Sean McGrail: President & Co-Founder, Paint Nite

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Sean McGrail is the President and co-founder of Paint Nite, leading the company in its mission to become a global community of creative entrepreneurs, local restaurants and their mutual customers. Under Sean's leadership, ticket sales to Paint Nite’s social painting events has exceeded more than a three million consumers in just four years. Prior to starting Paint Nite, Sean built a highly accomplished sales career in the medical device industry.  At BD (Becton-Dickinson and Company) in New Jersey, he sold a portfolio of surgical products to primary and small acute care facilities throughout New England, winning nearly a dozen high-profile awards for new business and growing sales.

How did you get into the industry?

We sort stumbled into the entertainment world from very different industries.  I was selling medical devices and watching abdominal pelvic surgeries almost every day, and Dan was running a pick up and laundry business for college kids.  We were friends and decided to start a “side hustle” that we thought might be fun to do occasionally. But within 3 weeks our events were selling out and we just tried to keep up with the demand.  In a very short time it became a phenomenon that had a life of its own.

Any emerging industry trends?

We are capitalizing on multiple trends – “The Sharing Economy” – we take over restaurant space on slow nights of the week and help them monetize that space with paying customers.  We are also part of “The Maker Movement” – we help creative entrepreneurs monetize their knowledge base with a “craft curious” crowd. And finally, our business would not have existed without the internet and social media.  Our popularity has been fueled by “instagram-able moments” as people paint and share their experience in real time.  Five years prior, our business would have struggled to get the word out that we exist as a form of entertainment.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Keeping up with the rapidly growing opportunities has been our biggest challenge, do we expand internationally, or roll out a new concept like Plant Nite?  Both are great, but there is an opportunity cost to everything.  Picking the right path is always a challenge. We chose to bet on Plant Nite, and its paying off. Plant Nite events are currently being held in 37 cities, with another two dozen in the works to launch in early 2017.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

The idea was sparked at a birthday party that included painting and drinking, we were having a blast and we thought this might just work as a business. After a few months, we perfected the model and shared it with people all over the world to let them join the party that is happening on our platform.  We have a longer term vision to help creative entrepreneurs all over the world connect with curious consumers to help them monetize their knowledge and passion. Painting and planting are just the first two concepts, we have a handful more that we’re fine tweaking now, with hopes for those to become the next “night out” in the coming years.  Stay tuned!

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Plant Nite, which recently launched, creating a succulent terrarium or herb garden at a local bar, has launched in 37 cities. We’re currently looking for gardening enthusiasts all over the world to join us! Right now we have our sights set on about 200 cities all across North America, and we’re hoping to get Plant Nite off the ground just as successfully as we have with Paint Nite.  

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

There are three major decisions we made early on that were critical for success.

1. Don’t be too greedy: we knew getting the monetary split between the artists and Paint Nite was either going to hold us back or propel our growth.  We built the business model to reward the artists and let them share in the profits based on their contribution.  I think without getting this right and rewarding the artist properly, we would not have had the success we’ve had. To date, we’ve paid local artists over $25 million to host local events, and have helped charitable organizations raise more than $2.5 million through fundraising events.

2. Paint Share Program: Artists are allowed to upload their original artwork to the Paint Nite library and share it with other Paint Nite artists for a royalty payment each time it’s painted at an event.  We have approximately 10,000 paintings in our library, all of which are original works of art created by Paint Nite artists, giving us the largest and most diverse painting library. We have many artists making thousands off their paintings in royalties.

3. Taking great photos at every event of every customer and posting to Facebook isn’t revolutionary, but it helped spread the word locally very quickly. The photos were often shared with an audience that was 10 times the number of the people who actually attended the event. This was critical to our marketing efforts.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

The first six months were equally fascinating and scary.  The business wasn’t making enough to quit the day job, but it was clear we were making a connection with our customers. Trying to manage a small staff while you’re at another job meant a lot of late nights, and was a struggle to let go and let our staff run things while I worked a 9-5 job. I learned that it’s better to let go rather than keep control of every little detail. I think most entrepreneurs struggle with letting go because their vision for the business is so clear to them, but it’s healthy to let others take the vision and add things to it that you can’t imagine.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

At the end of the day, our experiences are about unleashing the power of friendship. The paint, the wine, the music are all there to create an atmosphere where friends can catch up, be vulnerable, do something different, and create a new unique memory. The painting is a memento of a great night out with friends. Our artists help our customers create more happiness than they do great artwork.

How do you motivate others?

Listen and understand their “win”. Everyone is motivated by different things.  It’s important to listen to and understand what someone’s “win” is. When you know that you can align your goals and move together in step.

Career advice to those in your industry?

To all our competitors, we welcome you to join our platform.  It costs $0 upfront, and we’re always looking for more Creative Entrepreneurs and artists to join the Paint Nite family. We’ve already invested millions in the marketing and technology to help our small business owners run their businesses.  Join us and do the things you love to do, which is host fun, creative events in your community. We’ll handle the less sexy stuff, like customer service, marketing, and technology, so that you don’t have to.