When a water pipe burst in his office, Ron Shah needed to find a place to hold meetings. He turned to the internet, but he couldn’t find a place to book spaces online.
As a result, he came to understand the experience of booking meeting spaces offline: It’s hardly a hassle-free experience and can involve calling an individual property.
Then, of course, people who work for large companies have the added complication of, say, needing the legal team to review the documentation. And there’s the challenge of payments: To book a venue, a corporate employee often has to fax or scan credit card information.
That’s hardly the easiest or safest way to book a space for an event. “You’re literally sending your credit card number over the airwaves,” Ron Shah, founder and CEO of Bizly, told PYMNTS in an interview.
As a result, Shah created a platform for booking and managing small meetings and events called Bizly, focused on large corporations, which allows users to book thousands of hotel, restaurant and hospitality spaces online.
But the platform isn’t all about technology: Users also have access to a meeting concierge to provide support while creating and booking events and can chat directly with venues to book complex custom events.
The platform takes an offline process and brings it into the digital age. “You’re not stuck with Google and phone calls and hotel URLs,” Shah said.
Bizly currently focuses on serving large corporations — a good market for the platform. “They have the most concentrated base of meeting needs and users,” Shah said.
These large corporations are often very good at planning large events, but there are thousands of smaller meetings that are booked across corporations — and they don’t always have the people or processes to help them with those events.
Through the platform, employees of companies can connect with 3- to 5-star hotels that have a meeting space or fine restaurants that have a private dining room.
For event venues, Bizly seeks to reduce the cost and effort in dealing with corporate clients, as these customers may have specific rules about booking a space.
“We completely automate all the pain [points] that venues have to deal with around the corporate requirements,” Shah said.
Level Playing Field
Events are big business for restaurants. Private dining is a large contributor of profits to restaurants; Shah said it’s estimated to make up 10 to 20 percent of revenue for fine dining establishments. But that doesn’t mean restaurants aren’t putting any effort into sales.
“Most restaurants have a sales person who is doing an excellent job,” Shah said. “But there is still a lot of shoulder periods.”
For hotels, large chains have a lion share of the market today. But Bizly could create opportunity for boutique properties.
“I think our technology can flatten the playing field for an independent client to be able to compete,” Shah said.
Beyond greater visibility, Bizly can help hotels and restaurants communicate with their customers by offering a chat interface that allows venues and customers work together. Through chat, event venues and customers can plan creative menus, for example. After all, Shah said Bizly is not about boring instant booking.
“It’s more of a collaboration,” Shah said. “It’s more creative.”
The Road Ahead
Going forward, Shah has a big vision for Bizly: “We see ourselves as the future of employee mobility,” he said.
People are working from home, and the number of remote workers in the U.S. and globally is projected to rise by the end of the decade. Some 34 percent of respondents to a survey of business leaders in 2017 said more than half of their company’s full-time workforce will be working remotely by 2020. And 25 percent of respondents reported more than three-quarters will not work in a traditional office by 2020.
Whether workers are remote or not, they’re spending more time in front of screens than ever before. As a result, groups may need to meet in person to reinforce team culture. The most successful companies, Shah said, focus on bringing people together — in real life.
“They are really embracing the in-person experience,” Shah said. “And creating cool ways to get people to interact with each other in person … that’s what we are. We’re an extension of that.”