(But it's not, says its CEO)
by Lucia Maffei
From deciding the appetizers to hiring a photographer, planning a wedding requires a long checklist to be completed – not to mention, a large amount of patience and excellent mediation skills.
One of the first decision to make is finding the location, which is the main problem that Mayflower Venues, a Boston-based startup born out of MIT, says it’s able to solve.
The online venue catalog and booking platform is not the first resource out there for hands-on, tech-savvy couples with a preference for on-demand services. Over the years, countless startups have tried to profit from the banquet of the wedding industry, a steady market that can count even on a recent statistic that remarriage is on the rise in the U.S. New York City-based Zola, for example, took home $100 million in Series D funding as part of its quest to reinvent the wedding registry. Other ventures help grooms rent a tux or a suit for the big day, or assist couples in purchasing diamonds – completely online.
As the name suggests, Mayflower Venues assists in finding the perfect place to say “I do.” With Mayflower, couples can browse an online catalog of around 50 “non-traditional” venues for free and check immediately availability and pricing information, co-founder and CEO Sam McElhinney said.
If they decide to go for it, couples can immediately book their venue by paying 25% of the price with a credit card, among other options. On the other end, venue owners find potential revenue opportunities through the website by agreeing on a flat fee to be paid by customers. Mayflower takes a portion of the revenue that is generated once the venue is booked; McElhinney said that each portion they take is personalized.
With the platform acting like a middleman between couples and venue owners, some people have started thinking of Mayflower Venues as an “Airbnb for wedding venues,” but McElhinney said it’s not really like that.
“Airbnb is just user-generated content and all that Airbnb does is connect you to a place that may or may not exist or may or may not look the way it does,” said McElhinney.
Although Airbnb says it performs background checks on hosts, Mayflower Venues said that every venue gets an in-person visit from a company’s representative and a professional photographer before being listed. Also, couples can see the space for themselves before booking (they can schedule a $99 tour; the fee contributes to the final price and can be refunded as long as the couple attends the tour). Moreover, Mayflower said that each booking comes with “schematics” of the place, which couples can share with vendors and caterers.
“A family who has a beautiful estate in Maine doesn’t want a couple calling at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night to ask about how many feet of electric cord they should bring,” McElhinney said.
McElhinney added that Mayflowers can give recommendations to couples about “certain vendors in that area oftentimes,” but added that Mayflowers is not a wedding planner service.
Based in Charlestown, the 3-employee company started in June 2017, when McElhinney was still at MIT Sloan School of Management. That summer, the company went through the “delta v” acceleration program. Mayflower raised $25,000 from Rough Draft Ventures and an additional $150,000 in a convertible note round (McElhinney won’t disclose any investors).
Currently, Mayflower-associated venues are located mainly in Massachusetts, with a few options available in Maine, Vermont and Connecticut.