Punchbowl Takes On Evite With A Redesigned Site, New Kids’ Brand Partnerships

Party planning resource and digital invitations provider Punchbowl is coming out swinging against rival Evite today with a full-page ad in the L.A. Times designed to kick off a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging users to ditch the older service. The move comes at a time when Punchbowl has just snagged a large handful of new brand partnerships from major players, including Sesame Street, Sanrio (Hello Kitty), Hasbro (My Little Pony, Transformers), Star Wars Rebels, Chuck E. Cheese, and more, and has rolled out a redesigned website.

The company had already swung an exclusive partnership with Disney at the beginning of the year – which yes, means that Punchbowl has the much sought-after “Frozen” invitations. But its new deals will also impact Punchbowl’s bottom line, as they are multi-year, revenue sharing arrangements that allow the site to offer some of the more popular kids’ character brands to the moms and dads planning their children’s parties and other events.

Punchbowl doesn’t talk a lot about where it is, financially, as a private company. CEO Matt Douglas would say only that its user base is in the millions – though smaller than Evite’s – and that it’s in a position now to be profitable if it wanted to flip that proverbial switch. But Punchbowl is currently invested in growing the business, he notes, and it’s doing so without plans to raise any more cash from investors at this point.

“Right now we’re in a period of expansion…from a fundraising and cash standpoint we’re in excellent shape,” he says. The CEO cites “very strong” growth that has been aided by the Disney deal, but also attributes much of what makes the business work to the sophisticated technology running on Punchbowl’s backend.

The company engages in what’s known as multivariate testing, which is similar to A/B testing except it involves more experiments running simultaneously. Punchbowl may have up to eight different tests running on its site at any time, testing everything from different price points to different feature sets and consumer experiences. This is how the service is able to better monetize its new customers and party hosts, converting them into subscribers who pay either monthly or annually for access to more designs and features, like polling, recurring events, adding co-hosts, and a larger number of guests.

Punchbowl also makes a portion of its revenue from the sales of party supplies, but the focus for the near future is on the invites side of its business.

A “good chunk” of hosts become subscribers, Douglas says, declining to provide specific metrics, citing competitive reasons. Plus, the company has learned from its back-end analytics how to makeover the site for its relaunch today, he says. The new site is designed to work even better on a tablet or a smartphone. (The company also offers native apps, but many still come to Punchbowl via the web). “We’ve redesigned everything about the site,” says Douglas, “which is hard to do when you have a big, existing user base.”

The updated website is menu-driven, allowing party planners to quickly drill down into the category of invitation they want and begin building – before they’re asked to create an account. “We’ve taken a 10-step process down to 3 steps,” Douglas explains. “In the past, we had a lot of party-planning features in the workflow. This time, we’ve focused just on the online invitations feature.”

With the new partnerships now out in the open and the updated site going live, Douglas wants to establish Punchbowl as a legitimate – and known – rival to Evite, whose longtime web presence has made it a brand users remember and return to for their party planning needs. Change, of course, can be hard to affect.

“It’s like AOL email and Internet Explorer 6 – who’s using this stuff anymore? It’s the same people who are using Evite,” jokes Douglas.

That’s not necessarily true, though – I’ve received a couple of Evites in the past few weeks alone, and not necessarily from people who are behind the times. It’s just that the product works well enough, so people return. That means Punchbowl has its work cut out for it in this marketing blitz, but scoring the new brand deals will help. After all, Chuck E. Cheese alone has 575 locations across the U.S. where parents regularly host kids’ birthdays – and that business is now advertising for Punchbowl on the Chuck E. Cheese party-planning website.