Even though it seems like female entrepreneurship has only risen in the last twenty years, women have been starting businesses since the seventeenth century working as merchants, dressmakers, and other professions. Each time a woman breaks into a male-dominated industry, it’s one step forward to equality and another away from outmoded stereotypes about a woman being the fairer sex. According to Wilkinson K Naggs, Business Insider’s Dominick Reuter theorizes that women employees are almost seven million workers and generate over a billion dollars in revenue. Moreover, forty percent of businesses in the United States are owned by a woman. Yet, there is one industry where women have yet to seriously smash glass ceilings; the bar and nightclub industry. Yet, two-woman decided they were fed up with what the industry was becoming and decided to give bars and nightclubs a much-needed update for the twenty-first century.
Kelsi Kitchener and Celeste Durve know they are in a challenging market. The bar and nightclub business is dominated by men, and women take supporting roles like drink girls, bartenders, or other promotions that entice patrons to come in and spend money. According to IT Portal, the face of the nightclub is changing. In the 1980s, nightclubs and bars were the primary revenue stream for the nightlife industry. However, during the economic crash in 2005, the 25 billion dollar industry started falling. Many attribute these waning numbers to more social consciousness. Numerous women are put off by the term “meat markets,” often used to describe some locations. After all, it’s fun to go in and dance, but it’s unpleasant if you’re being preyed on while trying to have a good time. The site predicts that since things like this are happening, women will shift the industry by adding a more inclusive feel to places where women may have felt hesitant about visiting. It would be a pleasant shift since IT Portal’s article is followed by a plethora of articles on how to pick up women in bars and nightclubs, not how women can smash glass ceilings and become bar owners themselves. However, Kitchener and Durve are definitely blazing the trail for future female entrepreneurs who want to break into the boys club. Women will add relationship-building skills, encouraging them to come into the business since they understand how it feels to walk into a place and feel like you are on display.
Another critical factor in rethinking the industry is technology. Many of the ways owners used to attract people to come into their clubs are over. Now, people rely on technology and want something that captures their attention. Thereby, it’s time to think outside the box and create incentives for millennials to enter bars and nightclubs. Additionally, promoters also feel a lack since they are desperately scrambling to stay on top of trends. After looking through the data and realizing they were experiencing many of the same issues as other women who want to go out with friends but don’t want the negativity, Durve and Kitchener decided to launch their own company, VIP Event Relations, also known as VIPER. The pair started the company with a thousand dollars. According to Wilkinson K Naggs, the company now has a 4 million dollar evaluation in four years. One of the things that make the company extremely successful is that it centers around guest experiences. Additionally, Kitchener and Durve have retained complete control over the background to make sure everything runs smoothly. This has been a critical factor in working with clients like Kanye West, Drake, Beyonce, Google, Hulu, and the NFL. The duo hopes that VIPER will have a lasting impact on the industry.
Reinventing the industry
Technology plays a vital role in each VIPER event. Durve and Kitchener’s team, known as VIPER Girls, aren’t ones to just pour drinks and smile nicely. Instead, they use cutting-edge technology to manage the doors, tables, and even the talent for events. They also handle any swag bags at the event and keep accurate guest records if the hosts want them. It’s refreshing to see a woman taking such initiative because there was a time when women were simply seen as arm candy. Durve and Kitchener recognized this and had grown tired of the negative image. They envisioned a company where women were seen as an authority in these events and not another bobblehead to add decoration. However, the opening days of the business were not easy. Both VIPER co-owners are young, twenty-four, and twenty-eight, respectively. Neither could get a credit card when they first started the company. Kitchener even remembers crying a lot because she was so overworked. Yet, the hard work started to pay off when they got three jobs at Coachella in 2016. That weekend was intense because they had officially opened their business a week before. According to Starter Story, when Kitchener and Durve look back, the event was a bit of a disaster. Kitchener felt overwhelmed because although she’d done the door at many promotions, she felt overwhelmed.
Additionally, she was managing a new team and wanted everything to be perfect. Yet, since this was a new team, there were many ups and downs. They realize now that they hadn’t become a cohesive team. Although Kitchener and Durve were industry-tested, they weren’t prepared for the additional responsibilities of running everything for the event. Even though their first event was rocky, the VIPER bounced back. According to Business Insider, Durve said, “they would spread our name around, and we would take these people to dinner or send them a box of cookies or something like that. We just really worked on our public relationships.” It’s definitely something that has helped the VIPER grow and change the face of the nightclub industry. They started their business on the DBA KCH group, which creates a platform for future ventures. Even though the business is cutting edge, they relied on a thank you note of one of the most time-honored traditions. Early in the company, their favorite thing to send to clients was cookies. The day after the event, they would call a bakery and send them to the client with gratitude for choosing their business. Perhaps the sweet treat was why so many clients called them again for another party. Much like other portions of the business Kitchener and Durve learn from their mistakes and use them as an opportunity to grow. After their Coachella event, they began to work on development. VIPER was unlike anything is ever done before, so there was equal room for creativity and mistakes.
