The hospitality and service industries are among those hit the hardest from the COVID-19 shutdowns. The president of Vēmos, Whitney Larson, had the honor of sitting down (virtually of course) with the ACT | The App Association, the leading government relations organization based in Washington DC representing small and mid-sized software companies in the mobile app community, to discuss how the shutdowns have affected our industry and what we’re doing to empower hospitality workers during this time.
Q: So, first and foremost, can you give us a little background on who you are and what Vēmos is?
A: So a man walks into a bar…
Just kidding. Kind of.
I’m the co-founder and president of Vēmos, an analytics company that allows hospitality venues to manage, understand, and grow their business from a single dashboard. The software is used by bars, breweries, nightclubs, and concert venues across the country to expand their business and improve guest experience.
We took the e-commerce model and brought it to physical venues. E-commerce has trackable systems that allow them to provide personalized content to build repeatable, scalable businesses. Vemos allows hospitality venues to do the same thing. We combine data through reservations, guestlist entries, ID scan validations, and ticket sales, and combine that with their point of sale system to build comprehensive storyboards about their business. Are there certain types of music that drive up bar sales? What makes a Saturday more successful than a Friday? Is this my guest’s first visit or 20th visit? Our system answers these types of questions, and helps venues leverage this information to make smart decisions that deliver the best possible experience to its customers.
Q: Since your business is focused around the hospitality industry with your primary clients being bars, clubs, and concert venues, I’m sure the recent COVID-19 crisis has changed the landscape quite a bit. What have you and the team at Vēmos seen from your clients in the last few weeks as they have had to make rapid decisions to help keep their businesses afloat?
A: The hospitality industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. The industry accounts for 65 percent of the workforce that was laid off, and that’s only including March’s statistics. It’s pure survival mode for these establishments, and our clients are doing anything they can to weather the storm and live to see the light at the end of this. While shutdowns were absolutely necessary for the safety of society and to flatten the curve for our amazing healthcare workers, it’s a devastating loss to this industry. A lot of establishments around the country are facing losing their business and livelihood through no fault of their own, and they’re not sure where to turn or how to transform a physical gathering space into a virtual option. The biggest thing these venue owners need during this time is support from their community – whether that’s through getting customers to order takeout, buy gift cards, or simply be there for one another to brainstorm ways to innovate and survive a mandated shutdown.
Q: I know that you and your team have had to pivot from your original business model. Can you talk about the ways you’ve transitioned your priorities during this time?
A: We at Vēmos are natural problem solvers and aren’t afraid to try out wild ideas. One of our features is an events & ticketing platform, which our customers use to host their physical concerts and events. We knew that was our best bet at transforming physical spaces to virtual environments. We also knew that community and guest experience was still going to be important even in a shutdown. So we wanted to build virtual spaces that weren’t passive streams of content; we wanted to create virtual interactive events where guest experience remained at the forefront.
Within a day of the shutdowns being announced, we were working with our customers to set up interactive, virtual events using our platform. We’ve gotten chefs to lead interactive cooking classes, bartenders to lead mixologist classes, a Latin venue to host Zumba events, bakers leading baking classes, the list goes on. We even started hosting weekly virtual roundtable discussions with venues across the country for them to have a safe space to talk with one another about what they’re experiencing. All of these events have one thing in common: the hosts are engaging with attendees and building that sense of community.
But we knew there was more we as Vēmos could do for our own community of hospitality professionals. We wanted a way to give back and show support to all the workers that are forced to live without a job, so we created a virtual benefit concert called Bridge the Gap where proceeds are donated to industry professionals impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns. The concert was put into motion quickly and will be live-streamed on Vēmos this coming Saturday, April 11 at 6pm.
Q: That’s amazing! How did the idea for the concert come to be?
A: Thank you! Our visions always start big, and we originally wanted to do a modern day LiveAid with the biggest acts performing across the country to raise money for this industry. While we were trying to figure out how to make that a reality, we reached out to our longtime customer, Icehouse Mpls, and they were on board with the idea right away. Together, we decided to start with a local benefit concert featuring Minnesotan musicians with proceeds going to a fund that directly impacts Minnesota hospitality workers.
Soon after we had this idea, artists began livestreaming their sets on Facebook Live and mainstream media began pulling together broadcasted living room concerts. And all of this is awesome! Our take on the structure of a benefit concert, however, has always been different.
We wanted this to be a true orchestrated effort where you knew who was performing when. We wanted it to be live and not pre-recorded, so it feels like a true experience. And we wanted it to be a ticketed event where the ticket is the donation because we felt that would have the biggest impact of actually raising donations for the fund. Our mantra from the beginning has been to price the ticket at the minimum wage, so that one ticket pays for one hour of work for a displaced worker. Buying a ticket to the event gets you access to the livestream, and there will be more ways to donate if anyone wants to on the night of the concert. And while the artists and fund are local, anyone across the country can be a part of it. That’s the true beauty of virtual concerts – there’s no capacity limitations or travel restrictions that exist with physical venues.
Q: How has it been planning an event that is completely remote/virtual?
A: We have an amazing team of local business leaders that have jumped on board pro bono to make this happen. That’s honestly been one of the coolest parts of this whole experience. Brian Liebeck, co-owner of Icehouse Mpls, did a phenomenal job of setting the lineup of artists at a rapid-fire pace. My business partner, Parag Shah, immediately jumped into action to get local establishments partnered with us to offer unique ticket packages, including pizza & beer delivery along with your ticket. Our Vēmos team whipped up a microsite to house all the event details, and quickly developed a web-based ticket authenticator to access the livestream. We have a marketing agency and PR firm helping spread the message far and wide to get as many people in the community attending. It’s truly been a group divide-and-conquer effort from individuals who just met for the first time a couple weeks ago, all driven by the common cause of making a difference for these workers.
Q: So how is this going to look for you guys on the backend of things? Will performers be on individual streams or in one place? Is the backend of this event going to look like a massive NASA control center? MY BRAIN IS IN A PRETZEL!
A: We have a great producer, Feedback.video, handling the technical logistics of the livestream itself. We’re leveraging Vimeo Livestream, which will be housed on tickets.vemos.io/bridgethegap behind the ticket authenticator. The artists and bands will be performing at Icehouse solo with full sanitation between sets. The concert venue and artists will strictly follow CDC protocol of social distancing – this is a very important issue to us that we’re all taking seriously. No patrons will be present, and no two bands will be in the same space at the same time. There are two performance areas in the venue to allow for alternating performances during the sanitation process of the previous performance.
Q: How can people find out more information about this event? And I have to ask…will there be others?
A: People can go to vemos.io/bridgethegap to get more information about the event, artists, fund, and our partners. We do see the potential for more of these to take place in the future around the country, and we haven’t lost sight of our original national vision. But for right now (aka this week), we’re focused on this inaugural one and will go from there.