For over a year, young New Yorkers have been opening their inboxes to find invitations from their friends to intimate ragers at some of the hottest bars and nightclubs in the city, and it’s all thanks to one company: Host Committee.
Here’s how it works: Say you want to plan a party. Say you have no time. Just head to the Host Committee website and tell them what you want, when you want it, and how many people you want to invite. BAM! You are a host. All you have to do is invite your friends (through e-mail or Facebook), and Host Committee will take care of setting up the rest — the venue, the one-hour open bar, the DJ, the coat check, the door people.
It will start around 8 p.m., and you can have the space ’til around 11 p.m.
And that’s it, you’re done. Go back to your regularly scheduled spreadsheet jockeying and Seamless Web ordering.
This party-in-a-box concept has caught on like wildfire, especially with young Wall Streeters who have networks of friends willing to throw down $US30 for an hour of imbibing at some of the most talked-about spots in the city. Host Committee works with 69 of them.
And if you’re a host, you get to enjoy your own private table with a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice — on the venue, because you earned it.
Host Committee is the brainchild of Trigger Media CEO Andy Russell, a smiley, 6’5” entrepreneur with a come-up story made for the movies.
You’d watch this — A NYC kid starts throwing parties in prep school, renting out ballet studios and saving hundreds of his peers from having to spend their Saturday nights loitering on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. He’d find the right kids at schools across the city, and have them invite their friends, who invited their friends — all of that information was then compiled on a master list of ragers.
That’s how Russell started out, and when he went off to Cornell, he didn’t stop. Every third week he’d use his master list (which eventually had 10,000 names on it) to get kids into clubs when they were empty. It’s not like the venues were doing anything, and all they had to do was give Russell an hour-long open bar to get 800 warm, thirsty bodies inside.
Russell calls that empty venue and that one-hour open bar “remnant perishable inventory.” It’s his mantra.
“With nightclubs, they were in pain because they had all these fixed costs … That’s why nightclubs can be a flash in the pan. It’s just a tough business,” he says.
The mantra served him from his internship at Goldman Sachs, to his star analyst position at the now defunct Chemical Bank, working leveraged buyout and acquisition deals under JPMorgan rainmaker Jimmy Lee.
“I’m actually the guy who built the discounted cash flow valuation model the bank adopted,” said Russell, adding later, “I can do a mean spreadsheet, but I can throw a better party.”
What Russell found, though, was that the two can go hand in hand (if you’re willing to completely give up sleep). While at Chemical Bank, he essentially commandeered some restaurants around the city, using their remnant perishable inventory to turn them into hotspots.
But that’s nothing compared to what he did next. At the ripe age of 26, he raised $US1 million from investors and founded the hottest restaurant/club in New York City in the ’90s — Moomba.
Moomba was the club where Leonardo DiCaprio set up his home base after Titanic. It was the club that “Saturday Night Live” was parodying in skits starring Cameron Diaz. It was the club that three months into its existence made it onto a Sprint billboard in L.A. that said, “One rate service from Spago to Moomba and everywhere in between.”
Russell did all this while attending Columbia Business School.
Now, everything has an end. And Russell eventually sold Moomba in 1999, paid his investors handsomely and set off around the world before joining venture capital firm East River Ventures. There, he started doing digital media deals that had him meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and becoming the youngest partner.
And then the tech bubble burst.
“All my phantom wealth disappeared fairly overnight, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened because I had to step into the role as CFO/COO of these companies and had to downsize a lot of them.”
It was also great because he realised that he wanted a mentor, and that mentor would be MTV founder and current president and CEO of Clear Channel Communications, Bob Pittman.
Here’s part of the email Russell sent Pittman, who was travelling through Asia at the time:
Bob… you are the greatest operator I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and whatever you’re doing next I want to do it with you, and if you already have plans for what you’re doing next I can …be in Bangkok in 24 hours.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Russell joined the team that started Pittman’s venture capital firm in 2000. With the $US350 million they raised, Russell headed the group that incubated digital media companies like Tasting Table, Zynga, Daily Candy, and Thrillist. Pilot made a 53x return for its investors before shutting down.
It was time for Russell to build companies on his own. So he did, raising millions from guys like former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, Paul Tudor Jones, and Allen and Co. — that’s how his current firm, Trigger Media, was born.
So far, Trigger has had two companies, and two successes. Men’s lifestyle newsletter, Inside Hook, and Host Committee, which is looking to expand into other cities.
“The host committee comes together around a charity, or an alumni organisation, or around friends, or around dating so everyone in the venue is two degrees of separation,” says Russell. He believes that, more than anything, is what makes it so appealing.
Using technology to turn you and your friends into VIPs at exclusive clubs doesn’t hurt either.
“Whether you’re the hottest or you’re not the hottest club in town we have remnant perishable inventory,” Russell says.
“I want to own the night between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.”
You should hope he gets what he wants, because if he does, you do too.
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