Whether the theme is music, film, food, comedy, sexual liberation or spirituality, festivals foster social cohesion. It’s not just the activities or performances taking place in festivals that draw people in, but the solidarity of collective consciousness – that is, people coming together to celebrate a bigger theme. Every country has its own iconic string of festivals revolving around national holidays, religious events, cultural values and more. It’s no wonder that Austin, Texas-based startup Everfest wants to capitalise on the world’s love of festivals and establish itself as the leader in this space.
Founded by Jay Manickam, Paul Cross and Brad Dixon, Everfest is a web-based and mobile platform for users to discover festivals globally. Launched publicly this month, the startup claims to “go beyond editorial or directory to create a full festival community of revelers, festival organizers and brands”. Everfest is not targeting a specific festival niche; it caters to festivals of all types and sizes, from music fests to comic-cons, mega-fests to local celebrations.
Festival organisers can claim and manage their own pages on the platform. Everfest believes the festival organiser is “an oft-forgotten and severely underserved part of the [festival] community”.
“Many are one-person shows, and while extremely passionate about their business, don’t have a lot of time for online promotion (or much of anything – they’re busy folks!). We want to reward the superstars here. Yelp isn’t the venue for a festival – and the travel sites don’t want to deal with the data (though they’ll gladly digest it). An organizer can really build a reputation for their festival on Everfest, and that will serve them well in our recommendation engine,” said the Everfest team.
Everfest also takes pride in its ‘find my friends’ feature which utilises geo-fencing and permission-based opt-ins to drive value for the festival attendee. Given how difficult it is to navigate crowds in festivals, the ‘find my friends’ feature is undeniably useful.
“We think there is a lot of value in having one festival app you can use anywhere. But beyond that concept, we want to use mobile to enhance the group experience. It’s a funny balance, because you really want to not be on your phone the whole time you’re at a festival. We want to make it easier to find out where the fun is happening so you can stop sending texts into the abyss and just go enjoy,” said the Everfest team.
“The app will surpass your standard schedule and map, even going beyond “find my friends” toward “find my fun”, as revelers can broadcast fun spots privately or publicly. New friends and new experiences.”
The desktop version of Everfest is focused more on driving discovery and connection. In the initial experience, the reveler fills out their calendar through recommendations based on their taste profile. From there, they can share festival details, see where friends are going, cash in on perks and buy tickets. The Everfest team said the next wave of development will bring greater social interaction via the “festival buddies” and “tribes” feature, and will allow users to share festival stories, photos and videos.
The startup’s overarching mission is “to bring people together in real world experiences”. Manickam, however, recognises the irony in that statement, given Everfest is very much a technology company. As we all know, technology has us glued to our screens rather than exploring the world on foot.
“[B]ut everything we build we want to make sure encourages people to actually get out there, explore, share and connect,” said Manickam.
There are a number of players like Fest300 and Festicket capitalising on the world’s love of festivals. The founders of Everfest are cognisant of this fact. However, Manickam believes that other players focus on either a specific genre, geography or top tier of festivals or on a specific commercial aspect.
“It’s a huge space with a ton of niches we’re looking to be the most comprehensive authority and community,” said Manickam.
So how big is the festival industry? Because it’s a disparate market, there doesn’t appear to be a single figure that encompasses the value of every festival in every country. But to give you a rough idea, an Ernst & Young study found that single-category festivals in Australia were worth more $50.4 million more in 2012, and the global EDM (Electronic Dance Music) Festival Industry was said to be worth US$6.2 billion in 2013, according to YOUREDM.
The reason why the industry is growing may be because consumers are more and more conscious about how they’re spending their hard-earned cash. Rather than spending on material goods, which offers a ‘shallow high’, consumers are more interested in investing in experiences that enrich their lives.
“There is a movement toward spending money on experiences rather than possessions. Technology has made those experiences more visible and more accessible, and we are building the logical festival-focused extension of that,” said Manickam.
Earlier this year, Everfest closed a US$1.5 million angel round from private investors from Google and ATX Seed Ventures, as well as Bob Kagle, Founder of Benchmark Capital, and the founders of uShip including Manickam. The capital is being used for development.
“We want to take a real run at this, not just be another festival magazine. Our resources are focused on building a platform that goes beyond content,” said Manickam.
When it comes to monetisation, the founders are being fairly tight-lipped. Vaguely though, Everfest will be engaging in partnerships with brands in the travel, accommodation and ticketing industries. It will also offer exclusive experiences.
Given how big festivals are, growth is probably both the easiest and hardest challenge the startup faces. Everfest is remaining quiet about its growth strategy, but it appears the social layer that the startup is building on top of its core technology will market itself.
“We can’t tell you all our secrets, but suffice it to say that social is big deal in terms of how people interact with festivals and their friends before, during and after. We’re building a social layer that keys on that and engages that network,” said Manickam.
Everfest is now featuring festivals from 84 countries and every continent. For the past six months, the startup has been quietly signing up festivals, and have more than 500 providing exclusive benefits and discounts to Everfest users. The startup is also testing standardised turn-key perks such as an Uber promotion for US festivals, which the founders believe will scale nicely as they build out the network.
“We seeded our initial batch and now have our member base adding their favorite festivals. We know that’s critical for each new market the locals are the experts! We’re not localized yet, but a lot of localized content can come from members in various countries,” said Manickam.
The biggest challenge for Everfest, according to Manickam, has been managing data: “The breadth of festivals is utterly staggering. There are just so many. But then you think of festivals changing dates each year, moving venues, taking a year off to keep that all up-to-date is a monumental task, but one we’re quite good at. Keeping that scalable is a big key.”
That said, the early response to Everfest has been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“We’re proud of building something that people who are passionate about a certain experience see as a valuable enhancement of that experience. It doesn’t just help you save a little money or avoid a mild inconvenience festivals are something folks get truly passionate about.”
If the startup executes well, Everfest may very well become the number one player in the festival space. Everfest’s founders and advisors all have a strong track record, so it’s wouldn’t be far-fetched to say this is a startup to keep an eye on.