IfOnly Sells 2,000 Experiences in Its First Year

Online store pitches dreams instead of products

While most of the online retail space focuses on selling goods, IfOnly offers adventures ranging from hanging out during Paul McCartney's soundcheck to watching a baseball game with San Francisco 49er Frank Gore.

And, what it's selling seems to resonate with consumers: The company, which turns one year old in August, has sold over 2,000 experiences to date and claims their revenue has doubled every quarter. The San Francisco-based company pitches experience-driven packages that vary wildly in price—from getting chef Michael Chiarello to follow you on Twitter for $35 to meeting musician Ted Nugent backstage for $555 to an all-expense, high-end trip for four to the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro for $85,000.

IfOnly founder Trevor Traina cited JWT's research that found 72 percent of millennials would rather spend their money on experiences rather than regular products. It's the fifth startup for the 45-year-old technology entrepreneur, who was brand manager for Seagrams at the young age of 22.

"People don't just want to buy the BMW," Traina explained. "They want to pick it up from the factory and drive it to the dock."

Whether consumers really feel the need to be that close to their purchases is probably reasonable to question. But more closely to his service, people do seem ready to pay for unusual experiences. IfOnly follows other startups such as Tiki Barber's Thuzio in creating a conduit between celebrities and fans.

And for IfOnly, there's a goodwill play, as about 70 percent of the proceeds of purchases go to a handpicked charity of the celebrity or company's choosing. It has helped convince stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga and brands like Woodhouse Chocolates, Condé Nast and American Express to offer their wares. IfOnly has worked with over 150 charities to date and raised more than $1 million.  

But, more than the charitable aspect, Traina believes that IfOnly provides an opportunity for public figures and brands to market themselves in a positive light, considering that digital marketing can be more scientific through programmatic and cheaper than mailers or other direct advertising tactics. He asserts that the entire marketing industry is moving towards an experience-based economy, as evidenced by American Girl birthday parties in stores or the growth of fancier brick-and-mortar coffee shops that still serve a basic cup of joe.

To further bolster those messages, Traina said IfOnly spends its digital advertising budget on platforms where fans naturally interact with the celebrities it works with. The company buys ads on social media like Facebook and Twitter, making sure that the promos are seen by the right demographic and income brackets for its experiences. 

"A sponsorship to an advertiser is really just an ad, and adding digital components to enrich those parts really resonates that advertiser's message to the consumer," he said.

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