From winning the DEMOgod Award (2011) to being named one of the Coolest Startups in America (2012) by Inc Magazines, Anna Sergeeva and Fei Xiao are making a statement with their new startup venture, Planana. Formally known as trueRSVP, this new web platform helps event organizers fill empty seats by offering rewards to attendees who spread the word through social media.
Q: Before we get started I just want to say thank you for this interview. It’s not everyday that I get to chat with one of the Coolest Startup in America. Now what is Planana and how did you guys come up with this idea?
Anna: Thank you! Planana in our opinion is a natural extension of trueRSVP. With trueRSVP, we were focused on predicting event attendance. However, we found out that increasing event attendance is much more of a value add for event organizers and that’s how Planana was born. Planana allows event organizers to create customized rewards – like VIP benefits or discounted tickets – to incentivize their attendees to promote their events. For example, on Planana, I can get 20% off my ticket if I share the event on Facebook and like the organizers Facebook page.
Q: Planana formally known as TrueRSVP. -What’s the story behind the name change, who came up with the new name and did this change work for the better or makes no difference?
Fei: Because our mission and brand was changing, we needed a new name. The name came out of a brainstorming session when we were trying to find names that still had available .com domains. We like Planana because it is more fun – event planning should be more fun.
Q: Watching your pitch at the DEMO God Award, Fei presented wearing a wedding dress – so tell me how much preparation went into winning this competition?
Anna: A ton of preparation! We wanted to do something original and memorable and that’s not easy. We played around with a few different approaches and then worked diligently practicing the pitch. We only had 90 secs so the timing and execution had to be perfect.
Q: TrueRSVP was named one of the Coolest College Startups in America in 2011 by Inc Magazine. – How has that change your lives as young entrepreneurs?
Fei: To be honest, I don’t think it really changed our lived. I think it was great to get recognition, but besides that startups are a lot of work and we kept moving forward.
Q: Share some tips and advice on how to win a pitching competition such as the Student Alpha Pitch at DEMO?
Fei: Most importantly, don’t be nervous and have fun. If you follow these two guidelines, you’ll be able to connect with the audience and they’ll have fun too. Practice. Think outside the box. And, practice some more.
Q: What are the top 3 things you wished you knew before you became entrepreneurs?
1- Listen to your customer. These four simple words are too easy to forget. You are building your product for your customers so make sure they love it.
2- It’s really hard to start a company so make sure you are obsessed with the problem you are trying to solve.
3- Learn to code.
Q: Say I wanted to start my own version of Planana today, what are some of the most important things I need to know?
Anna & Fei: We don’t give away industry secrets
Q: What are some of the projects you working on right now, and what can we expect form Planana in the next 5 to 10 years?
Anna: We are focused 100% on Planana so there are no other projects. We are working on new features and customer acquisition. In 5-10 years, we want to have built a sustainable and successful company that helps organizers achieve their biggest goal which is selling out their events.
Q: What’s you favorite entrepreneurship quote?
Anna:“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. ” — Calvin Coolidge
Fei: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” — Ghandi
—DEMOgod Award pitch competition in 2011
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