Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How do you come up with a great business idea? Well, over and over again, we hear at Mixergy that it starts with finding a pain. Because if you find a pain that’s big enough, customers will be eager to use your software, eager to use your services, eager to buy from you because they want that relief.
Well, today’s guest started her company by understanding her own pain. She was an event organizer that hated to create webpages for each new event that she did. She hated the processes that exist out there, like many other event organizers, but she decided do something. Before she did, she validated her idea and once she got that validation, she built up her business and I invited her here to talk about how she did it.
Her name is Tal Shoham. She is the cofounder of Evolero. Evolero is for event organizers that want to grow their events, grow their audiences, grow their communities and grow their revenues. Evolero helps them grow each event by tapping into social media and so much more, allowing each event success to build up the next and the next and the next and the next.
This interview is sponsored by Toptal. I had this great dinner over at my house. The founder of Toptal was sitting next to me, these other great founders were sitting at the table and at one point, he whispered to me. He said, “Listen, it’s a little uncomfortable because you see those two guys? I said, “Yeah, I invited them here because they’re great developers and great, great heads of their companies. He said, “Yeah, we actually turned them down when they applied to be developers within the Toptal community because we turn down a lot of people.”
I thought about it. I said, “That is why Toptal delivers to me and to so many other people such great developers because they reject so many people, even the best. They only want the top 3% developers in their network.” So if you’re looking for a developer, tap into their network of the best of the best of the best by going to Toptal.com. You’ll tell them the kind of developer you want, how many times you want to work with them and when you do, they will find the right person for you, the right developer who fits your culture, who does the work you need. You can hire them full-time, part-time or even just a few hours a week. Go to Toptal.com. Let me spell it out for you, T-O-P-T-A-L.com, Toptal.com.
Tal, thank you for doing this interview.
Tal: You are very welcome.
Andrew: I saw you getting comfortable there. You started out with a sweater. You said, “You know what? I know Andrew is going to push here. I’ve got to get myself comfortable here for this hour of conversation.”
Tal: You got that right. I’m ready rock.
Andrew: You’ve had events in your life even growing up, even long before you started this business, and you were telling our producer about this event that your mom organized for you. Was it for a birthday that she did this thing where she sent clues through the mail?
Tal: Yes. So my mom is an event planner. This is how I grew up, she still is. We had a lot of family events, those crazy productions that got us all excited about events. So one of them was one of my birthdays, which it had this theme about caves. We had a lot of like ancient caves around our house and she sent treasure maps to the guests, which were my friends and their friends from all across the country. And they got those treasure maps with riddles and they had to get to this location and solve the riddle that would give them a code to enter this place that the birthday was taking place at.
It was obviously themed with the archeology that went on around those caves and everyone got in. They got those lunch boxes with all the crazy food stuff that I don’t know . . .
Andrew: You mean just ingredients, raw ingredients in the lunch box.
Tal: Yes, exactly.
Andrew: Right? Why did she include raw ingredients in the lunchbox? I think that’s important to talk about.
Tal: Her idea was that there would be this competition of creating a dish kind of in the dark like people that used to live in those caves would do. Each family had this dish, created salads and stuff like that and there was a competition about those dishes and about how they looked after the lights were turned on. So it was one of those crazy ideas she had.
Andrew: That’s really intense. That’s a lot of work from figuring out the event to making sure everyone got a map, making sure that they ended up at the right place at the end of all this and even that wasn’t enough. I would think, “All right. That’s the party. Now let’s start it off.” And she wanted another adventure afterwards, make this food, make this salad in the dark.
This was the way that she conducted business on a regular basis or was that an exception to the kind of event that she did?
Tal: No, no. This is her.
Andrew: That’s her.
Tal: [Inaudible 00:04:50] She had . . .
Andrew: And you went to work for her.
Tal: Yes, I did. Actually, I started working with her, for her when I was actually pretty young. She started a company and she was an entrepreneur so she had an event company and I was pretty small. So I kind of did stuff over there that was a lot of fun, technical stuff but also some more, more entrepreneurial ideas and activities. I wrote a play for her. She had this event for a band that was touring the country and was about education and books and reading. So I wrote something and they took it on and it was so exciting for me.
They had a youth movement that was launching and they needed a theme song. So she just said, “Why don’t you try to write it?” I did that and they took it and it was nice and fun. They’re still using it, by the way, so it’s very funny for me.
Andrew: They’re still using your theme?
