Celeste Durve and Kelsi Kitchener are Co-Founders of VIPER (VIP Event Relations), a Los Angeles based startup. As active members in the nightlife, event planning, and hospitality community, Durve and Kitchener noticed that “the front door” was missing any reliable and memorable service. So, they teamed up alongside other women in the industry to provide the real “front door” guest experience.
How did you come up with the idea for your business? Were there any personal experiences, passions, skills, hobbies, etc. that influenced you?
We started VIPER because we were freelance event production assistants and we noticed a missing category in the market: the front door. There seemed to be a vendor for everything when it came to producing events: staging, catering, signage, security, valet, audio, the list goes on. But there was no team dedicated to managing the guest experience. That’s when we decided to create our own small team. At the time we had no idea we would grow to the A list clientele we now have.
How have you cultivated customer loyalty early on?
We’ve cultivated customer loyalty by repeatedly delivering quality service and building relationships. We don't take our client relations lightly as they are the most important thing to us.
We always try to go above and beyond and actually get to know our customers on a personal level.
We do this by taking them out for drinks or coffee. This has helped build a friendship foundation. The nightlife industry is similar to hospitality, so it is a big part of our business development.
What were the toughest experiences to endure as a business owner? Points where you wondered why you were doing this at all?
The toughest experiences we have had to endure were mostly financial. Owning a self-funded startup is never easy. Initially, we each put in about $800 for legal fees and basic graphic design. There were many times we were strapped and could barely make rent or groceries. When clients are late on payments or its just a slow season for business, it really made us wonder why we were in business at all. It can get really heavy to work harder than the people around you, consistently putting yourself out there and still have days where you can't make ends meet.
Similarly, it was difficult when it came time for us to open our first round of funding from investors.
Being told no or ignored over and over again can really mess with your head! Raising money as two young women has definitely been a challenge but we work really hard to stay positive!
What are the three most memorable breakthroughs you had while growing your business that gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
When we started getting called from clients who wanted to hire us. To this day, we haven’t done any generic marketing and our service has all been shared by word of mouth. This was especially exciting and re-affirming for us, especially in the beginning.
When women from all different nightlife companies were interested in working for VIPER. In the Los Angeles nightlife scene, there exists an unspoken level of competition or rivalry between nightlife groups. When VIPER became the team that brought women from all these competing groups together, it was a reminder that we were on to something.
When people reached out to hear our story. We always get so excited when someone wants to interview us or write about our services, no matter how small the publication is. This was also a sign that we were aligned with where we were supposed to be.
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