MyPunchbowl, the Web 2.0 Route to Planning Your Next Party, Closes Seed Round

10/5/07Follow @wroush

If you grew up on reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore show, as I did, you might remember the running joke about Mary’s parties, which always turned into disasters. Well, if Mary had had a tool like MyPunchbowl, she might have had better luck.

This quintessential Web 2.0 service, launched in January by Natick, MA-based Punchbowl Software, helps users through every step of planning a party or event, from the wickedly difficult process of picking a date that works for everyone to the usually tedious tasks of sending out invitations, tracking RSVPs, buying supplies, and sharing photos and videos after the party. “Our interface takes the user from the moment they decide to have an event all the way through to the event being over,” says Matt Douglas, Punchbowl’s founder and CEO. “It helps the host look good. That’s what it’s really about.”

On Tuesday, Punchbowl announced the closing of a seed funding round with participation by Intel Capital in Santa Clara, CA, the eCoast Angel Network in Portsmouth, NH, and individual angel investors in Boston and Silicon Valley. The company isn’t disclosing the exact amount of the funding, but Douglas says it is “under $1 million” and is enough to keep the company running for the next 15 to 17 months.

MyPunchbowl’s pick-a-date interfaceMyPunchbowl’s cleverest feature is the algorithm Douglas and his colleagues developed to help large groups of people reach consensus on the optimal date for a group event. As people respond to date inquires forwarded through MyPunchbowl, the system assigns them to dates based on their availability, then gradually shifts people into groups centered on the overlapping dates. As more guests respond, they see which dates are already known to be convenient for the largest number of people, which influences them to choose a date that fits with the majority. At the same time, the host can designate “VIPs”—such as the grandmother who’s turning 80 years old—whose preferences are weighted more highly than other guests. (Punchbowl has posted YouTube video demonstrations of the pick-a-date feature here and here.) “As things happen in real time, you’ll see the consensus shift to different dates,” says Douglas, a veteran of software projects at Adobe and Bose. “Of all the software features I’ve ever developed, this one is my favorite.”

Once a date’s been picked, MyPunchbowl sends out a save-the-date notice, followed by formal invitations. There’s a supply checklist function, a party-store directory, and a “potluck registry” that lets guests pick which needed items they’d like to bring. Eventually, says Douglas, the site will include a comprehensive directory of local DJs, caterers, and other event professionals, and will help match people planning parties with the right professionals, with MyPunchbowl earning a share of the revenue.

MyPunchbowl InterfaceWith the seed funding round closed, “There is plenty in the bank now, and we just need to execute on the business potential,” says Douglas. He points to TheKnot.com—a wedding-planning site that reported $28.5 million in revenue for the second quarter of 2007—as an example of a Web enterprise that has successfully tapped into the event planning business. He hopes MyPunchbowl can grab the “mid-market” equivalent of weddings—retirement parties, anniversaries, Halloween parties, and the like. “We know people are spending money on these parties, so we know the potential is there,” says Douglas, who adds that traffic is increasing 50 percent each month. “We cranked through the summer to get ready for the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas period, and now we get to watch people party.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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