How to Throw the Perfect Startup Party
Planning, promoting and hosting a startup event is no easy feat. It takes the organisational skills of Miley Cyrus coordinating her dating schedule and a masters degree in crisis management. But get a startup party right and you have a great way to get your brand name out there, meet new customers, and celebrate the birth of an idea into a living product or service.
In the last six months I have received numerous invitations to launch parties for startup companies as well as being asked to do various talks on how to throw the perfect startup launch party. This made me think that perhaps a ‘how to throw the perfect start up party’ post was necessary.
Before we start let me explain the last event I went to.
I arrived 20 minutes after the set start time of the event, and the place was already half full. Within an hour, it had hit capacity. A great start.
The audience was full of investors and tech startup founders as well as sponsors in the market for a new technology that could benefit their bottom line. Top industry partners and service providers were there including top London based photographers and stylists. Even a few celebrities had made their way to the event. The room was filled with current and future clients who were ready to start signing deals with the new tech startup.
But how were the founders able to pack a room full of the people it needed when it was a brand-new startup that had bootstrapped its way to launch? Here are 12 top tips.
1. If you Can, Hire the Help.
If you can, always pay an expert when it comes to things that count. Hire a team to help you manage the logistics of the party, like running the door, bartending, and taking photos. This frees you up to be the host with the most, the ring leader and what you are – a founder with a purpose! In clubs we had a mantra, “something would always go wrong, and the solution was to react quickly and throw people on it. A good event planner makes sure nothing does go wrong or when it does making sure no one ever notices.”
But if you can’t hire help and you are bootstrapping, let me share my tips with you now, so that you too can hit capacity at any event you host, whether it be a launch for your startup or anything else. The truth is that a startup party is a great way to get your brand name out there, meet new customers, and celebrate your start to one of the toughest events in your career or possibly even life.
2. Know Your Objectives
Why are you doing this? What is the best result that may come from this event?
Do you want brand recognition, to raise funds, to educate the market on what you do, generate leads or look for partners, or promote the release of your product or service?
The most common is simply to raise your brand profile. For me the most successful events have the same ingredients: the right people in the room, the right press and an end goal of making everyone in the room an ambassador for you and your product/service. At a recent startup event they had an open bar, bowling, bumper cars, an indoor circus and so many after parties. If it were me, I would have also partnered with Hailo and got all the attendees free rides home.
At another recent start up event the entire purpose was to build an email list . A great way to do this is to offer respondents an opt-in option when they RSVP for your event. Many registration platforms offer this feature.
Buzz factor is yet another great reason to host a startup event.
Educate and Party Late
Some startup events include educational aspects including classes, workshops, seminars, training, or even small conferences. You can host a class or workshop on your own for a rather low budget, usually just by providing drinks and snacks. If you don’t want to do the heavy lifting like securing a venue and marketing the event, consider partnering with an education company.
Smaller Budgets: Smaller Crowds
More intimate events, like dinner parties, are another great way to connect one-on-one with “influencers” who have the capability to change the course of your business. Crowds of this nature generally include journalists, VCs, angel investors and other founders. When thinking of making these small events count, look at the content of the event versus the look and feel of the event that are so important to a larger scale event.
3. Finding the Perfect Venue
Venues are not cheap and neither is catering so when budgeting always ask about hidden venue costs.
EXPERT TIP: Always try and see if there is a minimum spend and compare this to the flat venue hire fee. Unless you have free food and drinks from sponsors, a minimum spend is often a much better idea.
What is the size of event? Will the venue offer catering? Or can you bring your own alcohol and catering in? Are there bathrooms, WiFi, security, cloak room, dedicated ops manager or event manager and of course a decent AV setup?
Rookie Mistake: Always read the contract, look at non-refundable deposit terms and insurance.
Venue is paramount. I start every event thinking:
I want this event at a unique location.
Most companies hold events at bars, hotels, or during conferences. But people have been to many of these places before. They get used to them and know what to expect. Because of that, people lose interest in attending. Why not think outside of the box and hold your event at a members club or a converted church? By having events at locations people aren’t expecting them to be at, creates a sense of curiosity. Don’t have space for a 20-person dinner party in your home? Rent an Airbnb instead!
4. Keep your Invitation Simple.
Most people think you need to write a ton of copy for your guest list. Or that you need to make it sound fancy. For a launch event, keep it simple. Use a picture, add a logo to the top, an example could look something like this:
Jason Allan Scott’ SaaS launch party
INVITES YOU AND A GUEST
Tuesday Feb 28
Open Bar 7:30 p.m. – 10: 30 p.m.
Please RSVP by Friday, Jan 27 to email address.
It really doesn’t get much simpler than that.
