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Virtual Celebration provides a way for people to connect and celebrate special events and occasions online.
We spoke to founder Pat Campbell about the company, its proprietary platform, and what makes it different from other social media.
In one sentence, what is Virtual Celebration?
Virtual Celebration is a proprietary marketing and technology platform which mashes together social media, social gaming and e-commerce to reinvent the way we celebrate.
What problem does Virtual Celebration solve?
The economy has had a radical impact on our discretionary spending but it has driven a more powerful desire to stay connected in meaningful ways. Virtual Celebration mirrors the fun and interaction of a live celebration while creating an on-going digital “memory” which endures, all for less than the cost of a greeting card.
Virtual events are expected to grow to be a $20bn business in just a few years. We are poised to take advantage of that trend.
Who is your target audience?
We have several target markets: For consumer celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries, hosts are primarily women 25-55. Most have participated in some form of social media and many have an above average interest in online games. Guests range in age from 6 to 90, include men and women, and show a willingness to overcome lack of internet skills to participate.
New socially connected communities are using Virtual Celebration to share their common passions and interests in a new, fun, private and secure environment. Recent events include a cookie swap, scrapbooking party and pie social.
Brands are using Virtual Celebration to create engaging events which tie back to their customers’ interests as a way to engage them in deeper and more passionate ways. Look for our incredible Easter Celebration being sponsored by a major brand in April.
When and why did you launch it?
We launched in beta 18 months ago and gathered a great deal of usability data to fine tune the customer experience. Our first major celebration took place in September 2010 with an engaged audience of 10,000 scrapbookers.
We launched because the social gaming market was expanding quickly, personalized products such as photo books were growing dramatically, and at the same time people were begging for a more closed and private environment to celebrate with people of a like mind.
In addition, the trends towards staying home and travelling less allowed us to bring people together with a low-cost highly experiential solution. So this convergence of trends was in our favor.
With the growth of social media sites we have been able to expose Virtual Celebration with viral marketing rather than expensive advertising campaigns; our advantage is that we are highly focused on providing customized tools and marketing support specific to the passion point of the audience.
What were the biggest challenges involved in building Virtual Celebration?
Creating a platform that could stay flexible and be plug and play as technology changes. The world of social media and gaming, and even e-commerce are still evolving rapidly and as a result, being extremely nimble is critical. Since the integration of these three is what makes us unique it means staying on top of all three trends, not just one.
The other challenge has been stretching every ounce of capital during what has been the worst recession in our lifetime. Moving slower but smarter became critical, counter to most internet start-ups which have the philosophy to run as fast as one can.
We took an opposite approach over the last 18 months and now we are properly poised to take advantage of any recovery in the investment market.
How will the company make money?
We are beginning to collect fees from companies wanting to deploy the platform for their own branded celebrations, we have cover charges for consumer-driven celebrations. Fees are charged to have continued access to the party memory, paid widgets/games, gift and personalized product sales.
Highly engaged audiences buy, even in tough times. Our average time on site is ten times that of the average internet site. Our average page views per session are equivalently higher as well, and our take-up rate on paid widgets/games has been better than expected.
What is your pricing model?
Set-up/licensing fees, per active user charges as long as a celebration is running, revenue share with businesses for advertising and sponsorship fees, revenue share with commerce partners wanting to reach a highly targeted audience prime to be purchasing gifts.
Who is in the team and what does it look like?
We have a combined total of 40 (wo)man years in publishing, event planning, affinity-marketing, advertising, e-commerce, the social expression space, direct marketing and internet technology.
My learning curve comes from being President of Popular Science Properties, EVP barnesandnoble.com, digital change agent at American Greetings and Hallmark, marketing solutions provider for uBid, gather.com, smartbargains and Sony Digital Group.
Our CTO has been a developer and designer for over 200 worldwide internet businesses from start-ups to fully-fledged consumer and B-to-B corporations. He has the most unbelievable combination of developer, marketer and business skills.
The rest of the team’s experience spans years of online marketing, public relations and event planning. We are all social network and gaming fanatics. It’s an amazingly loyal, driven team and I am extremely grateful for their on-going support through the roller-coaster ride of a start-up.
Where would you like to be in one, three and five years' time?
In a year I’d like to have a million guests who share at least one happy moment in a virtual celebration, they might otherwise have missed.
In three years I want to provide every sick child with a virtual celebration so they never have to ever miss a birthday or holiday again.
In five years I want our team to be on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine as a role model for all women who late in their careers take a deep plunge and survive to tell their story!