Tal: In the song, yeah.
Andrew: Wow. That’s a lot of work to do for an event. Most people don’t care about the details of the event and you’re adding more and more in addition to paying attention to the details. And then after you graduated from school, you went to work for a law firm.
Tal: That’s true.
Andrew: And did you continue to do events for them at the law firm or was this something that you just put behind you?
Tal: So basically, the job description was business development. I was actually doing it in China. I studied Chinese as well and that was a lot of traveling back and forth. But I understood business development as events because I think it’s a very strong tool for marketing to grow a community, to broadcast messages about new things going on. So first thing we did was a huge conference and then we just kept on having seminars and meetings and breakfasts and all of that in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, in Israel as well. So it was more about event planning than anything else.
Andrew: Tal, why event planning for getting new business? Why not say, “Hey, you know what? Events don’t scale well, there’s a lot to do, they’re expensive to put together. We’ll create a great blog that brings people in, that collects email addresses that then engages them via email and because we’re dealing with big companies here, we’ll talk to them on the phone and we’ll get to know them and maybe invite them to coffee. Why not go the simpler route and instead create this big conference, these big events?”
I know one of the events you did, you were trying to get a top person you didn’t even know if he was going to show up until late in the planning stage. Why do all that as a way of getting business instead of going simpler?
Tal: Why all that pressure, right?
Andrew: Right. The pressure too.
Tal: Well, first of all, I have to say that I think Maya Angelo said that. She said people would remember not what you told them but how you made them feel and experiences are very strong. I know for a fact that there were a lot of predictions when the Internet happened that that events are going to disappear.
On the contrary, the event industry is always growing. In the past years, it’s growing tremendously because as a part of global growth or growth in general, people need to experience whatever it is that you want them to experience to interact with your brand or your message and events are so strong for that. People remember events. People feel differently about events. It’s not only about hosting them. It’s also about attending them. I mean, people you meet in person obviously get a different . . .
Andrew: Do you have an example of a customer that you got because you created this experience for him or her and you wouldn’t have gotten them otherwise? I mean, I don’t need to know the name if it’s private but I want to know about that.
Tal: An event that we put on?
Andrew: Yeah, at the law firm. Is there one that you did?
Andrew: That made you say, “This is not a client we couldn’t have gotten otherwise. We couldn’t have networked at small dinners or coffees or drinks. It had to be this big event to draw that person in, otherwise no way.”
Tal: So I actually have to say most of our clients, we got them this way. What we did, we first did this huge launch event, which was very presumptuous and people were really against it at the firm. I just said, “You know what? We need to do it this way because what happens is that sometimes how you put on things is how they continue to be.” I mean, you fake it until you make it in a way.
So we did this huge thing and that got, as you said, the VIP, the chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. And this guy came and we had a huge event. It was really interesting and we got great speakers, and because of him they wanted to join as well. All of the clients we got from that point for the next month were all coming from that big conference.
They were talking [Inaudible 00:09:39] and coming in. It just worked so well because you know you’re surrounded with great people. You’re excited at events. If you build it well and the atmosphere is right, people want to join and want to talk and want to share and then you become this big thing, hosting the whole thing even if it’s a person and a half that’s starting that department at that point.
Andrew: I see. Right. If you brought all these great people together, that means you yourself have something special to you and everyone wants to know the host. So then, it sounds like everything was working out well. Meanwhile, I started this interview by saying that you found a problem, a pain point that you couldn’t solve or that no one else had already solved. What was that pain? How did you feel it?
Tal: So first and foremost, starting events and building and growing your event business or events in general even if it’s not your main business but for your corporate or your brand, it’s not an easy job. Obviously, you invest a lot of time and a lot of effort as you had so rightly said in building these events and their continuation and that’s tough. You have this great online world with social media with so much content and with so much going on, but there was no platform around that was helping me leverage all those great things I did on to the online.
So I was setting up those basic websites and I was shutting them down and building them again and shutting them down. That was horrible. Nothing was left and that was . . .
Andrew: So building up and shutting it down, I get it. It is a pain to create a webpage even today, where you can go to a quick theme site and get a nice design. There’s still a lot more work involved. But what about the part where you were saying you were doing well in this offline work and there was no way for you to bring it online? Can you give me an example? I don’t understand how that worked, what you are talking about with that.
