has a public bathroom 5 feet from where this guy did his thing.

My theory?  He was actually a performance artist protesting against the expansion of corporate America and the dominance of chain stores.

Bad UI Vol. 2: CVS Self-Checkout

I, for one, love self-checkout. Maybe it’s because I’m the guy that drives to the supermarket for one candybar and hates being stuck behind the lady buying two week’s worth of groceries. I’m a big fan of the machines at WalMart and Harris Teeter. They have a great layout and an easy to follow process that makes it hard to mess up. One I do hate, however, is CVS.

Image

Can you see the problem? All of the other buttons have a grey background that contrasts with the blue background of the screen. Therefore, I begin to associate the color grey with buttons and the color blue with things I can ignore. When I get to the payment screen, however, they make the button to pay with credit a strange shade of  blue (I call it, “i’m an idiot blue”). I’ve used this machine probably 20 times and I STILL sometimes forget where to push for credit.

Go Get ‘Em, Tiger

Image

Aaaaaand we’re back! We’re going to blog more, really. I know the internet has missed my allusion-laden accounts of my glamorous startup life, so I have made a commitment to (and so have the other Tabbie team members) to blog more often. In my triumphant return, I offer a visit to one of my favorite shows on TV: Mad Men. One of the best moments in season 5 was the oddly-fitting chemistry between the aging has-been ad executive (Roger Sterling) and his partner’s tween-age daughter (Sally Draper). At an industry dinner where Roger’s once wide-eyed protege is being honored, Roger’s irrelevance is pronounced. He attends the dinner to try and drum up some new business to prove to the other partners (but mainly to himself) that he still has his mojo. Roger finds his only source of motivation to be a 14 year old Sally Draper. He turns to her and says “Every business card I bring back , you’re going to put in your purse and say ‘Go get ‘emtiger.'”

I loved this moment because it goes to show how hard some encouragement is to find in certain situations. Roger’s ego doesn’t let him go to Don (his protege and Sally’s dad) and admit he fears he isn’t what he used to be. His failure as a husband to his former secretary and the strange father-daughter dynamic they have prevents her from taking on the role of cheerleader we’d expect from a spouse. All he can do to motivate himself is to ask a little girl for a boost. This scene seems like a great way to introduce our latest chapter in the Tabbie saga: incubation.

On June 6, the Tabbie team began the summer accelerator program at TigerLabs. While it has barely been a week since we have been working, I can already say that this experience is going to be incredible. We work 10-12 hours in a beautiful mansion on a project that each and every one of us is passionate about. More importantly, we are constantly surrounded by motivation. Not only are the other entrepreneurs working right next to you trying to achieve the same goal, but you interact with established and successful entrepreneurs on a daily basis who gladly donate their time to talk about your idea. I think I finally get the benefits of a co-working space, an incubator, and mentorship resources. As the summer progresses, I, along with the other Tabbiers, will be bringing you the play-by-play.

Image

Tabbie’s Corner at Tiger Labs 

Pretty nice for a first office, huh? Tiger Labs rented out one of the eating clubs for summer to use as our workspace and, not gonna lie, working out of a newly-renovated mansion is pretty sweet.  The club is, fittingly, called Tiger Inn. I, however, like to call it “Sally”.

How To Be Successful- Part 1

People often ask me for advice and insight into entrepreneurship and careers (which still amazes me).  Probably the most common question that they ask is “How the hell did you get involved in these opportunities? Why are you so lucky?  Is it because you’re Irish?”  I hate to deny the mystical benefits of my ancestry, but much of my success can boiled down to one factor (hint: it’s not luck).  Can you guess what it is?

Balls.  Yes, that kind.

Every day, millions of ordinary, average people are presented with opportunities and chance encounters that could change their life- but very few actually take advantage of them.  In some cases it’s simply because we aren’t trained to be aware of them.  However, I suspect that most of the time Average Joe and Average Jane recognize the possibilities, and decide (sometimes subconsciously) not to do anything about them.  Whether it’s because of societal pressures, insecurity, risk-aversion, or simple fear, people always seem afraid of “putting themselves out there.”

At Tabbie, we currently have over 60 bars signed up to list on the website (including our as-yet-unlaunched new regions).  For each of these places we had a sit-down meeting with either the bar owner or general manager, at which we got know them and sold them on Tabbie’s value.  With a few of these meetings we were lucky enough to leverage some relationship to get the introduction; however, the vast majority of these meetings happened through one simple strategy:

I walked in and said “hi there, may I talk to your manager?”

