Tag Archives: Mark Watkins

ILM East: Eventbrite, Goby and How Social Media Transforms Events

Events and “recreational discovery” are being transformed by social media, as evidenced by the development of Eventbrite, a new ticketing platform, and Goby, which helps consumers find things to do, including travel.

Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz noted that his company, founded in 2006, produced gross ticket sales “approaching a half billion dollars” plus thousands of free events. The company recently provided tickets for Shamrock Fest, an Irish festival at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. This summer, it is going to provide tickets for a 65,000 ticket event.

Hartz noted that the new era is marked less by search, which he describes as algorithmic discovery,m as by social discover via “shares” from friends, colleagues or others with tastemaker authority.Every Facebook share of a music concert is worth $12 in sales. Facebook is by far the most influential for sales; Twitter is #3 and LinkedIn is #5. “The local proximity of friends is the prevailing thesis here,”says Hartz.

The company’s current focus on events, ticketing and registration is a possible precursor for other verticals. “Events are naturally social,” noted Hartz. Events, ticketing and registration are a precursor to other verticals. Event are naturally social. Attend with friends or professional events with colleagues or people they admire.

Goby CEO Mark Watkins, meanwhile, noted that his company’s focus on recreational experiences in 350 categories is underappreciated. “A lot of focus on the restaurant space, but the experience is important too. He noted that it is sometimes more effective than other means for discovery. Local search, social networks, travel sites and mobile all have their own issues that keep them from being ideal, he said.

Goby: Go Mobile (and Go Social,) Event Marketers

Local consumers are looking beyond pure search when they are looking for family fun. That’s the unmet need that Boston-based Goby.com is trying to meet in its 350 category, events and family fun search site. The site is now reaching 500,000 unique visitors a month — double the number from our prior writeup of the company in March 2010.

CEO Mark Watkins tells us that the 10-person startup, which has raised $7.5 Million from Flybridge Capital Partners and Kepha Partners, including $2.5 million in October, has evolved from its roots as a local search engine. “We’ve been making it more of a social experience, and have started focusing more on mobile,” he says.

The key is to move beyond a pure search experience, which on the Web, is pretty much owned by Google. “Google is such a good aggregator of intent,” he says. Mobile audiences are much smaller, and (user) intention is really much more fragmented. User needs aren’t as easily met by a one-stop mobile search site.

At the same time, people have deeper relationships with mobile, Watkins says. Mobile apps that integrate with Facebook and allow users to share information with each other are likely to be more successful with audiences. Not that it is “either-or.” There is also a real connection between web usage and mobile usage, Watkins says. People might make a list on the Web for use later on mobile.

For these reasons, the mobile apps are more likely to attract regional chains as advertisers, as well as national marketers, such as the movie studios. Disney, for instance, has been running a mobile ad campaign with Goby for its release of Tron – the company’s first direct sell. “They’re very interested in mobile, even though it has a smaller audience than the Web.”

Goby.com: Search Engine Focuses on Local Events + Travel


Events are a vertical that cuts across many segments: travel, retail, sports, entertainment, education, dining, culture and others. Major players include specialists such as Zvents, Eventful, Americantowns.com and Center’d. City sites such as Citysearch and Yelp are active in the space as well.

A new one for us is Goby.com, a venture-backed firm that comes out of Mike Stonebraker’s relational database studies at MIT. The site, which launched in September 2009, has already had 250,000 visitors. It reviews 300 categories of things to do, from camping to opera. It can be embedded into other sites via Facebook Connect. An iPhone app is coming out “soon.”

The site breaks things up three ways: What would you like to do? Where? and When? It makes a special effort to go beyond “cities with airports next to them.” For instance, the most thorough listing of events in Carlsbad,CA 92009 that I’ve seen.

CEO Mark Watkins, a veteran of vertical search at Endeca, says the site is task- centric and created to be a “search engine for things to do in your free time. It does equally well for people planning a trip or sitting around the dinner table on Friday, wondering what they are going to do this weekend.”

It also approaches events in a way that Google may not. “Google gives answers for general purposes. But it understands keywords, not structured data. Plane tickets and other semantic information are not on Google, he says. “We’re getting very focused results. We can sort Web data by price,” among other things.

The general model for search engines is to have a keyword and give back a URL, says Watkins. But Goby seeks to convert those web pages to real world entities which people can make decisions about. “We’ve cross-referenced photography from across the Web, and integrated more video types, and MP3 from concerts,” he says.

Another focus is to figure out how people decide to go to events. “We want to know: how did you decide to be at that restaurant,” says Watkins. It is the interaction of the search and gaming worlds, building off location-based sites like FourSquare and Gowalla.

Indeed, Watkins emphasizes that Goby.com is not just about events. “Events are really important. But they are one dimension of how we spend free time.” Travel is another aspect. “We’re coming at it like a search engine, as opposed to TripAdvisor,” he says. Travel is surprisingly local oriented and is more complementary to local than is generally realized, notes Watkins. More than half of queries –55 percent — are typically near users.

As for revenue, the site expects to initially receive the lion’s share from affiliate and lead generation fees. It anticipates revenues from sites such as Priceline, and tour providers if it can recommend an Alcatraz tour in San Francisco, for instance. Or its personalization and recommendation engines can promote an Opera performance. When the site gets bigger, it will be more interesting to advertisers, says Watkins.

The site will also have a white label “pro” model for sites that might be licensed by media publishers, or travel suppliers.