Friday, January 19, 2007
Interview with Brian Dear, Founder, Eventful
Brian Dear is the Founder of Eventful (www.eventful.com), a San Diego-based firm that provides an online service that allows people to find and list events. socalTECH's Ben Kuo spoke to Brian about the service, some of the new features of the service, as well as Brian's perspective on competition from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others.
Thanks for the interview. For the readers who aren't familiar with your service, what's Eventful?
Brian Dear: We have a service that helps people discover events. In the realm of all the different things you can do with events, there are services for planning for events, selling tickets for events, promoting them, and all that sort of stuff. The area we are very focused on is event discovery--helping people find out about events in the first place. I always felt that this was one area on the web that was really weak. There wasn't any one comprehensive web site or service that you could go to and get comprehensive events--not just big stuff like movies and sports events, or big concerts and Broadway plays, but the proverbial "long tail" of events--covering everything in a community, whether that is family stuff, academic, business, or political--or whatever it might be. We're trying to build a system that indexes events all over the world--we're completely neutral and it works for every country. We can handle events going on anywhere. Our general rules is an event is anything scheduled to occur, a pretty broad definition.
You have a pretty good set of investors backing the firm, don't you?
Brian Dear: I founded the company in January of 2004. I spent a bunch of months doing research, as early as 2002. We put the team together in 2004, and our very first investor was Esther Dyson, as an angel investor. We had a few more angel investments, and had a round with Draper Fisher Jurvetson and the Omidyar Network in March of 2005. We did a more recent B round of investment with a lead venture capital firm, Bay Partners, and also follow-on participation from DFJ and Omidyar. To date, we've raised about $10 million dollars.
That's interesting that you have Omidyar Network as an investor--I understand they tend to focus on companies with a social component. How did you hook up with Omidyar?
Brian Dear: I used to work at eBay, and I knew Pierre. We're very aligned with Omidyar network, and they are big fans of that general approach of building services that can't exist unless the community really participates and the value that derived from that community. The more users, the more you use the service, the more people will get out of it, and the more you get out of it. That means thinks like contributing events into the system, rating events, and indicating which events you're going to, so that other people can see that an event is interesting. Social networking is an amazingly powerful way to enable event discovery. We're not necessarily building another social networking service, but the general approach and techniques apply really well to helping people find events that they might not otherwise have known about. That's all very much in line with the kind of approach Omidyar takes in investing in companies.
What's on your agenda right now?
Brian Dear: The big thing we rolled out in 2006, which has really turned out wildly successful is Eventful Demand. Just a bit of background to understand what that is--there are three ways to look at events, one is to build a bunch of services, features that enable you to find out about known events--for example, events that are already scheduled, out there, and announced. It's just a matter of aggregating them or letting users put them in, or searching and finding them. The second approach to looking at events is what we call expected events--events we expect or hope to have happen relatively soon. You may want to be alerted when an event happens. Events may not be schedule, and may not be on anyone's radar. For example, your favorite musician may be on tour, and may be coming to your city, and you could get an alert when that event is actually scheduled. We have tools to help you stay on track for those events.
The third dimension is called "dream events"--events you really, really wish could happen, may never happen, but you don't want to wait. It's amazing how many people--fans of a band, or things like that--never come to my town. Maybe that band simply doesn't believe that they have fans in a given city. Maybe they just don't know. What we've built in Eventful Demand is we've enabled people to create grass roots campaigns to demand their favorite performer come to their town for a performance. It doesn't need to be a performer--it might be a bunch of film buffs who heard about a movie that didn't get any distribution but got great reviews at Sundance--but they can demand a screening at their city. Demand has really exploded from our launch in March of 2006. We're very closely approaching 80,000 separate demands, literally all over the world--it's not just a U.S. thing at all. I'm amazed and surprised at how many communities around the world are demanding performers, it seems to come in waves. There's an interesting wave right now in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe, and they've pushed their demands to the top of the charts.
So is the service focused now more on the music side of things?
Brian Dear: In terms of events, it's anything scheduled to occur. I'm amazed at how many interesting and unusual events we index--dog shows, lectures, book signings, religious events, retail store events, all kinds of stuff. It just so happens that the Demand side tends to be about a performance by fans, and it's definitely true that Demands are music related, however they're well suited to any event.
Eventful is indexing events across the board, in something like 30-40 categories. Users can post events for free, and events at any time. And to give an example of the breadth of coverage, we even work with folks at Second Life--the virtual world--and put in over 1,000 events a week into our system. Those are events that go on in second life, which is not a physical, but a virtual place. Second Life users love that, as they get all of the features and functionality of Eventful--RSS, iCalendar feeds, for events in Second Life.
So what's the business model behind the service?
Brian Dear: The revenue portion we haven't rolled out yet. We're going to be doing that this year. Obviously, since we're about events--and events are inherently local--there's a great opportunity to tie together local advertising and sponsorship to events. So, a significant chunk of revenue we plan to come from advertising on the web site and through personalized emails and things like that. That advertising will be highly relevant and targeted to individual users--the model is definitely not intended to be the same as Google, where they are 99.9% reliant on advertising. We want to diversify the model a bit, and are experimenting with things in addition to advertising. We haven't announced any of that yet, but clearly, advertising is something we'll pursue. Those ads will be very relevant to the particular city you're looking at, or for a category of an event, or even specific events themselves. If you're looking at a music concert, it might be a restaurant nearby, to reach people at that concert--or maybe to advertise a special for that night. We're big believers in the holy grail of advertising--the local advertising opportunity--and enabling more merchants and vendors to reach Internet users in town or planning to travel to that town.
This is a pretty crowded space, with some big players--how do you think you're doing?
Brian Dear: It's funny, back when I was kicking around this idea initially, people would ask me during the investment phase--who is your competition? I believed the competition was Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Interactive Corp--and that's generally true today, just as anticipated. All of the big companies and portals have events as an important piece. It's a very compelling section of a local offering. All the major portals are pursuing, and have rolled out a local service--Yahoo Local, Microsoft has Windows Live Local. Classified ads are a component of that, and events listings are a component of that, as are business directories--for example, at this zip code, where is there pizza nearby. We are absolutely focused on events. We think that gives us a big advantage even over the very largest companies. Events, to a Yahoo or a Google, is number 1012 on their priority list. When you have 400 or 500 million users, you have so many other projects to attend to and feed.
We think there is a huge technology challenge in really pushing the event discovery area of the web. We want to make event discover something that is a thriving ecosystem of event sharing, discovery, and search on the web, and that really means a lot of interoperability with other services. It's no surprise everyone is more active in the event space, and we think that the competition is good. The whole segment of the web is still very, very much in infancy--as opposed to say stock information, stock quotes. The event discovery space is very, very early. There's a ton of work to be done by all the companies involved, lots of cooperation, and lots of interchange.
Thanks for the interview!