Lessons Learned from Julie Novack and Mark Sciortino
The Hyde Park Angels “New Investment Series” profiles our most recent investments by examining the investment process and the individual company’s future trajectory from two perspectives: the portfolio company’s CEO and the HPA leader who made the deal happen. This edition focuses on PartySlate.
Hyde Park Angels invested in PartySlate, a two-sided platform that allows event professionals to share their work and party hosts to gain inspiration from it, last month. We spoke with PartySlate CEO and Co-Founder Julie Novack and HPA Member Mark Sciortino about the company, making two-sided marketplaces work, and how other companies can achieve the same success PartySlate has seen.
Julie, would you share a little bit about what PartySlate does?
PartySlate is a digital platform that lets people planning larger-scale events find new ideas and the best event professionals in their area. So it's an inspiration platform for people planning parties, and it’s a content marketing platform for event professionals. We are focused on helping venues, planners, decor and floral companies, caterers, and photographers share their portfolio to build their business.
Can you talk to me about how you first came up with the idea for PartySlate?
In addition to having my digital agency career, I have always loved being involved in the local community. I’ve been on three or four charity boards for the last twenty years here in Chicago, so I’ve planned over 50 large-scale events. I always go online to look for new ideas, and I was frustrated that all I could find were wedding blogs that weren’t relevant and Pinterest dead ends. I was using this website called Houzz to redesign my kitchen and that's when lightning struck for me. I said “I need this type of photo-rich platform for the events industry.” I really set out to build Houzz for the events industry.
Is that original idea still the foundation for what PartySlate is today, or have you shifted over time?
We’ve really used our analytics and user feedback to refine our model, but the core model is the same. The value proposition for the consumer is that you have access to all the best pros and new ideas all in one place, and the value proposition for the professionals is this is an easy way to share all of your work.
Mark, what appealed to you about PartySlate as an investor and as an operator?
As an investor, I saw the large market size and the strong team that PartySlate is bringing to the table. Julie knows the event space very, very well and has a clear product solution. From an operations standpoint and a personal standpoint, I love things that can effectively mix art and science. That is what PartySlate is bringing to bear.
Shifting back to you Julie, you had an impressive career running marketing at Razorfish and Vibes over the course of your career. How did that help you start PartySlate?
At Razorfish, I was helping some of the biggest brands in the world with their digital strategy and user experience. It was a great foundation for understanding customer segments, creating roadmaps and prioritizing digital investments. At Vibes, I had transitioned from the digital agency world to the product SaaS space. I learned how to balance the needs of the business with the needs of big clients.
Is there anything that you had to learn on the job at PartySlate as an entrepreneur?
One of the things I learned in the early days is that what I did and how I worked at a digital agency is very different from a startup. Before I had a team and it was just me, I hired a digital agency to help build a prototype, and I think I could have been better served by a team of contractors with a whiteboard in a room. When you’re first building your own intellectual property and your own platform, I think you have to have it in-house. Not to say you can't hire experts, but the core technology has to be owned internally. Being in the room where it happens is how you make sure the product really is your vision. Once my tech co-founder, John Haro, came on board, we hired a team of amazing developers, designers and UX experts.
I’d like to hear both of your perspectives on how to deal with a two-sided market like the one PartySlate is tackling. What is PartySlate doing effectively that others can learn from?
Julie: We very clearly had to build out the event professional side of the market before we could drive consumer traffic. We spent the first nine months of our life as a business focused on getting these top-tier event professionals on the platform.
We do that through really smart editorial, getting them excited about being featured as top professionals in the community, and then after we get that critical mass of pros and that excitement, we get them to help us drive traffic through social media. We clearly had to start with the professionals, but once we have amazing content, then we can do so many amazing things to package that content in different ways.
Mark: It's getting really clear on the incentives for both sides of the market. Julie is helping these event professionals show the best of themselves. On the customer side, they are giving them that breadth of options to really understand what a great party looks like.
This is also true for any business, but success is really about understanding the value proposition for the user and building back from that. If you build a product that customers want and you can deliver that economically, then you will have a growing business.
How are you planning on working together now that Hyde Park Angels and PartySlate have developed this investment partnership?
Julie: I am looking to leverage Mark’s marketing, digital expertise, and strategic planning background to work together on our marketing plan. Getting a written marketing plan that we can review with metrics will be a great value.
Mark: I’m going to help by bringing the full power of the Hyde Park Angels group to Julie and her team. There will be plenty of questions that I won't know the answer to, but I will certainly tap the rest of the members to help.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to an entrepreneur who wanted to start a company tomorrow, what would it be?
Julie: It’s hard to do it by yourself; spend a lot of your time focused on finding a co-founder that compliments your skillset.
Mark: It’s a long road, overnight successes take seven to eight years, so get some rest.