Seriously.  It’s that simple.  Did it make me a little nervous at first just strolling into a bar cold and trying to get a meeting?  Of course.  But I quickly learned that bar/club owners and managers are actually really nice on average.  And, incidentally, so are most of the other important people that I meet.  Just like that old theory that “the most beautiful women are often single because most men are afraid to ask them out,” most of us are too scared to network with important and powerful people because we assume that they don’t want to be bothered.

As an example of this principle in action, my dad likes to recount the story of his friend who won the Nobel prize in physics in the 90’s.  Before they met, my dad was organizing a conference at which this particular guy would have been a top international expert in the field, so my dad decided to email an invitation to him just for the hell of it.  To his surprise, this Nobel Laureate called him right back the next day thanking him for the opportunity and saying he’d love to go.  Later, the man recounted his experience winning the Nobel prize (I’m paraphrasing the exact dialogue, of course):

“During the lead up to the Nobel results, I expected that if I won I would be overwhelmed with invitations to do conferences and papers and such.  Amazingly though, once I actually won everyone STOPPED inviting me to things for the most part.  I guess everybody just assumed that now that I was a ‘big shot Nobel Laureate,’ I would be too busy running around the world doing ‘important Nobel Laureate things.’  But since everyone was too afraid to bother me about coming to anything, I ended up going to nothing!  So thank you for having the balls to invite me to this conference- it’s nice to come back and do one of these again.”

The need for having balls extends beyond networking and sales though.  It also applies to any major life or career move you make, including the decision to start your own company.  I’m not saying that everyone should go out and start taking huge risks; a conservative cost-benefit analysis is also very valuable.  What I’m saying is that once you have made the decision to do something, you need to follow Nike’s advice and just do it!  This may sound like pointless advice to those of you who aren’t afraid to take decisive action, but you would be amazed at how many people never take that final leap to do what they already know needs to be done.

So go, right now.  Call your cousin about the awesome job they could get you into.  Take that brilliant idea for an app and start making it real.  Stop putting off that diet & exercise regimen you’ve been meaning to do since New Year’s Eve 2005.  The opportunities for a better life are out there, and the only one preventing you from taking them is you.

Work hazards at the “Tabbie office”

Like many startups, we end up doing much of our work at the local Starbucks.  However, in our industry it’s just as common to find us doing work at various bars, clubs, and other alcohol-fueled venues.  This may sound glamorous, and it usually is- free drinks from bar owners, happy drunk customers, and party music certainly make things more interesting.  On the other hand, we do have to deal with some unique workplace distractions.  For example, I’m currently hard at work updating our NOVA data at the She Sha Hookah Bar in Blacksburg- while enjoying some Lemon Mint hookah and Brooklyn Lager, of course.  I recently had the… um, “pleasure” of meeting Mike:

Sup, brah?

Who is Mike?  That’s a great question.  Mike is blackout drunk at the moment, and took it upon himself to come sit with me and start smoking my hookah.  I’ve never met this guy in my life, but out of curiosity I decided to ask my new friend about himself-

Will: Hi, do I know you?

Mike: I’m Mike

Will: Um…. how’s it going Mike?

Mike: Great!

Will: So, where are your friends Mike?

Mike: You’re my friend bro.

Will: Alright then.  What’s your major, my friend?

Mike: Love.

And that’s all I was able to get out of him.  He wandered off to crash a few other conversations, and then came back.  And then wandered off again.  Then came back and tried to drink my beer.  I might have been bothered by my new drunk friend, but at this point random drunk people are a pretty common sighting at any Tabbie office.  Just another day working in the nightlife technology industry.

Here’s to you, Drunk Mike!  I hope you don’t pass out in a ditch somewhere.

The Craziest Special in NYC So Far

Today was my first day out in NYC talking to bars. The awkwardness of talking to strangers has completely worn off and Justin and I had a good time chatting up local merchants and doing the initial leg work on Tabbie NYC. The stereotypically grouchy and mean new yorkers were actually really nice. Turns out the #1 rule of Tabbie still applies, even in NYC: if a person manages/owns/works at a bar, he/she can only be so much of an ass.

While on the streets (does this sound thug? I wanted it to) we walked into a place called Kabin on 2nd ave between 5 and 6th st. The bartender was under the bar cleaning when she told us the specials so when she said “Our happy hour is buy 1 get 1 of anything”, I immediately felt a wave of skepticism akin to the meme below.

http://i.qkme.me/35bp94.jpg

Buy 1 get 1 of anything in the bar? I had to have misheard what she said. “Come again?”, I managed to say . She repeated herself. “Wow”, I said, yet I was really thinking “GTFO, STFU, NGAPLZ, etc”. I think I may have found my bar in East Village.