How Yann Pissenam used an empty stretch of beach to reach an under-served market in Ibiza.
October 5, 2019 5 min read
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Ibiza’s reputation for adult frolicking dates all the way back to the Carthaginians, who believed it to be the home of their moon goddess, Tanit. From the hippies of the ’60s to the rave-fueled “Second Summer of Love” takeover in the late ’80s, the Spanish island has evolved into a dance-music mecca, attracting more than three million visitors to its sandy beaches and throbbing nightclubs in 2018. Through August of this year, tourism in the White Isle generated more than $700 million.
While four megaclubs long defined Ibiza’s famed nightlife, the Ushuaïa Beach Club has carved its way into the island’s pantheon while also revolutionizing where, and how, clubbers experience music. After spending 14 years cutting his teeth in the nightclub industry of Barcelona, founder Yann Pissenam identified and filled a hole in the Ibiza market — appealing not just to young tourists, but to an older, more affluent generation as well — and launched the first Ushuaïa on an unused stretch of dunes in 2008.
Within three years, Ushuaïa evolved into an amphitheater of white-glove VIP service and elite production, helping to redefine the once-rustic “Beach Club” concept. With Ushuaïa’s daytime experience and the club Hï across the street (now the highest-grossing nightclub in Ibiza in only its third year), Pissenam has evolved from a small shack between some dunes into a flourishing duo of clubbing temples.
Pissenam told Entrepreneur how he did it.
You spent over a decade working your way up the ranks of the nightlife industry in Barcelona. Why did you then decide to open a beach club in Ibiza?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to open a beach club. I wanted to play cool reggae music, sell juice on the beach and enjoy the sunny life. After 14 years of being in Barcelona and working so hard and having all that connection with this industry, I was also smelling that things were not going so well in Spain. It was just before the [financial] crisis; I had waiters working for me that were coming to the club in a big BMW, and they had two or three flats, so I was thinking something is going wrong.
Then you moved to Ibiza. What were your first observations?
I was coming to Ibiza to retire, basically. I wanted to build a beach club to sell juice and play music with my dog on the beach. But I was surprised by what I saw. I was expecting a beautiful crowd dancing under the moon, and instead, I found four big clubs that were really dark with lots of smoke. I really thought there was a gap in the market. There was a possibility to create something different, and I thought that opening my little shack beach club as a restaurant and creating dance parties in the afternoon was a good opportunity.
What was the response?
The concept of the afternoon party really worked. Each day more people, an older crowd with money, said, “Okay, now we have a place to go.” We also started having problems with the other clubs; we clashed a lot and I was starting to get real island pressure. It was a four-piece cake, and I had started to take a little bit of it.
How did the competition with the other businesses play out?
It was complicated. The owner of the hotel [I rented space from] came to me and told me, “The concept is beautiful, it’s working really well, but you need to stop.” He was pressured by everyone. It was not his business, he was only renting me the venue and he didn’t want to step into that. So I sat with him and told him, “Okay, let’s make a deal. Let’s take over the other hotel you have and let’s build an amusement park for adults. Let’s use our beach club concept there.” And the year after it turned into what is Ushuaïa now.
What made you realize that Ibiza was doing a lot for 18- to 23-year-olds, but didn’t offer enough to an older crowd?
I saw it directly. They were already doing after-parties in Ibiza, but nobody was doing daytime parties. I realized if I do that, I will get that older crowd also. They are bored. You see them in the restaurant and then afterward they’re going to the villas; there’s not really a place for them. I saw they had more money than kids because they are older and they have jobs, without opportunity to spend it. So I saw there was a gap.
Other than moving the party to daytime, what else did you offer this more affluent crowd?
One of the important parts of our business is the sales, so you have to take care of the clients. You have to host them properly, you have to give them good bottle service, good treatment from the waiter, good treatment at the door. So we created a big database of clients, and we’re really taking care of them. In terms of space they have a VIP area like you have at a lot of venues, and it seems a bit more protected from the masses and a little more VIP. You have to make them feel special, to treat them properly.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
To love what you do. You need to work, work and work again to make it possible. It’s a question of passion. Be passionate, be dedicated and keep working.