Luke Hutchison didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do as a graduate of West Point in 2013 -- only that, ever since the 9/11 attack in New York, he wanted to serve his country.
Certainly, he never imagined launching a private event management platform for restaurants and venues, but that’s what he is building, and VCs think enough of it that they just seed funded the company to the tune of $3.6 million.
Interestingly, the idea ties to Hutchison’s five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer. Strange as the leap may sound, Hutchison, who was twice deployed to Afghanistan, says that “as you rise through the ranks, there’s a lot more paperwork and a lot less working with soldiers and doing things on the ground.”
Indeed, he says, the idea for his startup -- Perfect Venue -- largely owes to the time in between deployments, when Hutchison found himself organizing social events for his unit -- and frustrated by the process. “It would take days to get responses from venues, then the proposal was made in Word and I’d usually have to, like, drop off a check to pay the deposit.”
Though large chains and hotels have the resources to invest in snazzy software, it became apparent to Hutchison, the more he talked about the problem, that independent operators didn't have an affordable option, so he decided to leave the army and get to work. Now, his three-person team has developed what he describes as an all-in-one, subscription-based event management platform that allows restaurants -- and a lot of other building owners with enough space for an event -- to easily respond to messages, send fast and professional proposals, and securely collect payments online.
In fact, says Hutchison, Perfect Venue is so much more efficient than its "hundreds" of customers' various processes earlier in time that, according to him, they report saving 12 hours per week and see an increase in sales of more than 40% because they can book more business with far less friction.
It's a bigger market than one might imagine, suggests Brian Rothenberg, the venture capitalist who led Perfect Venue's new funding on behalf of Defy Partners. The private events business is estimated to generate roughly $80 billion per year in the U.S., and Rothenberg -- who previously spent six years as the VP of growth at Eventbrite -- says Eventbrite long viewed the venue space as "quite interesting, quite attractive."
It never wound up building a product, which is perhaps why, when Hutchison first pitched Rothenberg his idea at a conference, the two stayed in touch.
While there are consumer-facing options in the market that help individual venues -- Peerspace is among them -- Rothenberg says he prefers Perfect Venue's approach, which is to build a supply of restaurants and other venues and become their customer relationship management (CRM) vendor.
Both men suggest, too, that Perfect Venue -- founded roughly a year ago in San Francisco -- has plenty of room to expand into other areas once it nails down the business it's building today.
Says Hutchison, "Maybe there's potential down the road to help people find and book the right venue, but right now we're just laser focused on helping businesses manage their existing business. When you go to a restaurant's website and fill out an inquiry form, you're actually going to our white-label form that creates a lead in their system. From there, restaurants can communicate with guests, review proposals, get paid -- everything that you need to do in a CRM."
Other backers in Perfect Venue's seed round include Amity Ventures, Context Ventures, Caviar co-founder Shawn Tsao, Dutchie co-founder Sam Ellis and Meritech co-founder Paul Madera.
Above: Perfect Venue's small but growing team, with Hutchison at far right.