b-there.com: Perfecting Conference Planning –

WESTPORT, Conn. – Anyone who has ever tried to organize a dinner party for six people knows how difficult it can be to get everyone in the same room at the same time. Now imagine the complexities of trying to organize a four-day conference for 600 people – pretty frightening, isn’t it? Well, maybe for the organizationally-challenged, but not for online attendee management company b-there.com, one of the few remaining dotcom companies that still has the faith of its venture backers and, consequently, access to their checkbooks. To date, the company, which recently closed on a first tranche of series B funding, has raised more than $30 million.

Founded in 1999, b-there.com is an online application service provider serving the meetings, conferences and events industry, as well as the group travel marketplace, says Chairman and Founder Peggy Lee. Up until now going to a conference has meant registering for the event, making travel plans and hotel reservations in separate individual steps at different locations, she notes. B-there’s attendee relationship management engine changes this for conference goers by centralizing all the tasks on one Web page.

Conference organizers using b-there’s system configure their own individual Web pages for their events, Lee explains. This means that besides the basics – registration, travel plans and lodging packages – conference organizers can add special functions, like dinner reservations or show tickets, to their individual pages, she adds.

B-there.com’s technology simply makes event attendees’ lives easier, Lee notes. Conference planners get the benefit of looking professionally organized and, more importantly, access to a consolidated pool of data that never existed in the past, she says. Now two weeks before an event, the organizer can go to one place and find out how many special rate hotel rooms are booked, while also investigating what conference meetings are overbooked and need another session, Lee says.

There are currently no competitors in the marketplace offering the various reservation capabilities b-there.com does, Lee notes, adding it is this end-to-end service approach that attracted VCs to the company. In March, b-there.com closed on $6.5 million of a targeted $10 million series B funding round. Seaport Capital led the funding tranche, which included participation from TL Ventures and BancBoston Ventures, all three of whom are existing investors in the company.

The company closed on the initial amount of funding because it signals to the marketplace that b-there.com still has the confidence of its investors in a tough environment, Lee explains. Moreover, while the Web site would like the additional capital from another investor, the $6.5 million provided by its current syndicate is enough capital to get b-there.com to cash flow positive by the first quarter of 2002, she adds.

“Since we were all going to invest in the company again because we believe in it, we decided to do it now and show that there should be no questions about b-there.com’s having the necessary capital to implement their plan,” said Bill Lubby, a partner at Seaport Capital.

“We have given them enough [capital] to reach the next inflection point, we just haven’t included any extra padding,” says Guy Hoffman, a venture partner at TL Ventures. Lee says b-there would like to close on the remaining $3.5 million from strategic investors and perhaps other VC firms by mid-year at the latest. She declined to identify any potential new investors.

Seaport also led the company’s $22 million series A round of funding, which included TL Ventures and BancBoston Ventures and closed in the first quarter of 2000. The company received $3 million in seed money from angel investors when it was founded in April 1999. B-there.com will use this recent infusion of capital to continue to develop its technology and its customer care services in order to improve its service model and to increase customer’s adoption of its services and systems, Lee notes.

The company currently has 150 customers, including Nortel Networks Corp., Penton Media Inc., PGI and Bank of America Corp., and it sells its services both directly to companies who hold conferences and to third-party companies that organize conferences for other businesses, Lee says. The company’s pricing model is two-fold, including an initial fee to set-up a client’s account and provide training on how to use the system, as well as a subscription fee. The subscription fee has a guaranteed monthly minimum cost and is based on the number of transactions – a reservation for either travel, or lodging or conference attendance through a company’s Web page – that take place in a year’s period. The initial fee can range in cost from $15,000 to $100,000, while the subscription fee from $50,000 to over $1 million depending on the number of transactions. She declined to provide the company’s revenue figures, beyond saying 2001 revenues will be in the multiple seven figures.

B-there.com currently does not need any future rounds of private capital, Lee says. “However, many companies will raise later rounds for a number of reasons based on the strategic direction of the company,” she adds. While Lee says b-there.com is currently focusing on executing on its business plan, there are a number of potential exits for the Web site when the appropriate time comes. “There is a case to be made for a public market exit, but obviously that will be later and there is a lot of consolidation going on in the group travel space, so a merger of some kind is also a possibility,” she notes.