It’s hard to say what was more surprising: that a California web startup came to Chicago for money, or that it came back for the talent.
But that’s what Tony Adam did at EventUp, an online marketplace of venues for corporate and private shindigs. He got $1.8 million in June from Chicago-based venture funds Lightbank and New World Ventures, turning down other term sheets. Last week, EventUp opened a sales office in Chicago.
It’s not because he’s feeling nostalgic, though Mr. Adam was born in Naperville. He grew up on the West Coast, most recently working for MySpace and Yahoo Inc.
Rather, it’s proximity to Lightbank founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, who know a little about marrying websites and call centers filled with salespeople. Groupon Inc., InnerWorkings Inc. and Echo Global Logistics come to mind.
“It’s about access to the knowledge base that the Lightbank team has,” said Mr. Adam, CEO of the year-old company. “The level of talent in Chicago when it comes to sales is way better in Chicago than LA for B2B, local and SMB.”
He isn’t crashing at 600 W. Chicago Ave., where Groupon, InnerWorkings, Echo Global and Lightbank are based. EventUp’s has just five people in temporary space a 10 S. Riverside Plaza, but Mr. Adam expects to be at 20 by yearend.
Chicago also is one of four major business markets for EventUp, which went live in February and lists about 500 venues, ranging from restaurants to privately owned mansions. About half of the homes are second residences. “You can make money renting a house for a night for an event, go to dinner and come back, instead of giving up your home for a week,” he said.
The customer base is a mix of corporate and consumer, but Mr. Adam is shifting focus more heavily toward corporate events because it’s more lucrative. Thus, the sales office. “Even a startup will have two events a year,” he said. “Larger companies will have 100 or more. That’s where our business will thrive.”
What would really be shocking is if Mr. Adam was loading up on tech talent or management. But that’s not happening — yet.
In the meantime, you play to your strengths. Despite all the engineers coming out of Northwestern, University of Illinois, Illinois Institute of Technology and elsewhere, Chicago is a mecca for young, smart people willing to hustle for a buck. Just ask the folks at all the consulting firms, advertising shops and consumer-products companies that fill up all those downtown buildings.
It’s worth remembering that Google’s Chicago office, which is close to 500 employees, got its start here with a couple of sales guys before the search-engine company was one of the biggest names in tech. Then a few engineers showed up. Today, it has teams of engineers based here, alongside Margo Georgiadis, its top sales exec for the Americas, where Google gets the bulk of its revenue. More recently, it made a huge bet on Chicago when it bought Motorola Mobility. Instead of shutting it down, as some feared, Google moved it downtown to the Merchandise Mart.