Tal: Sure. So basically, if you think of an event, an event is made of people. They are speaking there, they’re attending there, they’re hosting it, and they’re sponsoring it. But if you look at the online platforms that are around, then it’s not reflected at all. The only person active on event websites is the organizer and that’s great but he’s not the event. He’s not the reason or she’s not the reason why people are coming to this event.
They’re coming to meet other people, to hear the speakers, to see the sponsors, to see the companies. So that was a problem for me. I knew that I had good content, a great community that was emerging and growing around my events but the online was me designing nice pages and you registering people. And again, shutting it down so the next one is not only a hassle to set up, it’s also not building on the previous events to grow by showing who went, what did they talk about, the presentations that were shared, everything that went on. Some things, you don’t capture them on time, they’re gone. So that was the big pain basically.
Andrew: I see. You’re saying tough to create and take down. Once it’s created, usually it’s only the event organizer and the speakers too who show up on the website. But what about the attendees? People don’t just come for the event organizer and the speaker. They want to know who else is there. Each event building on the other, you mean when someone is going to a second event that an organizer threw together or a fourth one, they want to know about the first, second, and third, what happened there and there’s no way to do that.
Tal: It’s very true. And on top of that, even if you have speakers on sites that you kind of knew from the past, these speakers are static. They have pictures, their bios, maybe it’s linkable and leads to a wider view of it or a bio. But they are not active there. What I wanted is to give them access, to really share things onto the website from their activities on social media, whatever they have going on. All those amazing assets they have should be a part of my event website. It seems so trivial.
Andrew: What about Eventbrite? They let you list all the event attendees. They let you list whatever you want on the page, using HTML. You can add images of yourself, your speakers, your sponsors, etc. Why wasn’t that enough?
Tal: So Eventbrite are great and they offer great ticketing, which was very, very helpful. But I wanted to have a live, engaging community on my website. I knew that it was very easy if I let them go in the website through social networks, through social registration, through inviting speakers in and giving them some connections o to the website. That was missing for me. That was one thing.
The other thing was that I wanted to have this brand page. I wanted to have this “Our Events” page that’s going to collect all of my events and all of the communication that went on and all of the content. I mean those beautiful videos, presentations, I want all of them to be displayed in one big place that people are going to visit and see it and say, “Oh gosh, they have amazing events. They have amazing videos.”
I was looking at Ted and I said, “I’m not ever going to be Ted with my events. But technically why should I not display those images, information, data, and media this way? I should have some platform that’s going to help me with that.” So that was what I was after.
Andrew: Okay. So what I said at the top of the interview is you had this pain but you wanted to validate that you weren’t unique, you weren’t the only one that had it. Because frankly, it seems like you might be a unique case. You’re someone who grew up with events. You’re someone who had made them special by sending out maps. You’re someone who did events who you were luring in head of the stock market right? It was the Shanghai stock market? Right?
Andrew: You’re a unique person – sorry, who was it?
Tal: Hong Kong Stock Market.
Andrew: Hong Kong, excuse me. So you’re a unique person. You wanted to make sure that your problem wasn’t unique to you and others had it. Who did you call to see if they had this problem too and to validate that you should actually continue with the idea?
Tal: So the minute I realized there’s something new that I might seriously start thinking about, then I started talking to other planners to colleagues, the clients of mine that hosted events themselves as well and I started presenting the idea to them. What I did actually with some of them, I presented it as if it exists already and that was a very smart way to go about it because I got honest to a client. I was selling them something and I named a price, I asked them if they’re willing to buy it. I showed these mockups that I made. I described it a lot. It was working well but the people were getting excited but they were also sometimes arguing with me about pricing or something.
So I knew they were serious but then actually I got this very furious response as well. One of the people I talked to in Israel, which is not a very relaxed country. So this guy, I was telling him about the product, I was telling him the product. I was using this method and he got excited and he wanted to take it on for this next event. And then I said. “You know what? We’re still working on it so I don’t know when it’s going to be ready.” And he got very mad. He said, “Why are you wasting my time with those stories of yours? I can’t believe it. [Inaudible 00:17:04] because that does not exist.”
So that was a bit of a rough experience but in general it was a very good approach. It helped validate it really fast, and I mean in an authentic way that’s not people just saying, “Oh, that’s nice. Yeah, wow, it sounds nice.” It was very real and it was very useful. So that was a good . . .
