Building Event Planning Software: How ThymeBase Fell in Love with Event Planners
This is a story about sesame, honey, and event planning software development. A story of event planners and communication. And a story about prototyping. Lots and lots of prototyping.
A Failure of Communication
Halva is a sesame confection. The first written recipe for it dates back to the 13th century, and it’s a little like if cement and honey had a sesame flavored baby. Anyways, I like it, and there’s a lovely health-food store in my neighborhood that sells handmade halva that simply melts in your mouth.
Or at least it did until one day, it didn’t. When I got to the empty space on the shelves where the halva ought to have been, I asked Efrat, the owner, where she’d hidden it.
She shrugged, saying, “The confectioner is great at halva, but not so great at letting me know when he’s making more. It’ll be here sometime next week, or maybe not. I don’t know.”
Then I had an idea. What if the seller could readily communicate with both the supplier and the client? And add reminders too. Everyone would be happy and feel calm and in control, right? And I’d know when my halva was back in stock.
From Sesame and Honey to Event Planners
I’m no stranger to building small business software, having co-founded Mad Mimi Email Marketing, and worked at GoDaddy too, and I liked the idea. I called David, a friend of mine from Chicago who I’d known since childhood and who now worked in Silicon Valley at a marketing startup. We often shared ideas.
When I explained to Dave what I had in mind – an application that helped vendors and retailers communicate better, he said, “You know who needs this? Event Planners. They deal with vendors and clients in high-pressure situations, and they can’t #@^& up. Let me make a call, and I’ll call you back.”
Dave called Jenna.
Getting the Team Together
Now, Jenna happens to be the Director of Private Events for 16″ on Center, a venue collective in Chicago. And Jenna loved the idea of better communication. She was in. And we made a commitment.
We were going to build software for event planners. And we needed a formidable team to do things right.
Jenna is our sanity-check, advisor, and event expert. She’s designed events of all types, and sizes, and styles.
I called Chris, a luminary software engineer with whom I’d worked for several years both at Mad Mimi and GoDaddy. We met up in person for coffee in Tel Aviv, and I asked him to become our Chief Technical Officer.
While I was wooing Chris, Dave was speaking to Liz, a friend of his and Jenna’s too. Liz is an experienced product manager who knows how to bring products to life, much like a planner executes on a client’s vision. And thus, the team was all on board.
Jenna would provide our insider expertise. Dave would be our CEO. Chris and Liz would bring ThymeBase to life, and I would do whatever else might be needed, like customer support.
We Threw It All Out and Started from Scratch
Once we committed to building event planning software, we knew we had to suspend our assumptions and talk to planners. It’s not enough to make cool software. No. We wanted to create useful software.
No preconceived notions and no unnecessary features. We had to build ThymeBase from the ground up.
So we talked and talked. And talked. Not with each other, but with event planners. Also with florists and caterers and make-up artists and rental pros. Then we spoke to the clients they worked with. We heard everyone’s stories.
At first, we worked to find the most common areas of frustration. We made a list of over 200 “complaints” that we heard from planners. What frustrates them probably frustrates you too.
For example, a common issue was that of boundaries. Even many vendors encountered this. The upshot is that event professionals often end up with an endless workday.
“This takes a huge toll,” Debbie Orwat of Planners Lounge explained to me. “The amount of burnout is outrageous. The amount of planners that have successful businesses and just close them down because of this is large.” Then there are indecisive clients, finding new business, sourcing vendors, last-minute changes, and budget limitations.
But by far, the item that came up the most was information flow. Planners face an onslaught of information from clients, vendors, venues, and partners. They need to take this information, harvest it from emails, texts, and phone-calls and organize it. Then, the planner must act on it and share it in a way that makes sense to everyone from the cake-maker to the DJ to the client and sometimes even the client’s friends and relatives.
We took this information and got to work.
Prototyping Event Software with Planners
We knew we needed event planners to help craft the solution, so we set up a process of design sprints.
Every Monday, Liz, Dave, Chris, and I would discuss ideas – some were crazy, others predictable. On Tuesdays, Liz and I would build a rough prototype.
We’d demo the idea to planners on Wednesdays and Thursdays, one-on-one, for about an hour each time. This was a fascinating experience because we got to learn the minutiae of each planner’s workflow. We discussed big problems and small tweaks. We discovered how planners use existing tools and why they need particular features.
On Fridays, we reviewed what we’d learned.
We kept this up over months until we had a pretty good idea of what event planners might need.
Finding Our Place in the Event Software Universe
There was still an important question – so what?
So what that we’re building software for event planners? Do planners need it? Even if we made every feature possible, would we be any different from Planning Pod, Aisle Planner, or the big ‘uns like CVent and Aventri? Are we bringing something new to the gorgeously styled table?
We went backward, back to the very first seed of an idea – a way to improve communication. One day we might tackle table layouts or RSVP tracking. We might build a CRM like Honeybook and Dubsado. Who knows? We don’t. We’ll keep listening to you. But for now, we know what we’re about.
ThymeBase is focused on the space between being booked and turning out the lights when the waitstaff leaves. While Honeybook helps you engage a new client, we’ll be there for you during the eighteen-month planning process and the event itself. During that time, we’ll help you stay organized, your vendors informed, and your clients relaxed.
We’re in the process of building some extraordinary tools. We’re staying true to our mission to help you always feel a sense of control, even when things get crazy. And we both know they’ll get a little crazy.
The ThymeBase Mission
Our mission, or perhaps it’s more of a promise, is to help you navigate immovable deadlines and all the many must-dos. We’ll provide a place to bring it all together for flawless day-of execution.
You’re a planner. You get sh*t done. We want to help.
Look, missions are all well and good, but they’re all too often meaningless. And that’s why I’m going to elaborate on this.
The team and I are building features that we think will be useful to you. There are many features we could build. Some of them might even be great. But by staying true to our mission, we’re going to make sure ThymeBase is reliable, usable, and fun to use.
We’re going to focus on done and deadlines. Or, to put it another way, tasks and timelines.
We’re going to get this stuff right, day by day, month by month. When our task management is so intuitive that you think we’ve read your mind, and when our day-of-event timelines make clients and vendors feel zen-like, then we’ll talk about what’s next.
Okay, Cool. But Why the Heck is Your Event Software Called ThymeBase?
Like the T.S. Eliot said, “The naming of cats is a difficult manner.”
Thing is, startups are a lot like cats, and Eliot has a point when he says:
“But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,The Naming of Cats, T.S. Eliot
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?”
We wanted to spread out our whiskers too, not to mention keeping our tails perpendicular. A dignified name like Jellylorum didn’t fit, but we know we want to be the foundation of an event planner’s workload. We went with Base.
We still needed a name that fizzed, like a bubbly elixir, mixed by a mysterious bartender in a back-alley apothecary. Add a fragrant sprig of Thyme, and et voilà.
But, It’s Not Actually About Us
ThymeBase is about you. So why not get in touch? Say hi to me, Liz, Dave, Jenna, and Chris. I promise we’ll be over the moon to hear from you. Especially if you have a suggestion or two about how we might help you and your event planning business grow.