Ryan Hamlin started PlaceFull two years ago with the goal of helping people find awesome party or meeting spaces in the Seattle area — an idea that sprung from his own frustration searching for venues for his kids’ activities. The concept wasn’t a bad one. But it was tough to create an online marketplace in which both consumers — those looking to book events — and small businesses — those with event spaces — could connect. The classic “chicken and egg” problem, if you will.
Hamlin, a former general manager at Microsoft, did what most entrepreneurs do in those situations: He pivoted.
“Quickly we learned that building just a marketplace was extremely hard and expensive to create enough consumer awareness to have a successful business model,” he said. That’s when the 10-person startup uncovered the idea of focusing on the booking and scheduling tools for small businesses, an idea that resonated with investors.
PlaceFull just scored an additional $1.1 million in funding, following a $1 million raise from last March. Several angel investors, including those from the Alliance of Angels, participated in the deal.
PlaceFull now boasts more than 10,000 listings, with merchants in 28 states and 10 countries. Hamlin said the new model is working, including partnerships with organizations such as several key partnerships with associations Contemporary Ceramic Studios Association to provide online booking and scheduling for paint your own pottery and ceramics studios.
“The fastest way to get a lot of merchants was to focus on solving their bookings problems first and once they sign up for PlaceFull we then have all their listings on the placefulll.com marketplace for consumers,” he said. “The focus on (software-as-a-service) also allows us to have a monthly subscription model that is more predictable with less unknowns month to month vs. a standard transaction based model.” PlaceFull is now charging $39.95 for the merchant services, including scheduling and booking tools and analytics.
In making the transition, Hamlin said that they discovered that “kid-oriented businesses” did not have a good booking and scheduling too. Restaurants had OpenTable. Home Services had Porch and Angie’s List. But Hamlin said no one was really servicing the event, activities and parties space.
“When we sized the market, we found over 200,000 of these businesses in the US alone that were underserved or had no booking solution today,” said Hamlin, adding that the pivot helped “dial us in” on the market.
Here’s a closer look at what PlaceFull is trying to accomplish.