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? Frankly, I think we all imagined that a lot of people who talked to about our ideas are going to say that . . . I see that someone’s coming into the office. A lot of people we imagine who hear about our ideas are going to say, “I can’t believe you sold me vaporware, something that doesn’t exist,” and they’ll be upset. I’m surprised that this doesn’t happen more often but it definitely does. And when it does, I think it’s a positive thing that this guy is so upset that he can’t use this software that he rants and raves about it. It makes sense.
You eventually did get someone, though, who said, “Yes, I want it. I’m willing to pay for it,” right? Who was this person who said I’m willing to pay for it before you really had it ready and up and going?
Tal: So that was a bit later when I made the decision and I was already . . . formed a small team at work with [Inaudible 00:18:11] partners at that point. I decided that I’m going to keep this approach and start building something but just sell it right away.
So I knew about this big event for a financial magazine, an Internet event, so that seemed very relevant, and I just approached them and sold the product without having a real thing there. Just assuming that I’m going to just build something manually, showcase how great that is and go forward with that. So we sold them the product. It was really crazy for me. I mean, my team would not believe that this is actually going to happen. So when it did, it was kind of crazy for all of us because we had to react really fast [Inaudible 00:18:11] that was pretty close. They wanted to go live. But it was, I think, a smart move eventually even though it cost us sleepless nights but it was a good move.
Andrew: Because you had to get this whole thing up and running in time for their event so that they could use the software that you told them that they could buy. Did you charge them for it?
Tal: Sure. [Inaudible 00:19:14]
Andrew: Right. Why did you charge them instead of saying, “Hey, you know what? You’re going to be my first customer. I need a test case. I’ll build it for you for free if you use it and give me some feedback along the way”? Why charge?
Tal: So the event industry specifically is not a place where you really want to be offering new products to people. I mean, think about your wedding day. You wouldn’t want to try out something for the first time. It’s going to be very crucial for your day. It’s a big thing. Everyone is coming in, everyone is looking at you and it’s a scary decision to make. So I wouldn’t want to let them feel that they’re testing something. I mean, it’s a charge and not even cheaply. I mean today, our platform being a software as a service is cheaper than what I charged then when it was doing something specifically for them.
But I couldn’t give them this feeling because they would be really afraid and will not want to use it. So that’s’ the reason.
Andrew: We asked you in the pre interview what did that first version look like and you said, “Oh my god, design wise, the first version was rough at best, technologically it was actually horrific.” Spaghetti code is how the tech guys would call it.
Andrew: Was the customer happy with it?
Tal: Yes. Some things were bad and they suffered some. Some of the elements that they were expecting were not exactly how we wanted them to be. I think that’s probably something that happens to a lot of [Inaudible [0:20:48] clients of mine, new technology companies. But the thing is I think we covered it because eventually they were happy with us because we were there for them in a very deep way. I mean, me and one of my other copartners were event professionals. So we’re actually backing them up in so many ways that it kind of covered the hassle that they had to go through and things weren’t really working the way they wanted.
Andrew: What’s an example of a hassle that they had at first?
Tal: So one thing was actually about their sponsors. Basically, we wanted to let them in the platform, as I just told you, to just have them connect their social networks and be a part of the platform. They were really afraid of . . . they wouldn’t care about other things but sponsors were very important to them. And they said, “You know what? It’s kind of a new system.” Because some things we just started for them and weren’t really smooth. So they were really afraid and we said, “No, let the sponsors join and it’s going to be great.” We launched the sponsor model and we started sending emails to their sponsors and it was a bit shaky. That wasn’t so great.
We had to call sponsors and explain the process and what they need to do and it was a problem. But eventually, because we were event planners, we’re talking to the sponsors. I was talking to event sponsors all my life so I felt very comfortable. So it turned out to be a good thing eventually.
Andrew: Can you give me a specific thing that you did to make it right for the conference organizer who took a shot on you? Yeah, let me understand specifically. What did you do that they thought, “Hey, you know what? Yeah, the software has some bugs and it’s really not as polished as we thought it was, but boy, Tal just did this one thing that we couldn’t have done otherwise that showed that she really cares”?
Tal: So two days before the event, we came and worked from their office. We just came there with our laptops. We sat with a team and I even took unrelated calls for them because, as I told you, I started talking to sponsors just to help them onto the platform with unclear methods that we had at the beginning for them to join. So I was talking to sponsors and then they started asking the things about how to showcase themselves better at the event. They said, “You probably know the other sponsors, and what are they doing?”
