It started with three friends and a supper club at Yale. Grad students Christopher Kieran, Brad Baer and Andrew Hapke joined a vegetarian dinner club, known as “Veggie Dinner,” which quickly grew to 300 members and eventually inspired a website, Zokos, to defray the costs through crowdfunding. It works just like Kickstarter, except backers pledge to attend the party and chip in a minimum amount.
Hosts set a goal for the number of guests and decide the “chip-in” price. If the goal is reached by noon the day before the party, the party’s on, everyone’s credit card gets charged and the beer money is in the host’s PayPal account before he or she even goes shopping. If the minimum number of guests do not RSVP, the party is canceled.
“Our goal is bringing down the barriers to entertaining, so we can have better parties, more often,” Mr. Hapke wrote in an email. “With zokos, anyone can host parties and have their friends chip in to cover costs—we call it ‘friendfunding.’”
The three diners teamed up with a friend and web developer, Roger Vandervort, and founded Zokos in June, 2011. They launched it privately in September 14, 2011 and invited 900 beta testers to the site who have hosted over 400 parties. “Thirty-one percent of testers said they’re already hosting more parties than usual, thanks to Zokos,” said Zokos in a press release.
Zokos takes a 3 percent fee and $.30 per guest. The founders of Zokos, which is based in Soho coworking hub Projective Space, figures that “at-home social occasions” are a $33 billion market. Zokos started out with dinner parties but expanded to tailgate parties, wine tastings, potlucks, cooking lessons and surprise parties. (They’ve avoided talking about parties parties in their marketing, but it’s an obvious use case.)
Zokos graduated from the Betaspring startup accelerator in Providence, Rhode Island, and won the Connecticut Business Plan Competition as well as the Henry F. McCance Entrepreneurial Prize, and was a finalist for COMMON Pitch NYC, the Yale Venture Challenge, and the Founder Showcase.