When most people can't find a solution to an annoying hassle, they throw up their hands. Alex Kombos launched a new business.
EventNow Inc. -- Kombos' third Internet start-up -- is the brainchild of his frustration attempting to plan a party. The Bellmore company matches consumers planning events with vendors ranging from caterers to photographers via its website.
Riding the roller coaster of a young enterprise is familiar to Kombos, 38, who sold his two prior companies for millions. But this time he is experimenting a bit: Along with an office in Manhattan, where his prior companies were located, he has based EventNow's main operation in suburbia.
Cutting-edge companies tend to hire young, technically skilled employees who opt to live in cities. Long Island's high cost of living, suburban ambience and shortage of rental housing make it difficult to compete with New York City for these workers.
The eventual success or failure of EventNow could be a barometer of Long Island's ability to nurture tech start-ups.
Kombos is a serial entrepreneur, the kind local business and political leaders have been trying to attract as they seek to expand the economy with technology and biotechnology start-ups.
Kombos has shown he can "use his core skill, the ability to build technology products, and apply it to different situations," said venture capitalist Mark Fasciano, of Jericho's Canrock Ventures. Fasciano isn't an investor in EventNow.
Such entrepreneurs are in short supply here. "In technology, in particular, we need to continue to find serial entrepreneurs who are committed to Long Island," said Resi Cooper, acting executive director of Accelerate Long Island, a Long Island Association program that seeks to foster the launch of businesses out of research from the region's labs and universities.
Kombos, who was born in Manhattan and lived for a while in Greece, started his first company at age 24. After studying business as a New York University undergraduate, he worked for various Internet and marketing firms. But he always "hit a ceiling," he said.
"My drive was a lot bigger than the responsibilities I had," Kombos said.
In June 1998, Kombos and two other partners used their savings, and loans from relatives, friends and banks, to start Entropia Inc., which launched a series of free online communities for cities, with local news, information and services such as travel and dating websites.
The company almost failed. By the end of the first year, Kombos' other co-founders had left. He had maxed out his credit cards to make payroll for his staff of seven, and with a loan from his uncle, he had enough to survive about two more months. He was living with his brother in Long Island City, he said, and was "at an age when we could survive a whole week on a carton of orange juice and a pack of cigarettes."
To turn the company around, he teamed up with two childhood friends, George Kontos, a Web developer, and Panos Chalvantzis, a marketer. They refocused the company, which finally began to grow. Kombos sold all his shares -- half in 1999 and the remainder in 2001 -- to Ideal Group SA, a technology conglomerate based in Greece, for about $5.5 million, he said.
In 2005, Kombos and Kontos created a music website called Greased Networks to sell downloads of ethnic music, from places such as Greece, Turkey and Poland, before such music was widely available online. In 2009, they sold Greased Networks to InternetQ, a provider of digital content and marketing services headquartered in London. Kombos' stake went for several million dollars, he and another person involved in the transaction said.
His latest online company, EventNow, grew out of his frustrations planning a surprise 30th birthday party for his wife, Maggie. Researching DJs, bartenders, bakers and caterers was inefficient and time-consuming, he said. His wife later suggested he launch a business that could tackle those difficulties, he said.
Kombos joined forces with his friend Saïd Amin, an Internet entrepreneur living in , Calif., and established EventNow in 2010. Consumers can submit the details of their event as well as their budget on the site for free. The website matches consumers to vendors, who pay a fee to bid for the consumer's business. The site also includes reviews by people who have used the vendors.
About a month ago, EventNow began offering a new service called 11th Hour Events. It allows customers to plan parties or events on short notice, and lets restaurants, bars and catering facilities fill last-minute cancellations or unbooked days at steeply discounted prices.
One current promotion is its "Wedding in a Box" series. Its first offer: For $10,500 -- about a 50 percent discount -- Patchogue's Mediterranean Manor Caterers offers a wedding reception on Aug. 31 for up to 100 people, including a five-hour open bar, four-course seated dinner, four-tiered custom wedding cake, DJ, photographer and videographer and limo transportation.
"A date that would otherwise be lost revenue would be generating some revenue," Evan Abazis, general manager of Mediterranean Manor, said.
EventNow's sales grew from $43,611 in 2010 to $768,422 in 2011, Kombos said. By the end of this year, the company, which serves Southern California and the tri-state area, including Long Island and Westchester, expects to expand nationally and bring in more than $2.1 million.
Kombos thinks he can get around the hurdles Long Island presents to hiring young Internet-savvy workers -- as long as they have a reasonable commute. To be sure, many job candidates like "the cosmopolitan feeling of Manhattan, and that's something we can't compete with," Kombos said. He has a Manhattan office to attract those workers. "But you will always get people to commute to Long Island if you can offer a good environment and competitive salary, so I don't think there's a problem in growing."
And Long Island is a good source of parties for his new company: "Although New York City is very dense, the gigs are smaller in terms of dollar signs," Kombos said. On Long Island "the budgets are greater, and the events are bigger."