I started giving them advice and it was really nice and helpful for that team over there that was with all the pre-event overload. And at the event date, we showed up as well. We were there, just sitting with them, helping them, working with them. Some people thought that we were part of the production and they really, really appreciated it. It was amazing for them.
Andrew: You also said in the pre-interview that you thought that people would want to really showcase their sponsors. That there was a feature around that that you thought was critical. You built it and people just didn’t care. What was that feature?
Tal: So basically we had the whole sponsor layers thing planned out because we knew that you might have gold sponsors and silver sponsors and all of that. And we had this whole methodology and a complete structure that’s going to actually showcase each sponsor type. You call them the way you want to call them. They show in different places on the site with regards to the money they put in or their involvement. It was a crazy feature. I mean, you just put it in, like a number, and it would go. Anyway, no one really wanted it. They just wanted to display their sponsors to have a nice place for them, to have a page for them. But they would not want to go through all of that, and that was really unnecessary.
Andrew: I see. That makes sense. If you could do it again, would you validate even that feature by talking to your customer before building it, or is it something that you just have to accept as a cost to doing business?
Tal: So some things I would say this way. I mean, the way we started, not really building the whole product but starting to test things with manually building things, it took time and effort so that was maybe the most efficient way to do it. But finding out about what features are great and what features are irrelevant sometimes it’s really hard to understand it just by asking or showcasing a specific feature because you need it to be working as a whole with your product and with real, for us, events, for other companies, you know just real actionable situations for their own products.
For example actually, I mentioned another feature that was really necessary but we’d never know if we didn’t try out some sort of product with live clients and live events. And that was the fact that each event is structured from a different group of people and companies. I can tell you it’s unbelievable. There’s no event that actually has even the same names and types of categories within their events. Some have speakers, some have presenters, some have sponsors, partners, whatever. It depends on the theme of the conference and a lot of things that have to do with that.
We were setting out for sponsors and speakers being a part of the platform and that would have been really, really tough to manage as a software as service. We just built it differently when we realized that that’s the issue and we’ve made companies and people as a structure and it’s very playful and you can create any type of groups you want from that. And that was crucial.
Andrew: Yeah. I see it up here on the site right now. There’s one company that calls them gold partners and I think there was another one that called them sponsors.
The other thing I have up on my screen is I have the first version of your site where it just says, “Your conference website finally alive, just like the event itself.” You describe what it is. You ask people to type in their email address and send. I’m assuming that’s before you launched.
So then I go forward in time to see what the next version of the site looks like, and the next version of the site looks polished. It looks like you have all kinds of designs for events that people can use. It says, “Join leading event organizers including Yahoo!, General Motors, TEDx, AcreWhite.” Did you get all those sponsors, all those users right away?
Tal: So some we got right away, some we got eventually. I actually went on and got people to introduce me to some of them. Using a lot of the street cred that I had as a planner, I was planning high profile events so I got those introductions. So that was one way to do that.
It was important for us to get those big brands because they’re important to get you to build your credibility as a platform. But the funny thing with these brands was that we were building an SMB solution. We were pricing it to be available for SMBs and for small, medium businesses and sometimes those big brands were very suspicious of the pricing, like, “Okay. What’s the catch? It looks really good. We would love to use it but what? That’s the price? What’s going on?” You know, that was funny.
But it was not easy to bring everyone on and we had to do it in person, which is something we don’t do right now when we sell the products online.
Andrew: Why did you have to do in person? That’s the other thing that I noticed about that first version of the site. It says, “request demo” all over instead of . . . actually in addition to “create your own event.” And frankly, when I click “create your own event,” I get a modal pop that says, “Request a demo.” Right? So your goal was to get them to talk to you because you needed to sell to them or because you wanted to understand or why? Why did you want them to call you instead of just have them use the software?
Tal: So we wanted to touch as many clients as we could because, A, we knew that once they talk to us, they feel very safe. Because we know talking about . . . and we know events and we know what they need and by listening to them, we could really . . . our product is very flexible and when at earlier stages it was not so much built for many types of onboarding. We had the flexibility but we had to help people discover it and see how they can use it for their best fit.
So we wanted to understand who they are, what are their needs and just introduce the platform to them in the right way for them. So the whole onboarding that was eventually automated was built, to begin with, with a lot of touch, a lot of talks and then we just converted them through automation.
Andrew: I see your first price, $39 a month plus 2.9% of ticket fees. Did you increase it when you were hearing from them that they thought that it was too low and . . . you did?
