As a business consultant, Julian Jost often found himself stuck in “boring, uninspiring meetings that always took place in the same, gray hotel conference rooms,” he says.
After using Airbnb to book overnight stays, he started to wonder: Why wasn’t there a site like it to find venues for meetings and events?
That question led Jost to launch Spacebase three years ago. The site helps planners search through thousands of venues around the world based on availability, guest number, price range and venue type. After launching in several European cities and New York, Jost says they’lll expand Spacebase to Chicago soon.
Other similar startups like EVENTup and The Venue Report offer searchable venue databases. Both EVENTup and The Venue Report have portfolios in Chicago.
Jayna Cooke took over EVENTup four years ago, after the company moved from Santa Monica to Chicago. Cooke previously worked as vice president of business development at Groupon and also runs her own nonprofit, Closet Angels. EVENTup currently lists 800 venues in Chicago.
Donny and Cortnie Fausner, based in Carlsbad, launched The Venue Report in 2015, she with a background in event design and he with experience in finance. Cortnie’s experience in the industry led to the idea for the site.
“It seemed hard to find good venue spaces, and there were no real resources to make it easier for planners,” says Donny.
Each site provides a search tool with varying filters and options. When planners find a venue they like, they can message the venue or request a quote through the site.
To be listed, venues must undergo a review process. As for what criteria the sites use to approve venues, Jost says Spacebase’s scouts look for “the right balance of creativity and professionalism.” The Venue Report looks for “some kind of X factor,” Donny says, as they comb through online reviews, the venue’s design elements, available photography and the venue’s online presence. EVENTup uses its own checklist and offers professional photography services for venues that don’t have Instagram-ready photos.
The sites then follow up once the venue profile has been posted to ensure planners are having a positive experience.
All three companies focus on saving planners time and offering out-of-the-box venue options, though they each also have a unique emphasis. Spacebase advocates for unique, creative environments as drivers of productivity (the site includes a boxing gym and old gas stations as venues). EVENTup touts its strong SEO as a marketing tool for venues; The Venue Report emphasizes the value of the original content produced for the site, including articles ranging from features on food and drink to getaway ideas.
As Spacebase expands to Chicago, EVENTup and The Venue Report are responding to requests to handle the entire booking and contract process on their sites. EVENTup is also beta testing a feature for its New York directory that allows planners to check for a venue’s available dates.
Joanne Orlando, a certified meeting planner and account manager at Total Event Resources, currently uses a variety of sites to check out venues online. Timing is the biggest impetus for doing an online search, she says, since making calls to 10 different venues takes hours. These sites also come in handy when planners need to find information after business hours. “Sometimes at 10 p.m. you can’t get a hold of someone on the phone, but you can get on a site that answers all of your questions,” Orlando says.
For Orlando, her main concerns about using such sites is the criteria they use to vet venues, and whether the information is accurate and updated on a regular basis. Some features she’d like to see: more sites with the ability to search for availability, more virtual tours of spaces and clear information on any renovations taking place at a venue.