Whenever a niche gets really crowded with startups, you know that something is broken. Online invitations, which has been dominated by Evite for the past decade, is one of those areas where there is literally a dozen services trying to make it better—MyPunchBowl, Amiando, Invitastic, MadeIt, Socializr, iPartee, Renkoo, ImThere, Skobee,
Zvents, Zoji, Windows Live Events. Now add Pingg. The site launched publicly last week. A little late to the party perhaps. But it starts from a very basic premise that most other online invitation sites surprisingly have ignored. Says co-founder and CEO Lorien Gabel: “We have taken the approach that the invite matters.”
When you get an invite from Pingg, you don’t have to click through to a Website blaring with advertisements just to find the address for a dinner. All the information is right there where it should be, in your email. Pingg’s invites are drop-dead gorgeous. A lot of care and attention has been put into the design of each one (you can choose from about 45 themes like dinner party, baby, wedding, food, travel, and eco-friendly). The invite, image, and event details all come through in your email. And you can RSVP from the email as well.
Of course, each invite is linked to a dedicated Website, where more photos, maps, videos, gift registries, and payment options exist (if guests want to pitch in to fund an event, for instance). The e-mails and Website are free. But you can also send out printed invites as postcards for $1.50 each (including postage) or send the invites as text messages to guests’ mobile phones ($1.50 for 20 messages). Gabel explains why he thinks Pingg is different in this blog post.
In addition to making money from printed invitations and sending SMS messages, Pingg has various other affiliate deals in place. If you don’t like any of the images Pingg provides for its invites, you can purchase one directly on Pingg through micro-stock photography site Fotolia (or upload your own image for free). The gift registry, which is currently linked to Amazon, offers other affiliate-fee opportunities. A ticketing feature will soon be launched, as will premium subscriptions for professional and power users. But advertising will never be part of the equation. “That detracts from the event,” says Gabel. Nobody wants to see a Weight Watcher’s ad next to a dinner invitation.
The site has some other nice touches, including guest-list management and event-reporting tools. Event hosts can set up automatic reminder messages and thank-you notes when they are creating their invites. And the RSVP options include the ability to limit an event’s capacity, or to allow invitees to bring guests or transfer their invites to others.
Pingg is based in New York City (the CEO and VP of marketing share an office with Clickable. First30Days, and independent film company PalmStar Entertainment). Its development and design team is in Toronto. The co-founders, brothers Gabel and CTO Matt Harrop, are Canadian. They founded the company in January, 2007 and self-funded it with $500,000. Then they raised an $800,000 angel round in March, 2007 led by the early-stage Actarus Funds, the investment vehicle of Stephan Paternot, co-founder of TheGlobe.com. (Paternot now runs PalmStar). At least that 1.0 money is now being put to good use.