Tal: I did, yeah. It was kind of scary to do that because it depends on the client. And it’s tricky with pricing because you want to offer a pricing that’s suitable for each type of plan. I mean, we have associations that don’t have big budgets and we have corporates that have a lot of budget but actually want to spend it and feels secure that they’re buying something great for their event.
So it’s not easy. You can’t really go about it and just say, “Hey, our corporates will pay more.” But we needed to build it in a way that’s going to actually help them use whatever they specifically need and get the right pricing for them to feel good or go forward. So yes, for some cases, for a lot of cases, we had higher pricing later on. Because as a business owner, as a founder of a company, doing something like, “Well, that’s so cheap. Why is that so cheap?” you can’t hear it more than a few times.
Andrew: I see. And so your pricing strategy was come up with a price, hear what their feedback was and then when they told you, “Hey, it’s too cheap,” increase it. But it was more than that. It’s not just across the board increase. Today when I look around, first of all, I don’t see the pricing easily available on your site. You just encourage people to start and try it out for free.
Second, when I hunt around, I saw that there are three different pricing tiers. Starter, which costs if you buy a year’s worth, $39 a month. Then you go professional, $99 a month. Then enterprise, $229 a month. What I’m wondering is how did you figure out where to cut off the features that you give for starter and give the rest to professional, where to break it off and say here is what’s going to go to enterprise? How did you figure out what to give each of these tiers?
Tal: So actually, what you’re looking at right now is a variation that’s mainly built on the number of events that they have. So for us, it actually helps to differ the clients from one another because a lot of bigger organizations would actually have much more events going on. Actually the lower amount of events is more meant for people that are hesitant, maybe more careful with their budgets. Even if they have more events then it would start with a starter and not go directly for the bigger one, even if we talked to them and they get comfortable because they want to make sure they spend their budgets right.
So we started with that, and you actually don’t see it now around because we’re playing with it all the time. And we are trying also another version that’s going to be more built on features and not only on numbers of events. Because that’s not enough of a divider of how the pricing should be. But I have to say the pricing thing is really interesting because I believe that you really need to be playing with it all the time until you know you reach a point where you’re so huge that it’s going to be impossible.
But the more you play with it the better. So much is counterintuitive and surprising about pricing that unless you really test it out, you can never know and it’s really surprising. I talked to a lot of people about pricing, the software as a service for technology. Wow, it’s very surprising. So I say test, test, test as much as you can.
Andrew: So now how do you feel about the fact that I just announced what your current prices are, knowing that tomorrow it could be different and Thursday it would be a different story completely and by the time this interview is published it’s something else?
And people will look at this and say, “Hey, Tal, what happened to this $39 thing that I heard on Mixergy? Especially since you and I talked before the interview about you emailing it to your mailing list?” How does it feel about having this moment in time’s price stuck out there and having people know that you adjust the price from time to time?
Tal: So I think that if the pricing makes it . . . first and foremost, it makes sense for the client. It doesn’t really need to or should make sense for us because we’re not the client here. When it does make sense for the clients that are happy to pay that, you have all those theories about how to showcase pricing and all of that. But I really do believe that, and I see for a fact that all of our clients are very excited to have a solution that they didn’t see before.
I have to be honest. For most of them, it’s always cheaper than what they thought, even when you [Inaudible 00:34:45]. So we feel pretty comfortable about sharing pricing. I actually talked a lot of clients about it and say, “This is our structure. We’re thinking of taking it and making it more expensive in the future. We’re not really sure. I’m sharing this with you. Take this into consideration.” I think it should be clear that it’s always changing and it always has to make sense to the client. If it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work.
Andrew: How do you know if it makes sense for the client? What software are you using to tell you if it increases conversions or what kind of conversations are you having that lead you to understand that?
Tal: Well, first you actually track how people are using your platform. So you have obviously Crazy Egg and I have a lot of tools that I use to see how people are engaging with the product. I see if they click on the pricing page and what do they do next. Do they actually pay and go forward? Do they stop and look for something else? And I think about it and I actually research a lot of client types. I understand if this is an association, if this is a corporate, if this is an independent planner and try to understand what works for them.
I talk to them all the time as openly as I can. I talk to them, every team member here, everyone. Even our CTO and our [Inaudible 00:36:14] talk to clients and we really want to feel what are they really saying and doing. I mean, the pricing thing is great and just when we started the discussion we talked about the fact that when we ask people to pay that’s when it gets real.
