Rising star: club promotion 2.0

Kieran Corcoran meets Sebastian Salek, Cambridge student and founder of online club promotion service Guestvibe

Getting students into clubs is big business and, as anyone who's had a cherry VK in their local sweatpit will realise, clubbers can be an easy cash cow. But club promotion has largely ducked the digital revolution. People out on the streets and in union bars selling discount tickets and offering free "champagne" to large parties are the tried, tested and labour-intensive ways used to tempt student revellers through the doors.

Sebastian Salek wants to change all that. With the launch of his online guestlist service Guestvibe last summer, he's provided a way for students make sure they're down for the nights they love and for club promoters to save on admin and commission.

Sebastian launched the service at the University of Cambridge, where each college has one or more club reps who sell tickets in bars. Formerly a rep himself, Sebastian says "the problem is that often reps aren't around, or they live in another part of town. It can be a hassle to get tickets from them."

Moving online

"Guestvibe solves that problem: from the website you choose your night and join an online guestlist. From the back end of the website, the promoter logs in and can see the guestlist, which updates in real time. Just before the doors open, they print off the list, and you can give your name on entry and get your queue jump, your reduced price or whatever the offer was."

Sebastian had the idea for the service over Easter last year. "I was a rep at the time, but saw there was scope for simplifying the whole process and moving it online. Then it was a case of speaking to the clubs I knew, who would, after all, be the paying customers, and asking whether they thought it was a good idea. I offered some free trials, and they were happy to go ahead with it."

Sebastian's expertise came from the clubbing, rather than the technical, side of the project. "To build the website I had to teach myself coding languages - PHP, Javascript and HTML - and I made a very simple version to launch in May Week (Cambridge's week of post-exams partying, actually in June).

"When the new year started, I organised a free-entry launch party at a club with some sponsorship money I'd secured and set about making new contacts off the back of that buzz. It spread so well that I managed to annoy a few of the established reps because I was running the service for free and taking no commission, so students could get into a club for as little as £2 each."

It soon became clear to Sebastian that he could turn club promotion into a serious business: "I started to see regulars on the guestlists, which confirmed that the service was good and had developed a following."

Challenge and opportunity

Despite early successes, no project is without its challenges - a fact about which Sebastian is very open. "My biggest problem", he admits, "is that our results can be difficult to track, as we rely on the promoters to record who actually shows up and pays their money.

"So I still need to find a way to get reliable data on what's going on to prove the service is earning its subscription fees. Ideally, I'd like to be able to take payments via the website as well, but the technology isn't yet in place to do that quickly and easily enough for it not to put people off."

When I probe Sebastian a little more on his ambitions for Guestvibe, it's clear that they stretch beyond the Cambridge bubble. Though he started out there due to his good contacts, the bigger prizes are elsewhere, he tells me.

"What I really want to do with this is get to the bigger cities. If you look at Cardiff, for instance, the clubs are so packed that you need to be on a guestlist to go out. Whereas in Cambridge signing up in advance saves you a few pounds, in other places it's an absolute necessity. The promoters who run nights in Cambridge also run nights elsewhere, so hopefully I can expand on those lines."

Lone wolf

I ask why it is that he tends to work alone, and Sebastian reveals that it's partly due to circumstance, and partly a way to prepare himself for the business world later on.

"I'm not really connected with the entrepreneurship scene in Cambridge, so I just do my own thing. While I'm good at thinking up ideas, working out how to implement them and being the front of the project, my technical skills aren't the best. If I start running my own business full time, I'll obviously need a partner.

"But I do think I've learned a lot from doing this myself. As well as learning how to code, I've got great experience making contacts, doing publicity, negotiating and making a business plan -the sort of things you might delegate if you had a team. I want to run my own business one day, and understanding these things will be great for making that happen."