Not another promotion company
Kitchener and Durve met when they were both interns at Bolthouse Productions. During their time, they worked with more significant events and promotions. However, as they were doing these, they noticed much of what they were doing was standing at the door. When they began to consider their own business, they knew they didn’t want to open a company that cloned the other promotion companies with one exception, it’s run by women. Instead, they wanted to streamline promotion companies and eliminate much of the stereotypes of women in the industry. The idea happened during an event in 2015. The pair was hired for a party. Yet, much like other events, their participation was limited to standing at the door. This was when they decided to try their hand at a woman empowered business. While at this event, they noticed that everything was off-kilter despite it being a million-dollar event. Too many people were trying to keep everything together without a clear-cut plan. The pair were at the door since they were both personable. Since everything was caving in around them, they knew they create something much better.
Although, in the beginning, it was just a side hustle. Durve and Kitchener wanted to create a company that would manage the event, keep track of the guest list, and ensures everything ran smoothly. Moreover, they tried to eliminate the stereotypes of a woman at significant events. According to Starter Story, they are the first and only front-of-house operations company and have reimagined part of the Los Angeles nightlife industry. It’s no longer a man’s world where they stand at the door and look pretty. The pair runs everything from logistics to backstage and back of the house. One of the earliest challenges they faced was creating a brand. Since they didn’t have a physical product, they needed to create something that would stand out and also evoke an image of empowerment. There first several attempts were missteps. Yet, they kept going and finally settled on VIPER. Once they decided on the business name, they hired a lawyer so they could incorporate the business. According to Medium, their second step was hiring someone to run their social media. After all, much of their business relies on social media since it’s an amplified version of word-of-mouth advertising.
Valuing hard work
Both co-founders of VIPER understand that it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to grow their business. However, they remain up for the challenge since their company is more about passion than money. According to Women Hustlers, neither has taken a large salary since starting the company. Additionally, they have been diligent about reinvesting into the company. It was a massive struggle in the beginning. There was much personal instability early in the business since the two were investing almost everything back into the company. When they look back at those times, they remember crying in the supermarket, wondering how they would pay for groceries. Yet, this was their passion, and they kept going. Throughout the company’s first months, they got many calls from people who wanted them to do events. During this time, they also kept day jobs so they could continue to fund their passions project. They also gave a lot of discounts to start building their clientele. However, eventually, they realized they needed to lower their prices so they could grow the business. Since this is a promotion business, they are constantly working towards building solid relationships with clients. It’s a dream for Kitchener and Durve. They consistently take clients out to dinner and have an almost 100% repeat clientele. This type of commitment to excellent relationships isn’t limited to clients. They also maintain a solid relationship with the woman who works for them.
Even though VIPER is doing well, the company is part of an uncertain industry. Yet, the co-owners feel that their brand is a standout because it empowers women and helps foster a new generation of female entrepreneurs. Currently, they have forty-five independent contractors working for them. Yet, they also understand there is a lot of politics and ego in the industry. Additionally, COVID put a halt to many of the company’s plans. However, Kirchner and Durve looked at it positively, another opportunity to grow and expand their business. One thing that helped the fledgling company as they provide an essential service during the pandemic. Even when other startups were having challenges, much of their success is the heavy reliance on technology. Since they used things like iPads for check-ins, they could manage events anywhere in the world. This helped them land high-profile jobs for the Super Bowl, NBA’s All-Star Weekend, and the Latin Grammys. It cemented what the co-founders knew, people need social interaction.
Even though the company is becoming wildly successful. Kitchener and Durve aren’t all about the money. They maintain a constant drive to turn the “boys club” on its ear. They enjoy working in an industry that helps women take charge. The pair know the pushback they had when first starting the business and hope other women will begin to believe that they can do anything they put their mind to. Some of the best companies are ones where the co-founders bootstrapped and became wildly successful. When it’s a socially conscious business, it adds even more value. Undoubtedly clientele recognizes the strides these two have made with VIPER and want to use a company that is a trailblazer in the industry and is the reinvention of an industry that was starting a top decline.