(Editor’s note: David Goldenberg is co-founder of PigSpigot.com, a user-generated greeting card site. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
After a year of planning and development, our company recently launched in beta mode. We were thrilled with our product, wanted to celebrate the people who made it work, and were ready to start spreading the word about the site. So we decided to host a launch party. And not just any launch party; we wanted to throw the kind of launch party that would remind guests of those ridiculously silly soirées that were part and parcel of the tech bubble.
(Well, maybe not quite as ridiculous as the Pixelon.com launch party – the doomed startup spent $10 million to bring in The Who, the Dixie Chicks, and KISS in to play – but fun and memorable nonetheless.)
There was one minor catch, though: we wanted to spend .01 percent of the $10 million Pixelon did – or about $1,000… To host 250 people… For four hours of awesomeness… On a weekend…
It was a tall order, so we figured we’d show you how we got it done.
1. Find a Great Location
Having spent tons of time scouting locations for event locations in the past, we knew that non-profits and schools had the most reasonable pricing requests. The place we eventually settled on was the huge top floor auditorium of an urban youth nonprofit. We’d been there before for a comedy show, so we knew it had the bar setup, bathrooms, stage and lighting that we’d need. (Cost: $450)
2. Invite the Right Guests
Free is a magic word. Free entertainment is golden. And if you’re so bold as to offer free booze, you’re bound to get a ton of people to your party. But there’s no guarantee that the folks that are drawn in by free alcohol will be the right ones. We wanted to bring out our fans, friends and contributing artists, as well as industry influencers in technology, social media and startups.
So how’d we get these people to show up? We set the event up on EventBrite, a social-media-friendly event management site. To get the word out, we started by reaching out to our existing networks, mobilizing our Facebook fans and Twitter followers and corresponding with our artists. Once the PigSpigot insiders were made aware of the event, we set about sharing the details with industry influencers by sending out e-cards and printed invitations to as many of our VIPs as possible. (Cost: $50)
3. Get Rockin’ Music
No kick-ass party would be complete without great music. Getting the musicians to play for close to free, though, was the hard part.
Engaging the help of a former band manager, we found an up-and-coming crooner who agreed to play for free in exchange for generous promotion and the promise that we would raise money for the nonprofit.
Next, we needed a DJ – so we turned to our friend Craig and his always helpful and eponymous list. Asking for a DJ for this huge event and promising only an “honorarium,” we still received nearly a hundred responses. The DJ we picked did a fantastic job for PigSpigot, even mixing in an amazing, big band version of Wonderwall.
In sum, promise and deliver publicity and you can get some great music for your launch party. (Cost: $200)
4. Set Up a Great Bar
What makes for a good party bar? Good drinks, lots of selection and a fast line. We didn’t want to hire bartenders, though, so we created a setup that allowed one of us to run the whole bar so we could switch in and out as the night went along. We premixed tons of cheap vodka with other drinks into several different spigoted dispensers; filled up coolers with wholesale beer, wine, and water; and practiced beforehand so that we could serve at least one guest every 10 seconds. (Cost: $150)
5. Add Tasty Eats
We didn’t want our guests to drink on an empty stomach, so we went by Costco and picked up a few pig-in-blanket party platters (get it?) and convinced a nearby frozen yogurt place to bring in coolers full of their tasty treats. (They also brought their Eskimo mascot, which resulted in a mascot dance-off the likes of which the world has never seen.) (Cost: $100)
6. Add Fun Touches
PigSpigot is all about making art accessible, so we wanted to create a way for our guests get in on the fun. We set up a huge art table with all sorts of supplies where guests could design their own cards. Granted, many of the cards we thought were hilarious at the time seem less so in the sober daylight, but everyone had fun, and some of the best cards are already up on the site.
We also had our artist-in-residence create an amazing pig costume using his signature cardboard and duct-tape style. He spent the entire night partying as the quirky, hilarious embodiment of our brand.
Next, we had another one of our graphic designers create a video featuring some of our favorite cards that we looped and projected onto one of the walls of the auditorium. (Cost: $50)
7. Get Great Sponsors
What’s an over-the-top launch party with out a raffle and silly gift bags to hand out? We convinced Blick Art Supplies to donate gift cards for the raffle, and our other sponsors donated a mishmash of fun items to include in the bags, including Blick pens, cans of Guru energy drink (which were also heavily featured at the bar!), issues of Mental Floss magazine, and Glam*Bags. (Cost: $0)
For just about a grand (and, granted, a ton of work on our part), this cash-starved startup was able to throw an incredible debutante ball for itself.
If we were to do it again, we might splurge on a bouncer to convince unwanted folks to leave, but those awkward moments were few and far between. In the end, not only did we celebrate our fans and partners, but we also introduced our company to a bunch of important folks with our best hoof forward.