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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 00:01 GMT
Party planner's growing business
By Will Smale
BBC News business reporter

Annelie Oliver
Annelie Oliver helps young professionals get together

With the majority of new start-up companies not making it past their first year, coming up with a novel new idea for a product or service is a huge advantage.

Annelie Oliver believes she had her eureka moment a few years ago

when a number of her single friends in London complained about how difficult it was to meet decent people they would want to go out with.

Work pressures meant these busy, young professionals, who had moved to the capital after university, didn't have enough time to devote to their social lives.

Add London's long travel times and notorious unsociability, and Ms Oliver's friends were not exactly enjoying the recipe for fabulous dating.

But, they told her, there was no way they were going to go speed dating or, heaven forbid, join a dating agency.


For Ms Oliver, who had always thought about starting up her own company, it was an obvious idea for a new business.

You need to be a certain type of person to run your own business, but it is very rewarding and can be great fun
Annelie Oliver

She felt there was a gap in the market for an events company that brought together groups of single, young professional people for everything from black tie dinners, to mountain biking weekends, walks and Thai cookery classes.

The idea being that they could mix and mingle and maybe meet someone they liked, but in an unpressurised, clubby, and definitely non-dating agency way. You could simply join to make new friends if you liked.

Ms Oliver decided to give it a go and packed in her well paid job in management consultancy.

Tribe Events was to be a website-based company that would make its money from members paying a one-off joining fee, and then an additional monthly charge.

"The idea was to create a new way for people to come together that removed the stigma of dating agencies and instead put all the emphasis on the event in question," Ms Oliver says from her compact office off London's Oxford Street.

"My management consultancy background meant that I had visited a great many companies and knew what works and what doesn't.

"I had no events organisational background, but thought, 'what the hell, I've got to go for this'."

Expansion plans

For help and advice, Ms Oliver went to business support agency Business Link for London, which offered her assistance on everything from securing finance, to writing her business plan, finding a property and targeting her audience.

Tribe members at one of its parties
Tribe's dinner parties are one of its core events

"The business plan wrote itself to begin with, then backed up with help and advice I received," she says.

"It was invaluable to convince my bank to back me and gain investment."

Backed by primarily by some of her savings and one small investor, Ms Oliver launched Tribe Events in July last year, promoting the site through word of mouth and on internet search engine Google.

Today she has 275 people on her data base and long term plans to expand the business - organically if possible.

"To join Tribe we need a picture and other form of identification," Ms Oliver says.

"We charge a one off joining fee of 25 and then 20 a month. But unlike most gyms, you can drop out with only a month's notice, and if you want to rejoin, there is no additional joining fee.

"For security, we urge our members to send emails to each other through our website, which acts as a go between. But obviously they don't have to do that, especially if two people become close."

"We currently only operate in London, but we are getting a growing number of calls from people in other parts of the country saying how they wished we would expand," she says.

"At the moment we are also only open to people aged between 23 and 40, but the long term plan is to launch a sister business for more mature people."


On a day to day basis, Ms Oliver now runs the business with her membership manager Hugo Rawlins.

A Tribe mountain biking day
The more energetic members can go mountain biking

For the regular events she gets in an expert in that field - be it a Thai cook or a mountain biker.

While the day to day running of the website meant she could have run the business from home, she moved into the central London office as she waned to meet each and every new member in person before they join.

This means that if and when the business expands out of London, Ms Oliver says she will need satellite offices.

"The plan is to finance this internally in a few years time, and hopefully the business will be so on track, we will be able to impress any external investors that we may need," she says. "We'll have to wait and see."

She admits that launching and running her own business has not always been plain sailing, but she has not regrets.

"It is great and awful at different times," she says.

"The upside is that it is very creative, and whatever you do is down to you. The downside is that you can never turn off.

"You also have to be incredibly driven and confident in your own abilities. There may be times when you make a mistake and have to be hard on yourself, but you still need the confidence to maintain conviction in yourself.

"You need to be a certain type of person to run your own business, but it is very rewarding and can be great fun."

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