Corporate events don’t have to be awful
By: Mark Guarino May 14, 2015
If you need to book a place to eat, a place to stay or a place to get a haircut and you need to book it pronto, there are apps. If your company needs to book a place for an event, there’s now an app for that, too.
Kapow Events, launched in Chicago in 2012, signs up venues, from bars and restaurants to theaters and even museums and sports arenas, and puts them in a database that clients can browse. The Loop-based startup covers eight cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, and expects to be in 20 by year-end. Staffing is up to 130, with 10 hires expected each month this year. First-quarter revenue grew 400 percent from the year earlier.
Clients include Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Hewlett-Packard and Deloitte. Venues range from Wrigley Field rooftops to concert powerbroker Live Nation.
Founder and CEO Marc Halpin, 49, says he came up with the business when he saw restaurants and bars struggle to handle events. “It was always a part-time thing for the venues,” he says. “They didn’t know the options, they didn’t understand the intricacies of the industry, but they wanted to run good events and had a propensity to do a lot of them.
“The expectation today is ‘I want it easy, I want it simple, I want it now.’ Culturally, that was always a bit alien for the event space.”
Kapow’s home page is filled with thumbnails of packages listing how many guests can be accommodated and a price per person. (Starting at $334, for instance, you can speed around Joliet’s Autobahn Country Club in a luxury car.) Clients can select dates and book events on the site. Kapow, which puts on 50 to 60 occasions a month in Chicago alone, makes its money through marketing fees charged to the venues.
Barbara Bouman, Live Nation’s national sales director, says Kapow is “just like having an additional sales person on your team” in helping direct clients its way. “The packages are so unique, we can reach out to potential clients in way we haven’t done before,” she says. Events that Kapow has produced for the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company include plated dinners at the House of Blues for 40 people to large receptions in the venue’s restaurant for 250 people.
Kapow has pulled in $1.6 million in funding from investors that include FireStarter Fund and Chicago Ventures. Halpin declines to report financial figures.
Hospitality is in Halpin’s blood. He grew up the son of a pub and restaurant owner in the U.K.’s South Wales before moving to Chicago in 2005 as founder and CEO of TradingPartners, a technology company catering to sectors including food service. Outside Kapow he is training for the Chicago Marathon—he never misses a year—and spends time at his Winnetka home with his two children.