Venture Corner: Sceneopolis
What is your business?
Sceneopolis is a subscription service that helps you experience your city’s world-class arts and culture scene and revolutionize what it means to have a night out.
We’re partnering with the best arts and culture organizations, restaurants, and bars to provide our subscribers with unique and curated social experiences that incorporate amazing live entertainment, phenomenally delicious food, and the best parties the city will see, all at a discount.
Suddenly, going to the ballet, a musical, a play, or the opera isn’t just an expensive 2 hours in an uncomfortable suit; rather, it’s a complete night out. Our subscribers can go for dinner, enjoy the show, get an exclusive post-show behind-the-scenes experience, and then join us at the bar for drinks with other sceneopolis subscribers, saving some money while they’re at it, all booked through our website.
We just launched in Toronto, and will be expanding to other cities in North America soon!
How did you get the idea?
My cofounder came up the idea for an exclusive citywide arts and culture discount program for young audiences during his internship at an arts and culture-related non-profit in Toronto. I became excited about how big it could be if we combined arts and culture accessibility with parties, so we started working on the business plan together.
How did you all meet?
The Sceneopolis team consists of myself (Co-founder), Mladen Svigir (Co-founder and CEO), and Jonathan Naymark (Business Development Manager). Mladen (HBS MBA 2011) and I met in undergrad at the University of Calgary in Canada, and we met Jonathan through our network in Toronto.
What were your backgrounds prior to HBS?
Mladen and I both previously worked in management consulting in Toronto – I was at Oliver Wyman and Mladen was at BCG. Jonathan has worked in political and nonprofit fundraising, venture capital, and consulting.
What is your next step in the venture process?
Our Toronto subscription sales and website just went live September 1, so right now we are closely monitoring subscriber sign-ups and activity, preparing for our first few events (especially our Toronto launch party, A Night to Be Scene, October 14), and continuing our PR and marketing campaigns.
What has been the best part of starting your own venture?
Definitely the amazing people we have met and realizing how willing they are to help you when they believe in you and your business. We’ve been shocked by how quickly our network has expanded to include leaders in arts and culture, finance, politics, entrepreneurship, etc. Relationships we have built with our arts and culture partners have been especially rewarding – they are thrilled to see young people interested in doing something big to support the arts, and that we are interested in partnering with them to grow their audiences and profits long-term, not just obtain deeply discounted tickets and take half their revenue.
What have been the biggest challenges, and what lessons have you learned so far in the process?
One of our biggest challenges has been prioritizing where to spend money. For example, we are on a very tight budget but recognized we needed pay a professional planner to ensure our launch party is the event of the season. As we were warned, being in business with friends can also be difficult. It’s a lot of fun, but sometimes our conversations are more emotional than usual for a professional environment. We’ve been careful to set expectations upfront, and have learned to recognize when we need to take a break from each other.
When you have a question about entrepreneurship, where do you turn?
Usually my parents! They’ve started a few small businesses and have helped us both navigate the risks and imagine the upside.
How do you balance life at HBS with starting your own venture?
It hasn’t been easy – we dedicated our spring break and many evenings to meeting with partners and refining the business plan. I love to travel and go out so it was hard skipping spring break trips and parties! Now that we’re operating it is even more time-consuming, but I love the business and am personally invested in it, which makes it fun and easy to dedicate time to it.
How can HBS encourage more entrepreneurship?
The most important resource for us has been feedback from a variety of perspectives, including professors, the Entrepreneur in Residence, and our peers, so I think the best HBS could do is continue to offer accessible forums for feedback. Deepening the mentorship experience provided by the EiRs could be very helpful, perhaps in the form of a year-long one-on-one entrepreneurship mentorship program.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I think if you have any entrepreneurial idea in your head, you should think about pursuing it. HBS is such a wonderful environment for entrepreneurship because you have easy access to a huge network of passionate entrepreneurs and peers who would love to hear about your idea, give you thoughtful, honest feedback, and connect you with people who can help. Share your idea and enter the business plan to force you to really explore it. Within one year, we went from a big idea to building a company that has the arts and culture community, influential advisors, and tons of subscribers really, really excited. We’ve also been able to pursue our personal dreams, feel good about what we are doing, and hopefully participate in some upside. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@sceneopolis), check out our website (www.sceneopolis.com), and watch for our launch in your city in the near future!