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We’ve all had to spearhead the planning of an event.  Whether it be your weekly trip to the movies with your friends, a bachelor party, or even that Ruby meetup, it’s always a pain in the rear. Seattle’s Gatherball is working to make planning events “less like herding cats and more like herding awesome.”

Started by three ex-Aol’ers, Gatherball has a very interesting team behind it.  All three of the technical founders  — Ben Demboski, Paul Watts and Jonathan Nelson — have built and managed projects at some of the biggest tech companies (RealNetworks, Microsoft, HTC).  The team met in 2002 at a company called Wildseed, a startup creating a Linux-based mobile phone for the teenage market.

We caught up with co-founder and CEO Paul Watts for this installment of Startup Spotlight:

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Whenever you’re planning any sort of group getaway, the questions pile up: when to go, where to stay, who is bringing what, who is driving whom, and who paid for what? We’re here to offer busy travelers a break from the hassle, whether it’s a weekend in the woods or a weekend in Vegas.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Our previous product involved organizing friends around get-togethers like dinner and coffee. While that product didn’t do well, the more we talked with people, the more the challenges of planning group getaways kept coming up.  We took that as a sign of the direction we needed to head.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap” “Bootstrap/angel. We’ve been staying bootstrapped while we work on our solution and business model. Once we get all the pieces in place we’ll be looking to add some fuel to the fire.”

Team Gatherball

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Understanding the challenges of group planning better than anyone. We’ve talked to hundreds of people, listened to their stories, and internalized what it takes to make a product that engages everyone in the group. And we’re continuing to listen, learn, and improve.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Joining an incubator/accelerator.  We went through the Founder Institute back in the Winter of 2011, and the mentoring, the camaraderie, and the connections have continued to pay dividends.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Building too much, too soon for our first product. We embraced ‘lean’ a little too late, and our original MVP wasn’t “lo-fi” enough. While it was quicker than we had ever worked before, we ultimately could have disproven some of our hypotheses with less work overall.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Tough choice. Mark Zuckerberg obviously changed how we socialize online, and that’s powerful. But I have tremendous respect for Bill Gates and what he’s done at and after Microsoft. If I had to choose one person who I’d want to spend more time learning from, it’d be Gates.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “We’re driven to build products that people love to use. We want people to love what we make, and have people who talk to us say, “I love that app!” Making things that make people’s lives better: that’s our world domination strategy.”

Rivals should fear us because: “If rivals choose to fear us rather than focusing on delivering value, then they should fear themselves more than they fear us.”

We are truly unique because: “We have an abundance of deep technical know-how, combined with a strong empathy for the user. We’ve been working together for years, and building great products is in our blood.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Moving away from our previous product. There’s always that urge to just stick with it, and maybe things will turn around? It’s the eternal optimism of the entrepreneur. Ultimately, it was the right thing to do, and we learned a ton, but it’s still hard to kill something you’ve put your passion into.“

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just
starting out: “Give more than you get. Remember you’re not just building a product — you’re building relationships. Take the time to help whenever and wherever you can. Give more than you get, and everything works out in the end.”

Gatherball is currently in private beta, but the company has offered GeekWire readers a special way in: send them an email at and let them know what you’re planning for Seafair, Labor Day, or any time during the summer.  Mention you saw them in GeekWire and they’ll send you an invite.

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