December 4, 2018

Let's Dutch Allows Users to Crowdfund Experiences

Let’s Dutch is a social marketplace founded in 2014 that allows individuals to share the cost of group experiences with other people they or may not have known previously. The NYC-based company was founded by Vincent Paradiso in 2014, who I had the chance to talk to and learn more about crowdfunding experiences.

Tell me the story of how Let's Dutch was founded.

I used to dance for The New York City Ballet. As you can imagine, it was a very demanding, time-consuming job, It was very easy to live in the ballet bubble. My friends and I did everything together. Especially while on tour. We were in a new place, all had similar schedules, and all wanted to do something we haven’t done before. We would group together, use our per diem, and do things we typically couldn’t do on our own. After retiring from the ballet it became more difficult to get together with my friends and even harder to make new ones.

I tried to start planning fun nights out in advance to avoid any scheduling conflicts. Dinners, clubbing, even just drinks… but every time something came up with one of us, and it snowballed, ultimately squashing the original plans. After failing to rally my friends to book bottle service one night, I thought to myself, why is there no place to find other like-minded individuals who also want to go out, and securely pool our money together in advance to make the VIP night out possible? After all, a $1000 table would only be $100 per person (less than entry and two drinks) when the cost is shared.

I started brainstorming and told my girlfriend about the idea. She LOVED it and decided to make the first investment in “Let’s Dutch” to help me bring my idea to life. I had no idea where to even begin (after all, I was a retired ballet dancer). I remembered a dear friend had just completed her own website. After talking with her about my idea, she wanted to jump on board and help. We put our heads (and funds) together to turn the concept into a real business. Fast forward a few years, we are approaching 3,000 users and have helped fund over $200,000 worth of experiences.

I started to realize how many people were having the same problems I was having. Less about people not being able to book bottle service, but more about just being able to get your friends together in order to have fun. You either have friends that are married with children and can’t make it out, or you moved to a new city for work and don’t know many people in your area.

There are tons of dating apps, but there really isn’t a site where you can meet like-minded individuals and plan and pay for group experiences together. We have social networks, but that has become all about liking other people’s life. We have marketplaces but they are usually very niche, and for booking your Airbnb, your Uber, or your dinner table. You have Meetup, but their payment processor is sloppy and makes it difficult for people to actually pre-pay for an experience. There is an endless supply of ticketing sites, but they are more for specific events, and less for experiences; they also don’t give you the ability to see who else is going to the event. There are more and more cost sharing apps like Via, so I know people are starting to be comfortable with sharing intimate experiences in order to save money. The list goes on and only proves why there is a need for Let’s Dutch, and the timing couldn’t be better.

When evaluating the landscape and planning out what let’s dutch needed to be, I knew from the start that it had to be very similar to Airbnb. Everyone needed a profile with reviews and verifications to help people feel comfortable sharing experiences. Similarly, it had to have a level of transparency so you could see who was hosting, as well as who else was attending an experience. It needed to have an internal communication system so you could not only view your group but also get to know them and coordinate easily. It needed to be user-generated so anyone could create a listing that they wanted to share and there would be an abundance/variety of bookable. All of these features were crucial to creating what I call a “social marketplace."

For those who don't know, what is Let's Dutch? How does your social marketplace work?

Let’s Dutch is a social marketplace designed to help people share the cost of group experiences with like-minded individuals. Have you ever skipped out on a fun experience or a great group rate because your friends couldn’t join? With Let’s Dutch, you can connect with like-minded individuals, get to know one another, and securely pool your funds together to make that experience more within reach,

Anyone (Including companies) can list a group experience they would like to share by answering a few questions on the site. Once completed it will be available on our marketplace for people to book. Anyone interested can view all the details, view and communicate with the host and everyone attending, request a space and pay their share, while others pay theirs. We pool all funds together and release it to the host 24 hours after the experience takes place. It is a lot like crowdfunding, but instead of funding someones inventions/ideas, you are funding experiences you get to share with others.

When you think of buying and selling, we have overall marketplaces like Ebay and Amazon. But for the sharing economy, we only have very niche apps. I want Let’s Dutch to be an overall marketplace where you can share the cost of ANYTHING!

How has the marketplace evolved over time?

Initially, it was all about luxury. I wanted the best of the best up there. Private jets, Super Bowl suites, yacht charters… I still believe there is a place for experiences like that on our site. However, even when the cost is shared, the price is still up there and really only affordable to a small demographic. I started to realize that in order for this marketplace to be a success, it needed A LOT of users, and I wasn’t going to get those users with $1,000 one-way flights to Miami.

I started to shift focus to experiences like group rates to large format dinners, Broadway shows, and sporting events. Many shows and teams offer significant savings and perks, so long as you book enough tickets. The problem is having enough people to book with. That is where we come in. As a for instance, the New York Jets offer some really great deals for groups of 10 or more, they also offer on field experiences. We list some of these games on our site, and help fans connect and share the cost. Now, these fans can enjoy savings and perks that they couldn’t get by themselves.

As we move forward, we want to start expanding into other cities, as well as start to dabble in the travel industry. I feel there is a huge opportunity with Airbnb homes. Just think about all of the luxury incredible homes that go unbooked because the price per night is too high. Once our network is larger, and people trust sharing experiences like this with other members, I believe mansions in Tuscany with 10 bedrooms are going to be booked up year round.

We also want to beef up our social features as well. I would love to create a data feed that shows the activity of other users, what they are booking, what they are hosting. A little more internal data collection to help us recommend experiences and connect people would also make our marketplace more complete.

How big is the team? Any positions you're looking to fill in the coming months?

It is currently a team of 4. Myself, Debora, my girlfriend Cristina, and our lead generator/organizer Jen. Deb and I work on the day to day work, content creation, communication/customer service and promotion. My girlfriend helps with all of the branding. She literally learned how to silk screen t-shirts so we wouldn’t have to spend money on that. Bringing Jen on board has been the greatest addition. She has helped us grow dramatically and helped us think about our content and promotion differently. We are self-funded so we don’t have the resources buy thousands of t-shirts, tons of ads/influencers, or hire the “dream team.” But growing organically like this has taught us all so much, and has made us and Let’s Dutch stronger. I look forward to finding more team members who believe in our vision and want to help us reach more people.

What's next for Let's Dutch?

Growing! The larger our community gets, the more experiences we can help people enjoy. I truly believe once people understand that, they can create their own listings, and the more people we have on the site looking for things to do, the more we will help people connect with like minded individuals and enjoy experiences they wouldn’t and couldn’t book by themselves.

Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer at VentureFizz. He also edits and produces The VentureFizz Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @culafia.