Startup bets everything on New Year's Eve
New Year's Nation spends 364 days a year preparing for one big event: A nationwide party linking four time zones on New Year's Eve.
(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Jann Yogman is counting down to New Year's Eve - but his numbers are going up.
Last year, the entrepreneur's New York City startup, New Year's Nation, hosted 5,000 guests at a national New Year's Eve bash in five U.S. cities, all connected by streaming video on giant plasma screens. This year, he's expecting 8,000 people in eight cities. His sales line: "Eight cities. Four time zones. One outrageous party."
New Year's Nation spends its entire year planning for just one night. With the help of a fleet of consultants, Yogman - for now the company's sole employee - works full-time on the marketing and logistics of a live-broadcast, nationwide event.
New Year's Nation's selling point is its use of streaming media to unite partiers in disparate locations, allowing geographically separated friends and lovers to celebrate together, at least virtually.
"There's so much happening with technology," said Yogman, 36. "I wanted to integrate it into nightlife on the biggest night of the year."
Yogman's background is in television: He worked as a production associate on Michael J. Fox's sitcom "Spin City," where a weekly cast and crew happy-hour gathering led to Yogman's first Manhattan soiree. In December 1997, the owners of the bar they frequented, the Chelsea Brewing Company, mentioned that they were looking for somebody to market their New Year's Eve party.
"Save your money," Yogman told them. "I'll fill your bar." In less than a month, by calling friends (who called their friends ...), Yogman says he found 700 partiers.
He's hosted a Manhattan party every New Year's since. "Everybody kept saying, 'This is such a great event, I wish there was something like it where I lived,' so I knew there was an opportunity," he said.
Three months before New Year's Eve 2006, Yogman decided to go for it. But he didn't want to host separate parties around the U.S. He wanted to host one party, even if it had to be under multiple roofs.
Yogman turned to a Dallas technical consultant, James Bruce of Oxygen Sound, to orchestrate the live feeds. Last year, Wi-Fi connections linked the party's five venues, but the connections proved flaky and occasionally dropped.
This year, New Year's Nation will run on Slingboxes. The consumer devices, designed for watching broadcast television on Internet-connected devices like PCs and mobile phones, are surprisingly useful for managing remote video broadcasts, according to Bruce. From his home base in Dallas, he can receive video from each of the event's locations, mix it up with graphics and text messages from partygoers, re-encode the stream, and send it out via Windows technology for display on the venues' plasma screens.
The biggest challenge is ensuring reliable Internet connectivity at each venue - something Bruce said remains a great unknown until the actual event. Dallas Internet services provider The Planet serves as New Year's Nation's data center, and so far has weathered the giant usage spike the one-night event generates.
"It's an unbelievable amount of resources that go into something like this at any time, and especially near a holiday, just trying to get the video switches and other gear," Bruce said. Limited funding for infrastructure adds to the challenge.
"You always want to park a satellite truck outside the venues, but until the event becomes bigger that's hard to line up," Bruce said. "It's on the table for next year."