That’s the real point. That’s where it all happens. So I try to be very much in touch with people around that area. So that’s how I know. I mean I actually see if they go forward or not. I see what they did before, what they are doing after if they haven’t converted. I talk to them and try to understand what happened. I think that a very important point here is to understand what are you being compared against at that specific point because sometimes you would have in mind other things that are not really relevant for that point in time. Other than that, obviously just make sure that you understand what went on with that [Inaudible 00:37:15].
Andrew: So you call up a customer and find out why they didn’t use your service, why they ended up . . . actually it seems like that’s one of the advantages of the flow that you use and we use it too at Mixergy when we sell something, especially when it’s new. First step, they click a button saying I want this. The first thing we ask for is some contact information, usually email address, sometimes name, email and phone number, whatever. Then they go to pricing page, where if they don’t buy I now have some way of connecting with them and saying, “Hey, I noticed you checked it out, but you didn’t buy. Can you help me understand your problem or your process or whatever?”
Actually, nobody ever wants to respond to, “Can I learn more about your problem?” What they often respond to is, “Can I give you some free help with what you’re doing? Can I coach you along because I’ve been doing this for a long time?” And then they respond to that and along the way, they tell me what they were trying to do that they weren’t interested in.
Tal: Yeah. So definitely. I mean, what we try we to do when we reach out to people and try to understand what’s going on with them, it’s offer them things, offer them knowledge. We know a lot of things about specific segments.
Andrew: So actually, we lost the connection for a moment there and while we lost the connection, I looked at your source code to get a sense of the kinds of tools that you use to figure out how people are engaged with your software. And it looks like you’re using Mix Panel for metrics in addition to Google Analytics. You’re using Optimizely to figure out A/B testing and figure out which version of the site looks best and KISSmetrics for funnel analytics. Right?
Tal: That’s true.
Andrew: You know what? I’ve actually interviewed other entrepreneurs who tried to do what you did. Frankly, I tried to do what you did. Before, the first version of Mixergy was something similar to that. I wanted people to get to know each other. It didn’t work for me. It didn’t work for Josh Fraser, who founded EventVue. I’m wondering what it is about your business that allows . . . why is it working for you where it didn’t work for so many other people who said, “Hey, it would be great if someone created an invitation site that allowed of people to get to know each other”? It didn’t work for them. Why you?
Tal: So my guess, my first guess would be coming from the industry. I mean, it means a lot because a lot of elements are not that clear if you’re not coming from the industry. And the event industry is tricky because event technologies are something that’s growing very fast. The event industry is huge and people think they know events because that they go to a lot of them or they speak in them or they even sponsor them. So they feel very comfortable around that industry. They feel like they could do something because they really got to know it.
So for example, and I think it’s a really good example, when we were starting, we were really pushed by investors, advisors, those very knowledgeable people that give you great ideas, to really focus on the attendee experience because that’s very out there and people see it. We as previous and long years [Inaudible 00:40:09] event planners knew that this is not as important as people think
And I’ll explain because it sounds very strange. I mean, if you think of a conference that you go to, where there is great content and good networking, but the food sucks and sometimes the sound was really bad and the air conditioning was bad and you know blah, blah, blah, when you will think about whether you want to go to that event again, you would probably go. If you’ve got a good business and the content taught you stuff, you would go. And this is something the planners are very much focused on. Putting a good event, that’s a lot of hard work that has a lot of technical aspects and a lot of conceptual aspects.
But thinking about the experience at the first tier, like cool apps that would let you do I don’t know this and that and you would think, “Wow, that’s funky and cool. That’s nice but it doesn’t come first.” We were [Inaudible 00:41:10] we prioritized how to build a product aside from all the people that say we were getting just from people using this sort of product that we had out there. We actually were very sure that we’re not going to focus on cool gadgets and stuff for event day that’s going to be very nice for people to use. But [Inaudible 00:41:10] because we know that this would be something that planners would maybe just say, “That’s nice. We like it.” But first, how are we going to get this and that done?” So I think that . . .
Andrew: Well yeah, what is first of them? If it’s not about the things that we think it is, what is first for planners? What makes them say yes?
