The best events don’t always start with a business plan. Often, they start with a spark. Someone has a passion they want to share, and a great idea about how to share it. They’re moved to bring people together around a vision, so they make it happen — even with no event planning experience. Here’s the story of one such creator whose goal was to create events that he and his friends wanted to attend — but didn’t exist.
Imagine watching Titanic on a boat in the Sydney harbor. Or, screening the Shawshank Redemption in an old prison. Aden Levin, the founder of Viral Ventures, spends his life bringing these experiences to life.
Levin wasn’t an event creator by training. But fresh out of school, he had a vision for an event that he couldn’t resist turning into reality. Keep reading to find out how he’s tapped into people’s desire for larger-than-life experiences and expanded to over a dozen international cites over the last three years.
What first sparked the idea for your event business?
Levin: Fresh out of university, my friends and I envisioned an event that combines skiing with the partying atmosphere of a music festival. We took a chance and threw a hybrid ski vacation-music festival in France.
It was — and still is — a success. And when I moved to Sydney a few years later, my intent was to create another music festival. But along the way, I noticed the lack of immersive, pop-up style events — the kind you see all over New York, London, or Los Angeles.
Because I have a personal passion for movies, the first event was Hot Tub Cinema. We literally decided to put 30 hot tubs and a huge cinema screen in the middle of a huge courtyard during the middle of winter. Attendees were able to order food and drinks to be delivered to their tub. It was a hit.
When did you know your event was/would be a success?
Levin: Sydney is a sleepy beach bum kind of town, and we were told that people wouldn’t be into something like Hot Tub Cinema. My gut told me otherwise and, despite the sincere warnings from people, decided to give it a go.
The interest the event sparked — not just from people buying tickets but the media as well — all but proved there was an appetite for immersive events. It also made me realize the real reason no one was into this sort of thing was because there was no one offering anything like it.
From there, I wondered how much further we could bring people into the world of the movies they love watching. It got me and my business partner, James Farrell, thinking: We have access to Sydney Harbor and massive boats, why don’t we do a Titanic screening? Tickets were sold for first, second, or third class. Actors dressed up in 1912 attire. We captured the whole vibe of the movie — well, everything but the boat sinking.
People loved it and wanted more.
Was there a moment you had to take the leap and go all in on your event business?
Levin: Definitely. After the success of Hot Tub Cinema (which was in July), that following October we decided to go big with these immersive experiences. The Titanic screening, which was the next event, took four or five months to plan — it was quite literally a mini theater on a boat — so we had to make it a full-time endeavor in order to pull it off.
What was your first big failure and what did you learn from it?
Levin: We haven’t had a massive failure to date, but we have had our share of some hairy moments.
A screening of The Shawshank Redemption, for instance, was hosted in an old prison that operated as a museum from 9 to 5. The screening was set to start at 7 pm, so we only had a couple of hours to bring an entire cinema production into the gangway of the jail. The movie was on a laptop and, as it turned out, wasn’t compatible with the projector.
We had to keep people in jail cells for an extra half hour until things were sorted out. You can imagine why that might create some tension. But, luckily, the actors we hired to entertain people saved the day and keep guests occupied while we worked through the technical difficulties.
How much has your company grown?
Levin: James and I created quite an aggressive growth strategy. We started in Australia two years ago, and now we host events in the UK, Canada, and the United States. Soon we’ll be expanding into Asia.
Each event series is its own brand with a strong following. For instance, our cinema events are branded Beyond Cinema. At this point, we can pick any number of films to feature and feel confident people will show up.
What’s your advice for someone just starting out in the events industry – or what would you go back and tell your younger self about taking the leap?
Levin: There’s no such thing as a stupid event. No matter how odd or unique it is, as long as there’s a market it doesn’t matter.
People often hear about a new product or business and say, “I thought about that,” or “I had that idea!” But they didn’t do anything about it. Sometimes you need to put your neck on the line and accept the results, whether it goes right or wrong.
Take the leap and start your own event
Perhaps you, too, have an idea for an event that’ll capture the hearts and minds of others. If so, turn that idea into a reality.
Follow in the footsteps of Levin and others who transformed their passion into a profession. Set up your event on Eventbrite in minutes.