While the pandemic has halted all in-person events, we have flocked to virtual events to be connected and feel a sense of normalcy. With an endless sea of events to choose from, finding the right events to attend is still a problem just as it was in the Pre-COVID world. Playground is an AI-based platform with a slick interface that matches individuals with interesting events and individuals that are relevant to them. Billing itself as the “Spotify of events”, the company also focuses on supporting creators and hosts of these events to drive interest from the people who stand to benefit from being in these communities. The company pivoted from offline event discovery as a result of the pandemic and now has a broader potential user base that transcends globally.
AlleyWatch caught up with Founder and CEO Jia Ling (Linda) Yang to learn more about the traction of the business, the company’s future plans, and experience pivoting.
Tell us about the product or service that Playground offers.
You can think of Playground as the Spotify of Events.
In the same way listeners are continuously eager to discover new music, Playground offers a seamless discovery experience for things to do. The platform provides you with a personalized “playlist” of events daily, which can be swiped through on our mobile app. On Playground, event discovery is a holistic community experience, featuring playlists by interesting culture curators and creators. In the same way that an artist has a page on Spotify that lists out their albums, singles, video interviews, etc., virtual event creators can have a profile on Playground where they post their events.
Playground’s web app will soon offer registration, ticketing, and tools allowing digital content creators to support themselves and better manage their communities through their virtual events – whether hosted through Instagram, Zoom, Twitch, or anywhere else on the web.
Traditional event listings are often static and overloaded with low-quality events, leaving you overwhelmed and uninspired. Creator pages exist in silos and offer little help to expand audience reach and engagement. Niche sites sprawl the internet, resulting in a fragmented and frustrating user experience. They’re not built to satisfy both the in-person and virtual event market.
Playground is the first-ever connected discovery hub designed to incite discovery – both online and off. We use tech to personalize event recommendations and break you out of your algorithmic bubbles. By approaching event discovery holistically and considering the ways people connect before, during, and after events, Playground inspires participation in community. We are fast-becoming the place to go to explore and build true social connections through shared experiences.
What market does Playground target and how big is it?
Playground is on track to disrupt the virtual event market, which is projected to grow 10X by 2030, reaching $774 Billion. We are poised to answer a $140B gap in this exploding market.
What is the business model?
B2B2C: We offer creators a platform to showcase events, grow their audiences, and effectively manage their communities at a consumer price point.
What inspired the start of Playground?
Playground was inspired by our group of friends in Brooklyn. Like any community, we related to one another through mutual interests, growing closer through shared experiences. Belonging is the cornerstone of humanity, yet every social platform we use perpetuates loneliness, further dividing and polarizing us. None of us could answer the question of where we go to find new & interesting things to do? So, we dreamed up Playground: a next-gen event guide, to foster belonging and community participation and ultimately help broaden perspectives and build empathy across generational and physical boundaries.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
Even before COVID-19, our team observed technology’s impact on creating a more socially distant society. We’ve researched the negative impact of more screen time, which lends itself to more passive, performative, and filtered connections. While we’ve always intended to to create a more intentional platform that fosters genuine connection, a COVID-stricken world further highlights the need.
With COVID canceling in-person events around the world, forcing isolation, and heightening anxieties, we quickly recognized the need to help people discover social and cultural happenings. We immediately pivoted from a city-based launch with mostly IRL events to an international launch focused on virtual events, which resulted in an inundation of requests from independent artists and creators wanting to be featured. This highlighted an opportunity on the other side of the virtual events space. For every individual having difficulty finding an event, there is a creator struggling to attract an audience. We answered this opportunity by building invaluable tools for those creators.
COVID has shown us the opportunity to connect people across borders. Our focus on event discovery has broadened to a more inclusive worldwide audience, which has allowed us to pinpoint values-aligned micro-communities to partner with from the start.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We are building a holistic end-to-end solution for creators, with registration, ticketing, two-way SMS, and hosting options on top of our discovery-focused hub.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
I was recently given the advice to keep a journal so I could look back and see how much I’ve grown. Wish I had gotten this advice earlier!
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Anu Duggal from Female Founders Fund. As a female founder of color, it’s really important we build Playground with investors who are passionate about building an inclusive and equitable business from the very start.
Why did you launch in New York?
Myself and those who have inspired Playground have been privileged enough to travel extensively and build community throughout the world. But New York is, ultimately, our Playground. On the international stage, New York is at the center of cultural experiences and growth through community connections. The city provides constant inspiration for the experiences we want to share with others, no matter their situation.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC?
Lilia in Williambsurg. It’s Italian food at its finest.