Answering that question has been the sweet spot for GigSalad, the Springfield, Missouri-based performer-booking platform co-founded by Mark Steiner and Steve Tetrault in 2007. Today, GigSalad has grown into a formidable events business, connecting party and event hosts with 130,000 performers, caterers, photographers, and other service providers across the U.S. and Canada.
Indeed, judging from the company's recent growth, a lot of people have needed an Elvis impersonator or princess--the company offers 626 and 2,140 of those respective performers on its site--to enliven their parties. Between 2016 and 2018, GigSalad has seen its annual revenue climb 180 percent to $14.4 million, giving it the 109th slot on the Inc. 5000 Series Midwest, a ranking of the 250 fastest-growing businesses in the region.
Steiner attributes his company's success over the period to increased search engine visibility, improved marketing, and good word of mouth. The company also changed its revenue model in 2016. Instead of charging fees on the deposits paid to talent by hosts, GigSalad now takes a percentage of the full booking fees.
According to Steiner, 2019 was the company's best year ever, with just shy of $17 million in annual revenue. January 2020 was GigSalad's best month ever, with February on track to break records as well. Then March and the coronavirus lockdown hit--putting a chill on the events and party-planning industry nationwide. According to a recent poll from events-management software provider Eventsforce, nearly half of the events planners surveyed said that their business was already hurt by the coronavirus. The events-planning industry overall generated $325 billion in 2018, according to the latest Oxford Economics's Economic Significance Study.
With consumers staying home and events being canceled to help slow the spread of the virus, any business that depends on gathering groups of people in one place finds itself frozen in place. That's true for GigSalad, too. The company has seen about 530 cancellations since the coronavirus outbreak prompted calls to shelter-in-place.
Despite the sharp turn, Steiner remains optimistic. "I'm concerned for our folks right now, because I think we might have a couple more weeks of this, but I'm also really positive and hopeful that the entertainment world will be one of the first to be revived, because that's just the way it's been."
Steiner, who is originally from New Jersey, started GigSalad after a stint working as a booking agent for nostalgia acts like the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra in New York City and Connecticut. He kept getting calls from performers hoping to work parties as well as from moms seeking clowns for their children's parties. He and Tetrault started conceiving a directory of acts.
Eventually, they built the site out as a platform with 600 different categories of talent that can be booked directly by hosts across the country and in Canada. In 2019, GigSalad helped 859 Santa Claus performers book 5,392 gigs. The talent, which ranges widely from Elvis impersonators to tarot card readers to classical musicians, pay around $300 a year to be listed on GigSalad's site where they set their own fees. GigSalad takes a small percentage of each booking. The company has 20 full-time employees.
Steiner says that while the company's new fee structure did rile some vendors initially, clear communication through email and social media helped smooth any ruffled feathers. "Taking full payments for products and services was and has become the norm if not the expectation," he explains. "Ultimately everyone got onboard as the benefits became clear: It was what event planners wanted." It also allowed for a more seamless process and less chasing down of checks later since payments were guaranteed in advance. The lesson was clear: If you're going to make a change, be clear with your partners, listen to their concerns, and be responsive, says Steiner.
Two benefits of Steiner's Midwest location that he's quick to tout: Low overhead and a laid back team that balance out his old East Coast intensity. Steiner jokes that he had to stop doing calls at some point because his tendency was to sell too hard, something he realized wasn't working for GigSalad. "I adapted," he admits.
Right now, there may not be much reason for many companies to celebrate, but Steiner remains positive. He just hired two new developers and will on-board them in the coming weeks to prepare them to work from home with the rest of his team. He's also convinced that people will find reasons to throw smaller, more intimate parties--or, who knows, all-digital ones--soon. "Moms are gonna throw kids birthday parties again," he says.