- Lang Spotlight
Co-Founder and COO, Block Party Suites
Co-Founder and COO, Block Party Suites
THINKING OUTSIDE THE CRATE
CBS alumnus Steve Gilman ‘15 and his co-founders, Adam Ward and Cody Slape, recognized the importance of creating a platform to connect the community and the appeal of repurposing a common object in an innovative way. In 2014, they combined these concepts and launched Block Party Suites, a B2B company with the goal of better utilizing the space between businesses and consumers at outdoor events by transforming shipping containers into customizable suites. While the outdoor landscape of sporting events and music festivals has long been saturated with luxury tents and staid brand promotion techniques, this innovative approach has provided businesses with a novel way to reach their audience.
THE METAMORPHOSIS: SHIPPING CONTAINER TURNED LUXURY SUITE
There is no shortage of product supply, “for every 100 shipping containers that enter the U.S., 50 are shipped back empty, 45 are stored in lots, and only 5 are claimed for other purposes,” says Gilman. Block Party Suites uses a new model that opens on the side, and then works with a Texas-based fabricator to revamp the containers into full-fledged, double-decker entertainment venues, replete with track lighting, AC power, satellite TV, and comfortable furniture. They provide daily and weekly leasing options, take care of staking out a prime location, and handle all of the logistics of installing and packing the suite.
UNCRATING THE PAST
The word is out – with a contract for fall football season at Southern Methodist University and several exciting partnerships in the pipeline, Block Party Suites is growing quickly. In reflecting on the defining steps that led to their success, Gilman believes picking the right co-founders, building good relationships, and the mentorship he received from Columbia Business School were critical. “If you come to Columbia knowing that you want to become an entrepreneur, everything you learn you can start applying to your own business. Every class that was driven toward entrepreneurship invited interesting entrepreneurs to come in and tell their stories.” Gilman noted the valuable lessons he learned from CBS alums and guest speakers like Greg Marsh (CBS ‘13) from KeyMe, Ryan Peterson (CBS ’08) of Flexport, Nik Bonaddio of numberFire, Ryan Simonetti from Convene, and Matthew Keiser of LiveIntent, all of whom had successes and failures, but ultimately persevered in building their ventures.
AN ISLAND SURROUNDED BY SHIPPING PORTS…AND FILLED WITH INSPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
“People don’t reach out to successful founders enough because they think they’re too busy…but usually they’re more than willing to help students,” explains Gilman. As a student, he remembers visiting a different startup every Friday, an advantage, he notes, that could not be found on this scale or magnitude anywhere else. “Plus,” Gilman adds, “there are enough resources and investors in New York that you could attend several events every week.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Block Party Suites will work out of Columbia Startup Lab for the next year, and Gilman looks forward to continuing to grow the company in a space with other ambitious alumni startups. He is focused on scaling quickly, optimizing operations and further enhancing the suites with new features to foster these important connections and experiences for their clients. There is no doubt that Gilman and his team have a bright future with substantial room for growth ahead. “We use the motto ‘Always Go,’” says Gilman, “which means chasing every opportunity, never waiting to do something tomorrow that you can do today – everything is worth exploring.”
Zohar Yardeni was not passionate about business when he graduated from college. “I wasn’t the dude carrying the Wall Street Journal in college,” Yardeni says. “I had long hair and no job.”
However, it did not take Yardeni long to discover the appeal of business. “What I always liked about business was that there’s a score at the end of the day,’’ he says. After college, Yardeni worked in mergers and acquisitions and private equity. His untraditional path resumed when he worked as a ski lift operator before starting business school.
“You’re working with kids who are 19 or 20, who are not going to college and who are thinking no further than the next couple of weeks,” he says. “If you’re coming from Manhattan and an investment banking job, seeing that lifestyle broadens your perspective.”
Yardeni credits his experience and network from Columbia Business School as an asset to his entrepreneurial efforts. “The greatest thing about Columbia was my classmates,” he says. “We were able to start CallStreet, an earnings-conference-call-transcription service, at Columbia because we had just spent two years with 500 other people who are bright and had time to contribute.”
Yardeni’s first company, CallStreet LLC, was sold to FactSet Research Systems. His next venture, radiusIM, integrates location into the online experience. “Our initial offering is a social instant-messaging Web site ,” he explains. “It shows people where their friends are hanging out and lets them surf for people based on location.”
“Being an entrepreneur is very humbling. Everyone thinks you walk away with $2 billion in your 20s, like what happened with YouTube. I hang out with a lot of folks who started companies, and some did well, but others got doors slammed in their faces. It keeps you honest and humble.”
He finds that it does get easier. “From financing to mundane stuff like office space, starting radiusIM was simpler than CallStreet because we had experience and credibility,” he says. “But one thing that doesn’t change is the commitment required. We’re still living, eating and breathing this business.”
Despite the challenges, Yardeni seeks to encourage people to try to start a business. “There’s a tendency to ascribe a lot of traits to entrepreneurs after success or failure, but the reality is that luck plays a big role,” he says. “It’s great just to be in the game, just to get a chance to try to build something real.”