Why is it that you can book a table at a fancy restaurant through OpenTable, but you can’t book the bar for a corporate party? That is the question that a startup in New York City called Pogby is trying to answer. Barely in beta, Pogby is an event booking service founded by Joshua Gooch, who used to run JetBlue’s Website and helped build its TrueBlue customer loyalty program. Pogby aims to become the OpenTable of events, where corporate event planners and others can find and book venues for parties.
Pogby is one of the finalists competing in a startup competition at NYC Entrepreneur Week, where I was a judge today. The site is really not much more than an online demo right now, with only a half dozen venues in New York City on the site. But Gooch and his VP of sales Duane Lawrence plan to sign up 50 to 100 restaurants, bars, and other event spaces in short order. They are focusing on New York City to prove the concept. (This is really early stage—the company is still looking for seed funding). Each venue on Pogby gets its own page with pictures for each available event space, along with a calendar showing availability and a booking engine. Gooch knows a lot about reservation systems from his time at JetBlue, and you can see some of the design influences on Pogby.
it’s a fairly simple concept. Find a venue, check pricing and availability, and book online. Pogby plans to charge venues an 8 percent commission fee for any bookings and eventually will introduce a $99/month subscription fee. A typical event can cost $4,000 or more, and event spaces typically go unused 70 percent of the time. So any extra events a restaurant or venue can capture is worth the fees. Why hasn’t anyone done this already?
There is an obvious need for this service. Pogby however faces a few challenges. First, it needs to sign up a critical mass of popular event spaces before anyone will take it seriously. Second, it needs to make it easier for venues to sign up themselves in a self-serve fashion (this is coming, but to appear on the site right now involves too many manual processes). Third, it needs incentives to prevent people from looking up availability on the site and then calling up on their own to strike a better deal. (A discount would be good). Fourth, it needs to give event planners a way to negotiate prices and other terms on the site. Fifth, it needs to look beyond New York City.
But the biggest threat might come from OpenTable itself, which could add event booking a sa feature fairly easily since most of its restaurants rent out spaces for parties as well. Until they do, Pogby has an opportunity to carve out a niche for itself.