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05/06/2016

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About GigSalad

GigSalad is the largest, most diverse marketplace for booking bands, performers, speakers and services for events, parties, and gatherings of all types and sizes. With millions of users across the U.S. and Canada, GigSalad.com provides an easy and secure way for event planners to book ...

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Odette Scott
812-339-1195

The Strategic Values of GigSalad’s Mark Steiner: Shrewd as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove

GigSalad co-founder and CEO Mark Steiner multi-tasks to the extreme. He reads the news while watching the news. He developed a first-in-its-class technology platform while toiling as a talent agent. He challenges himself and his staff to be as “shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove.”

Steiner owes much of his ethos to being a lifelong learner as well as a former actor, talent agent, and New Yorker. With traffic of over a million users per month, GigSalad is a directory and booking service for entertainers across the U.S. and Canada. It matches 80,000 musicians, inspirational speakers, comedians, clowns, bagpipers—you name it—with a million event planners. The 580 service categories include not just performers, but florists, caterers, photographers, equipment renters, and more. Shoppers get free quotes and book online. “We’re not rich and famous yet,” admitted Steiner, “but we’ve grown every year, every quarter, and every month.” In fact, GigSalad was recognized among the 2015 Inc. 5000, the fastest-growing private companies in America, ranked 682nd for it 664% growth that year.

Steiner weaves business strategies together with corporate values celebrating serpents, doves, and “ambitious pathfinders who do not know mediocrity.”  To Steiner, that means working hard and takings risks, hammering away at maximizing GigSalad’s visibility, keeping a sharp eye out for new ways to build relationships and revenue, and embracing every stakeholder with good humor and personal engagement. Fearless optimism and what he calls a “Barnum and Bailey mentality” have helped the company flourish. Here are the values leading GigSalad to generate over $10 million in bookings so far:

Heed Instincts

“I want to thank the guys who ditched me,” said Steiner, whose approach is spontaneous and intuitive. His gut always told him to keep full ownership of the company that sprang from his drive to bring talent booking to a new level of seamlessness and breadth. He didn’t court investors. He respectfully declined offers until one venture capital firm charmed him so much he took their staff to an Aerosmith concert and shared financial information. And never heard from them again.  “It was heartbreaking, yet it affirmed what we knew in our hearts all along.  We didn’t want to go down that path.” So Steiner’s first and foremost advice to entrepreneurs is: Go with your gut.

Attract Eyeballs

GigSalad’s wide-ranging consumer profile encompasses all people out to create and share extraordinary experiences, so Steiner swings for the demographic fences. He aims to make GigSalad a destination website for brides, moms, concierges, cruise directors, corporate trainers, and the like. Conscious of the “people need to see our logo seven times” principle, Steiner had a van wrapped in GigSalad’s logo with a hilarious graphic showing a cast of caricature entertainers as if they’re passengers. People laughed, took photos, and booked through GigSalad. Then he wrapped a trailer. Musicians yelled, “Yeah! We know GigSalad,” flashed the thumbs up, and booked through GigSalad. Then he wrapped a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, and so on.  “Whether those vehicles are out on backwoods country byways or parked outside a wedding planners’ convention,” he said, “we consider everybody a potential customer.”

To raise visibility and amplify what’s fun, GigSalad sponsors annual events like the trendy-edgy music and tech festival South by Southwest, the CD Baby DIY Musician Conference, and Chamber Music Week. “My team really enjoys the conferences and shows we sponsor,” he said. “We help bring the fun for everybody, which makes other companies want to partner with us.”

Steiner also builds nationwide strategic partnerships fervently. For example, GigSalad facilitates bookings for users of Bandzoogle, a website builder for artists. It also awards Featured memberships to winners of the annual International Songwriting Competition. And partnership with CD Baby, the world’s largest distributor of independent music, puts GigSalad in front of over 430,000 music makers, most of whom hanker for gigs.

Tiers, not Tears

Steiner discourages a “one-size-fits-all” customer service model. Offering tiered memberships has won GigSalad revenue and members’ gratification. Beginners and dabblers can join the roster for free and receive a small suite of benefits. For higher visibility, web links, more photos, phone support, and uploaded audio/video files, members pay for “Pro” memberships. For a little more, “Featured” members get top visibility. “Some people need more services than others,” explained Steiner. “If you’re a musician wanting 50 pictures and listings in 15 searchable categories, you’re motivated to buy a membership. But if you’re a face painter needing only three photos and fitting into only two categories, we’re happy to offer our free membership.”

Add Extras

With steadily growing numbers of entertainers jumping on board and party-throwers scooping them up, Steiner continues to envision and grasp new opportunities. First income came only from member entertainers’ subscription fees. Then GigSalad created a booking platform to generate contracts, collect deposits, and distribute payments for a 4% booking fee—a modest rate for artists looking to manage their own acts. Recently GigSalad adapted Bold, a powerful payment tool used by marketplaces like Airbnb and Saucey, making GigSalad’s payout process the fastest in the industry. “The local talent didn’t use contracts,” said Steiner. “They’d say, ‘We put you on our calendar. We’ll see you in a year and a half’ with nothing on paper.” About 94% of members have now opted in to using the Bold booking system.

Rely on Reviews

Posting customer reviews is key for any online marketplace. “I don’t buy anything online unless I look at what other people have said about it,” commented Steiner. “So of course we’ve built that in.” GigSalad performers and vendors can easily request reviews from their clients, and the feedback is displayed in their GigSalad profile for other potential buyers. Steiner chose a classic five-star rating scale, remarking, “We didn’t think we needed to reinvent the wheel just to be quirky. People know what five stars mean.”

Displaying client reviews within members’ profiles helps buyers choose entertainment they’ll enjoy, and more importantly, it helps fuel quality control. GigSalad shares comments with members and also offers advice for photos, customized PromoKits, and presentation. Staff goes out of its way to advise acts that need polishing. “We want to boost careers,” stated Steiner. “We’ll recommend best practices for honing their talent, communicating clearly, creating client relationships, and prompt responses to quote inquiries.” Besides hosting a review system for performers and vendors, GigSalad receives reviews of its own customer service through Trustpilot, one of the largest, most trusted review platforms available.

Be Contagiously Positive

“Customer Happiness Agents” are GigSalad’s front line. They are trained to help customers and members with anything they need, before they know they need it. They’re also a main conduit for that all-important customer feedback. Steiner seeks employees who “know when to be austere and when to be absurd, who are confident in their talents and humble about their inevitable deficiencies.”

Always aspirational and easily engaged, Steiner’s biggest challenge is carefully channeling his optimism—balancing genuine enthusiasm with careful shrewdness. “It takes a great amount of discipline to not get sidetracked by big ideas that would exhaust our resources,” he warned. He truly believes incremental growth and prudent enhancements are the right way to build a business. He just has to constantly remind himself.  

About GigSalad:

GigSalad is the largest and most diverse marketplace for booking bands, performers, speakers and services for events, parties, and productions of all types and sizes. With millions of users across the U.S. and Canada, it connects event planners and party throwers with over 80,000 talented professionals for hire, making it simple to search and book on all devices.