Who Is She?
Jennifer Gilbert, 35, is the president and chief visionary officer for Save the Date , one of Manhattan’s foremost event planning companies, which plans events for a wide variety of clients, including Fortune 500 companies (Microsoft worked with Gilbert for an event to launch Windows 2000; the hot fall line-up parties for the Networks), brides-to-be and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Jewel.
Gilbert is turning the traditional event-planning business model upside down. Her company works with approximately 3000 corporate clients and finds locations for their events – for free. Gilbert was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998, the only woman to receive the honor and the youngest in the award’s history, and has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitian, Inc., and BusinessWeek. She lives in New York City and has a house in the Hamptons.
Let’s Get This Party Started:
“I started out planning parties as a teenager – the proceeds from my first party helped to pay for my prom dress, limos and dinner for my friends, and I continued planning events throughout college at the University of Vermont. Early in my career, I worked for an event firm in New York. Within two years, I brought in 100 new accounts and was responsible for half of the company’s revenue, but had no say in the company’s future. So I began my own.”
Creating a Winning Business Model:
“Instead of charging corporate event planners, Save the Date is supported by their thousands of vendors for referring clients to them. We connect planners for free with more than 1000 venues – rooftop terraces, sleek lounges, private clubs, museums, conference centers, yachts, ball parks, theatres, night clubs, restaurants and gardens, to name just a few – primarily in New York City, but also in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. We also provide more extensive event planning services ranging from registration to custom scavenger hunts (for a fee), but our bread and butter is finding the right location.”
Location Is Everything:
“As a rule, corporations don’t have the budget to hire an outside event planning company. On the flip side, all of the spaces are dying for business. So, I began to see this as a business opportunity. I initially became a PR and marketing firm for the locations, sort of like a travel agent. If I didn’t find the correct fit of client and vendor, I didn’t charge them. In the beginning, I was running around banging on doors, and now it’s the reverse – new spaces are calling us. Now we know about new locations in the ‘hard hat’ stage.
I worked out a bonus structure based on the business that I brought to each location. But the most important part is the locations give me wholesale pricing, so that I can pass on the savings to my clients.”
Finding the Funding:
“I started the business 10 years ago as a one-woman operation with nothing but a chair and a telephone. Without help from outside investors, I didn’t take a paycheck for five years. I took what I needed to live, but put everything else back into the business to hire employees, expand office space and install computer systems. Those re-investments into the business probably totaled more than $100,000.”
Realizing the Revenues:
“We now have approximately 14 employees and last year we realized $25 million in revenue from event sales.”
“Most people have total fear about planning an event – they are paralyzed. As one of the leading experts in this field, I calm them down by helping them plan the best party. How do you find the right space? Ask the right questions? Figure out where to put the coat check? I know it all and I’m in the planning stages of a book and column.”
“I got married in New York City one year ago. My husband works for Bear Stearns doing new business development. We met 10 years ago in a summer share and were friends for a long time before falling in love. We had a surprise wedding, invited about 60 people and had a moveable feast. The buses took everyone to different places around the city. We started at the Villard Bar and Lounge at the Palace Hotel and then went to Lutece.
My social life is separate from work. I love to ski, run, read, spend time outdoors and entertain. I have always had big parties. I love bringing people together. Life is about the moment. Event planning helps people enjoy the moment.”
Words of Advice:
“Outsource everything but your soul. People fail when they start to veer from what their true core competency is – stay focused. If you love what you do, the money will come. The passion catches fire. You can tell when people love what they do because they have a lot of energy and it’s contagious – people want to take that ride with you.”
To learn more about Jennifer Gilbert visit Save the Date.