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Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues is a web platform designed to help engaged couples find one-of-a-kind, nontraditional wedding venues. Supported by proprietary planning tools and services, users can fully customize each space to match their personal style and easily coordinate logistics from the comfort of their home. I caught up with Co-Founder and CEO, Sam McElhinney, to learn about the startup’s plan to digitize the venue booking and wedding planning process and why they have the perfect team for the task.

 The Mayflower Way

Wedding season just wrapped. The end of months of sporting tuxes and donning dancing shoes to cheers a happy couple in a barn. Or an orchard. Or a summer camp.

Millennials are increasingly opting to say ‘I do’ at unconventional wedding venues, seeking unique, rustic settings over formal locales like churches, country clubs and hotels. In fact, ceremonies hosted in religious institutions dropped from 41% in 2009 to 22% in 2017, while ceremonies at hotels and resorts fell from 18% in 2009 to 12% in 2017. Mayflower Venues is meeting the demands of young couples today, providing a curated platform to search and book nontraditional, outdoor wedding venues. Couples can scroll through an online catalog of vineyards, barns, estates, farms, museums, stables and more, immediately accessing the availability and pricing information for each venue. The experience is fully customizable, allowing users to select their own vendors and completely craft the day of their dreams.

“The wedding venue is the canvas on which the entire painting goes. This should not be paint by number. You should get to create it as you want.”

– Sam McElhinney, Co-Founder and CEO, Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues makes booking a wedding venue simple

Couples can either choose to book using the images and information on the site or schedule an in-person tour of compelling places. Once they have settled on their ideal destination, Mayflower requires a 5% down payment via credit card, an attractive alternative to the 50% cash typically demanded by traditional spaces. The booking also blocks the venue for an entire weekend, avoiding the limitations and inconveniences of competing events. In exchange for facilitating the transaction, Mayflower, like many other marketplaces, adds a percentage fee.

That said, Mayflower is much more than the Airbnb for wedding venues. The company has created a satellite and GPS-enabled app to systematize the entire planning process for each venue. Collecting information from drone videos and professional photographs, the app provides 285 data points on the specific location, including the topography of the land, the possible dimensions for tents, and the location of electric outlets. Couples can easily give their preferred vendors access to these details, helping the electrician determine how many feet of cable he will need or showing the valet where to park the cars so they don’t run over the petunias. The app saves couples countless hours of coordination, keeping stress levels low and affording more time for the fun, creative components of a wedding. In addition, Mayflower provides a custom planning checklist to keep the process on schedule, as well as a list of recommended vendors to accommodate every budget.

 The Marital Market 

The wedding industry is one of the few sectors that has not yet been completely digitized: only 12 percent of transactions are done online. As such, Mayflower Venues is one of numerous startups launched in recent years using technology to capture a portion of the $76 billion domestic wedding market. And investors are beginning to notice. Wedding registry website Zola recently closed $100 million in Series D funding, while The Knot, a wedding planning platform, agreed to a $993 million merger with WeddingWire. That said, no one is doing what Mayflower Venues is doing. They are the only full-service wedding venue shop supported by proprietary planning software.

“We work with the couples in a way where they get to have their cake and eat it too.”

– Sam McElhinney, Co-Founder and CEO, Mayflower Venues

Instead, their biggest competitor is alternatives. Couples could go for the turnkey solution offered by hotels or popular venues, hire an expensive wedding planner, or on the other spectrum, opt for an all DIY event. While they don’t expect to be the only option for everyone, Mayflower is for the people who view their wedding as an expression of their values. Luckily, their informal, natural offerings match the laid-back, low maintenance personality characteristic of Millennials, currently the predominant wedding demographic.

 Not Your Average Wedding Planners 

Clockwise from lower left: Wesley Ripley (co-founder), Veronica Armstrong, Casey Fish, Kelly Overstreet (co-founder), Sam McElhinney (co-founder)

Co-Founder Sam McElhinney (CEO – Sloan MBA ‘17) originally thought up the idea for Mayflower Venues on a ski trip with his best friends. One night, he overheard the women in the group comparing their wedding venue shortlists, realizing they all mentioned the same 4-5 brand name spots despite their drastically different personal tastes. When pressed, his friends revealed few places were equipped to take on a full-scale wedding production. In reality, those were their only options.  

During his first year of business school at Sloan, Sam began to test the concept. He leveraged his background in market research, sales, and branding to field surveys, collect market level data and build a prototype. After he started witnessing conversions on a fake website with fake images, he set out to find partners with complementary strengths.

“The first thing about good entrepreneurship is knowing what your strengths are not. I needed to get a team around me who knew how to support my background.”

– Sam McElhinney, Co-Founder and CEO, Mayflower Venues

Sam recruited a technical genius, Wesley Ripley, and a logistics guru, Kelly Overstreet, to round out his founding team. Wesley (Head of Technology) is using skills gained from his time at Wayfair and NASA to bring one of the most historically offline purchases online. Kelly (Head of Platform Operations), a former major in the US Army, is applying her experience managing the deployment of troops and equipment to oversee operations at Mayflower, ensuring every event goes off without a hitch (pun intended).

The trio of self-described tech enthusiasts acknowledges that they are different than others in the industry, but their unexpected backgrounds also enable them to bring a fresh perspective to an antiquated system.

This spring, with the help of $500k in angel investing, the Mayflower team grew to five. The two new faces are both wedding experts, broadening the skill sets in the office and allowing the company to serve more couples.

 Next Down the Aisle 

After a year of building out the platform, hand-selecting venues and collecting logistical information, Mayflower Venues officially launched in April 2018. The team completed their first set of weddings this summer and already has events booked through 2020.

Their main focus now is geographically expanding to meet growing demand. The site has dozens of venues in the north east, with requests flowing in locally, from New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and even internationally from Portugal, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Mayflower will begin by scaling the eastern seashore, with plans to be nationwide by 2020.

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