There’s nothing sexy about corporate retreats. But BoomPop, a 26-person, San Francisco-based outfit that the startup studio Atomic launched in 2020, is managing to infuse some pizazz into the long-formulaic industry. Given what BoomPop is building, one could even see it evolving into more than a way for companies to more easily plan luxury meet-ups for their far-flung employees, which is how it largely exists right now. Think weddings, family reunions, business conferences and more.
The startup’s pitch is persuasive, at least. Here’s what we know right now, based on an interview earlier today with the company’s CEO Healey Cypher. The company was born during the pandemic. Cypher, who is also the COO of Atomic, was intent on keeping his colleagues’ morale up and began devising creative ways to do it, including through virtual Napa Valley wine-tastings, magic shows, customized games and the like. Along the way, it occurred to Cypher and his Atomic colleagues that there could be a business in creating a curated marketplace of virtual experiences. A gregarious connector type, Cypher blasted 150 contacts to advertise its services and by the end of last year, he says, 2,500 customers were letting BoomPop plan their virtual team-building exercises.
Fast-forward to today, and the viability of the business is even more assured, says Cypher. He says that some of its customers have already paid BoomPop to organize “60 to 70” mini meetups for them — both virtual and offline. They also have many more options from which to choose. According to Cypher, BoomPop now features “thousands of hotel options, meeting spaces, activities, photographers who can create sizzle reels of these events and swag” to give to participants as they head back home.
BoomPop also handles the invitations, creates event pages with agendas, tracks scheduling and budget changes and handles payments. (It creates an escrow account for every event that shuts off when it’s over.) In short, it’s a lot of mini-businesses in one, and it has all been built from the ground up, says Cypher, who claims that so far, 4,000 companies have made arrangements for 150,000 of their employees at an average price of $65,000 per event.
Most of those customers — 73%, says Cypher — have never planned or hosted an off-site before.
All of them pay a flat fee that BoomPop guarantees that is “at least 10% to 20% off the best rates you can buy,” he says.
The numbers would seem to validate Cypher’s theory that as companies shrink their physical footprint, along with the associated cost of outfitting those offices, there’s a lot of “new, shiny, found money” that’s being spent in different ways. Most is likely being used right now to extend companies’ runway, but some percentage will invariably be used to adapt to a world where employees who work from home would benefit from greater social cohesion. (It’s not an act of altruism. Colleagues are often what make jobs sticky.)
Unsurprisingly, BoomPop isn’t alone in spying the trend lines. In addition to competing with Airbnb Experiences (which is more disjointed), BoomPop is going up against the internal event planning teams within big companies and a growing spate of startups, including the end-to-end retreat planning startup Flok, whose founder was a form Apple engineer (the company went through YC last winter) and Marco Experiences, an LA-based seed-funded outfit that is similarly designing off-sites and other experiences for its customers.
Still, BoomPop would seem to have some advantages over some of these rivals. First, Atomic is a company-making factory whose best-known brands include the telehealth outfit Hims & Hers, which went public via a special purpose acquisition company early last year, and OpenStore, an outfit that is snapping up Shopify storefronts.
Atomic hasn’t had a blow-your-hair-back-level exit yet, but it has seen plenty of success to date, including on the basis of how many of its startups raise follow-on rounds and considering that it doesn’t for a lot of capital into its creations. BoomPop itself quietly raised a previously unannounced round of $14 million back in February from ACME Capital and Atomic, along with Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie.
Meanwhile, Cypher is no slouch, either, having co-founded some of Atomic’s companies, as well as founded his own company before he teamed up with Atomic. That earlier startup, Oak Labs, made a full-length touch-screen mirror for dressing rooms and was acquired for “tens of millions” of dollars three years after it was founded, per Cypher, who was once a retail innovation head at eBay.
Indeed, while a recession could certainly crush a business like BoomPop depending on its severity and length, there’s data to support that should it make it through, BoomPop could become a big business.
Consider that even with layoffs in the air, offices in the US are still less than half full, according to recent data out of the security firm Kastle Systems. And companies are adjusting to that shift in behavior. According to a July survey of 250 US companies from the flexible workspace software provider Robin, 46% of companies plan to cut their office space in the next year. Of those outfits, 59% said they would shrink their space by more than half.
It should free up some capital. If BoomPop’s bet is right, some of it will be spent on bringing employees who are increasingly apart back together in new ways.
From left to right, BoomPop’s co-founders (dressed ironically in suits — we’re told they do not actually wear suits): Vaibhav Chauhan (revenue/operations); Healey Cypher (CEO); and Blake Hudelson (product/design). Not pictured: Atomic CEO Jack Abraham.