The Story Behind the Immersive Van Gogh Experience with Vito Iaia

???? Episode 108 of Yes, and Marketing

The best-selling event on Ticketmaster last year wasn’t a concert or a comedy show. 

It was the Immersive Van Gogh experience. 

Curious how it came to be? Vito Iaia is co-founder of Impact Museums and co-producer of Immersive Van Gogh. In this interview, he shares the origins of the Van Gogh phenomenon as well as insights on the new world of immersive events.

He explained:

  • How the economics of immersive events differ from traditional live entertainment
  • Why there were two immersive Van Gogh experiences in Denver at the same time
  • The live event trend he’s already seeing for 2023

Listen to the full interview above or read on for our highlights from the conversation. You can also view excerpts from all our episodes on our show page.

???? Who is Vito Iaia?

Name: Vito Iaia

What he does: Co-founder of Impact museums

Find Vito on the web: Impact Museums | LinkedIn | Twitter

Get smart: “There are two things you need to have longevity in this space. One is compelling content, and the second is a killer fan experience.”

???? Episode Highlights

Read verbatim excerpts from our interview with Vito Iaia.

His most unexpected learning from business school

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m about to go into a class of 600 people and there there’s going to be 599 geniuses and me,’ and just felt very inadequate and very nervous and just wanting to prove myself and somehow keep my head above water. 

And I think one of the things I learned is that we’re all kind of feeling that way, right? We all feel a little bit of ‘Do I belong here?’ when you get to these places in your life and your career.

And that was probably the first time that I started feeling some sort of level of comfort with myself from a professional perspective.

…For the most part, the lessons I learned from business school had very little to do with chopping up an income statement or learning how to put together a marketing campaign, and they had to do with the interaction between human beings and the dynamics and how you make relationships work, whether those relationships were professional or personal.”

Why he left the world of team sports

“What you don’t realize from the outside—and I think it’s why you see a lot of people start their career in sports and then go into startups, but you rarely see it the other way around—is that at the end of the day when you boil it all down, when you’re working in sports, you’re working for a themed restaurant that charges a cover. And not a lot more than that.

The two things that startup executives look for are equity upside, and the ability to scale a business. And neither one of those things tend to be there when it comes to working in team sports.”

What drew him to immersive exhibits

“Companies like Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, and Meow Wolf—they were popping up these exhibitions and selling massive amounts of ticket inventory. And the two things that I was drawn to were one, that you could have a live entertainment business where the majority of economics didn’t have to go to a talent, right? There was no talent. They were just creating these rooms that were very Instagrammable in nature, and people were paying $30, 40 a ticket to go in there and just take photos of themselves in these rooms. So that was the first characteristic. 

The second characteristic is unlike music or sports, where you need a musician on a stage or a team on a field—human beings can only be in one place in the world at one time, right? Springsteen could only do one show one night in one city. Well, with the notion of doing something immersive, if you had a hit on your hands, you could replicate it and you could be in 20 markets across the country or 50 markets around the world at the same time, building a business that properly scaled.

His definition of immersive

“It means when a fan has entered into an experience that encapsulates them in a way that doesn’t allow them to escape, for lack of a better word.

…What I view immersive as is, you’ve become part of the experience yourself, and every movement you make and every movement everyone else in the room makes has an effect on that experience.”

The next wave of immersive experiences

“One of the places that we’ve been getting approached by quite a bit is the record labels, and they want to create immersive experiences around their artists—mostly their heritage acts, but also some of the younger Gen Z and Millennial acts as well—so you’re going to start seeing a lot more immersive experience that are around one piece of musical art. So, Bowie has already been done by a company that wasn’t us, Prince is happening soon in Chicago, and you’re going to start seeing that happen a lot more with musical artists.

…I think the music stuff is the big wave you’re going to see coming into the end of ‘22 and early ‘23.

Why were there two Immersive Van Gogh shows in Denver?

There are two types of content that you can exhibit in this space. One is public domain content, and Van Gogh falls under this umbrella. He has been dead long enough that you do not need a license. You don’t need to do a deal with his estate. Anyone in the world who wants to can do a Van Gogh show. And when that condition exists in a market and anyone sells the kind of ticket inventory volumes that we were selling—as soon as that happens, you are going to see competition.

The other kind of content you can exhibit is stuff that’s not in the public domain. Frida Kahlo, for example, is not in the public domain. So for that show, we did a deal with her estate and we had an exclusive license for her show. So for Van Gogh, the reason you saw multiple shows in the same city—or multiple shows, period—was because anyone can do a Van Gogh show. For Frida, the reason we had exclusivity was because she’s not yet in the public domain.

So the question becomes, what’s better? And the answer is, it’s hard to say, right? 

…My partner Mark will tell you that he hates stuff in the public domain, but the truth is, you don’t have to pay a royalty on stuff that’s in the public domain. You can just do a show. If you have success, you’re going to have competition and they’re going to start eating away your market share, but it still doesn’t mean it’s something you’re just going to dismiss right away. 

It is nice to have that exclusivity, but with that exclusivity comes a chunk of the PnL that is not going to stay with you.”

The two ingredients of successful immersive events

“There are two things you need to have longevity in this space. One is compelling content, and the second is a killer fan experience. If you have one without the other, your lifetime value of a certain customer is going to be exactly the amount of their first purchase, and you’re not going to see it go any higher than that.”

????️ Vito Iaia Quotes

“The two things that startup executives look for are equity upside, and the ability to scale a business.”

“We’re in the first half of the first inning when it comes to immersive entertainment.”

“The hardest part and the most important part of starting a startup is the hiring.”

???? Learn More

Explore some of the immersive experiences Vito mentioned on the show:

Meet the other three co-founders of Impact Museums:


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