5. What About the Cheddar? What is your Budget?
If you’re the usual startup, you have no money for anything, let alone cash for the best launch party money can buy. If you do have cash it is still a tough sell to explain how you spend £40-£60k on a party for your investors.
Most startup parties are free, which means all the costs are on you as the party planner. You want to turn followers into fans and ambassadors, get them to buy your product, download your app and become evangelists. Like any other aspect of your business try to understand how you’ll measure ROI in terms of success:
Track lead and sales generations from the event.
Measure social media mentions.
Count new emails generated from RSVP confirmations.
Count downloads or subscribers.
Measure Press Mentions.
Look at the KLOUT score of attendees.
Meetings booked for after the event.
Another fantastic way to budget for a party is to get sponsors on board. Check out who sponsors events similar to yours and find an intro, or try to get in touch by emailing the company or contact them up on LinkedIn.
Sponsors will ask that the event is co-branded in some way, so be creative! Solely mentioning them on social media and putting their name on an invite is so 2002. Instead look at creating silos/departments and have each sponsor pay for a specific part of the party, like branded drinks, branded staff, branded umbrellas and chargers, photo booth and goody bags that will be sure to leave an impression.
Events are Pamela Anderson, in the fact that they are remembered for what is up front. So ask for the money or stock up front.
Expert tip: It is always easier to secure goods or services in kind, as opposed to cash. After the event, send a thank you note or gift. Lastly if you see a tweet or Facebook post about a sponsor from an attendee, copy that message and send it to them, sponsors love to see amplification and exposure.
6. Time is Money
Nothing is as important as your time. Time is the most valuable asset we have and in any city your audience will have a million things attached to their time so make it as easy for yourself as possible.
Pick a date, have 2-3 backup dates.
Give yourself 6 weeks minimum.
Automate, use Doodle – makes scheduling easier.
Make sure no other major events conflict with yours.
Every major agency in the world hold their Winter parties earlier in the season so take note and hold your event at another time – e.g. the end of February. Don’t compete to get your clients to your event – choose a time when people are most likely to have a free schedule that month.
7. The Crowd.
When putting together a powerful invitation list, think about who you want in the room, link this to the ROI and purpose of the event. Like writing a good book, always be thinking of your audience. A group of possible financiers do not bother with the hottest DJ and a cash bar. Invite them to a dinner party or a whiskey and cigar night with canapés in a venue they have probably not been to.
Expert Tip: Large cities have a 25% drop off rate.
8. To VIP or Not to VIP… That is the Question.
Many top party planners I know often invite industry influencers to attend their startup parties but then segregate them. Or create a red velvet roped corner for VIPs. This can help with publicity or help to get partners and sponsors but can also create a strange vibe so think it through carefully before you commit to this. I like to invite influencers together with all my other attendees.
Inviting an influencer and engaging with them via Instagram or Twitter is a great way to be seen for you, your sponsors and partners.
9. Start Spreading the News
In my day, news of parties and events spread through word of mouth. Now, with social media, they spread through word of “mouse”. Promote your startup party accordingly on social media channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and maybe even Snapchat, Instagram and YPlan. You can also post your startup event on sites like Startup Digest, Tech City News and The Fetch.
Expert Tip: Ask all of your VIP’s for their support in promoting the party via social media, blog posts and newsletters.
10. Play that Funky Music
Always use a DJ (if you can) to truly surprise and cause awe.
In the past, we’ve had Robin Thicke, N.E.R.D and Honey Ryder play an acoustic set. Of course these days, a great playlist will do too. Again, this is a great way to get free publicity. A nice way to get these artists for a small cost or none is to link up with some charity if possible.
11. Offer Something for Free.
Even if you don’t have money to put up the costs for a freebie, you can still get creative. Pull strings and have costs for the event covered by sponsors, e.g. a free bar for the first two hours. Advise guests that the bar will be open for a limited time. This helps drive traffic to show up at the event on time. I always speak to sponsors about a chance to be seen, step and repeat boards, goody bags, coasters, invites, thank you letters etc.
12. Take a Moment to Remind Everyone Why They Are There
Always, always, always, take the time at events to inform your audience of why they’re there! You can perform a live demo of your product or service (always test this earlier in the day) or a quick speech. Save the long stuff for when you are face to face with those that actually care or will truly understand. For launch events get a well-known speaker or celebrity as this will add klout to your brand and make for great PR.
Keep a positive attitude and always have a plan B. The above is everything you may need although any event planner worth their salt will show me a few things I have missed, that is the point of a plan B to add these and the point of rule 1: when you can, hire a professional. Lastly I would say the most important rule is on the night/day show genuine appreciation for your attendees and they’ll care about you, your product or service in return.
These are some of my thoughts on how to throw the perfect startup party. This has been a long article. If you’ve read to the end, thanks for sticking with me. And if you have any thoughts or experiences to share, please feel free to comment in the section below.