Tal: It’s about selling their events and it’s about building a brand. It’s a business so you want an ROI. You want to look good and to sell tickets and to keep people engaged in a way that’s going to bring them back. You want to showcase what you did to your boss or to your partners or to your sponsors, which are kind of your investors in a way. You want to show them something that’s going to really very clearly showcase how good your event is. And that is not so much based on fun stuff and experiences and more on like actual [Inaudible 00:42:26] or active on the site, how many connected social media and how many followers they have and blah, blah, blah. That’s very important.
Andrew: I see. So you’re right. I did focus well how do you get people to connect with each other if they’re coming to the event. And I frankly, couldn’t even get that going right. But what the real goal should be is how do you get more people to come to an event organizer’s event? If you get more people then they’re going to be happy to use you.
All right. So let’s talk about how you got more of them. The first group of organizers came to you. Actually, you went to them. You made phone calls, you networked, and you asked people for referrals. Where did the second group of people come from? Where did the next batch come from?
Tal: So basically, again, we were . . . if I’m looking at the next small batch, the first step out of alpha mode and maybe end of beta and all of that, then still we had a lot of direct calls and a direct approach to them. And as I said, we were using a lot of our industry knowledge to get them engaged and hooked and to sell them something that was still very new and not that known and still not without a lot of big brands that are using it.
So that was one of the main methods we used, just getting very personal. We were making, we still do actually, but introductions between planners, helping this one get something from that one. We’re building this kind of offline network behind the product, and that was very useful for marketing when it was still us doing it almost with any client that we wanted to bring in. So that was that part.
If we look at the second part, which is more about growth and how we got there, so I would say a few main things that we were fortunate to have. One was word of mouth. And we’re a B2B product that’s software as a service and we really like it to be out there. So our B2B products are you are using them in your offices and they’re trying really hard to get them to talk about it and share it. For us, we’re out there. People see Evolero. People that go to events are a lot of times marketers and they just click on our logo and get to our site and we got amazing traffic out of that.
Andrew: I see that, by the way.
Tal: We are working
Andrew: I was hunting down through similar web to get a sense of where your traffic was coming from, and it’s places like InnoSummit.com, an innovation summit. They’re using you to sell tickets and to also get people to understand what’s at the event. And naturally, when I went to their registration pages, I said, “Well, who created this page? Who created this site?” And I can see your domain in there. So every attendee has an opportunity to do what I just did and that helps you get new customers. What else?
Tal: It helps so much. What else? We keep usage by existing clients. We have . . . we’re built for [Inaudible 00:45:10] so that’s kind of smart when you want to have a high repeat rate from your clients. What we do, apart from I hope offering them a very good product, is we actually help them go from event to event. So they have this community, they have a lot of content pieces. They have things going on that they really don’t want to lose and they just go forward and that’s how they’re being sold on the product to begin with. So they think about it as something they want to do for a long term and that’s very powerful if we look at the amount of events going live every month.
And the other thing would be focusing on specific segments. That’s’ very strong because people just kind of start seeing you around and that’s a very strong message for them. Very early on, people felt they were much, much bigger than we were, and actually they still do because they just how they see us in the same types of events which they go to. It’s also . . .
Andrew: You call that the “Big in Japan” strategy.
Andrew: Where there is a musician who’s big in Japan. He feels like everyone there knows him and then he moves on to another country and another and another. For you, big in Japan means what kind of segment? What’s an example of one?
Tal: So a great segment for us is startups technology. We have a lot of small, medium sized startups using Evolero and a lot of like things around them, innovation days and conferences, events of that type. What happened actually one day, I went to one of our client’s events. It was an innovative weekend with a group [Inaudible 00:46:56] on conference in Jersey and next to the UK. And people are starting to talk to people there and they actually saw a lot of Evolero powered event websites recently from that type of industry.
I was talking to them, and people have said to me stuff like, “Well, how amazing it is that Evolero has a woman CEO. Good for them.” And I was thinking, do they know what Evolero is? A few people, and they knew. I made sure and they said, “Yes, the event platform. Yes, we see you everywhere. You’re so big.” So that was a very smart move for us, and obviously the whole word of mouth thing just kept us growing within these segments and looking very big and very strong. That was helpful.
Andrew: I’m on angel list to get a sense of where your funding comes from. It says you were incubated by Microsoft Ventures?
Tal: Yes. So we were a part of their incubator but we also . . . I’m not sure of the angel list. I got it as accurate as possible.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s not especially active.
Tal: So far we have raised $1.7 million and pre-seed, seed and the beginning of our A round. Our foreign investors just put in a part of it already. So our investors are . . . we have a single [Inaudible 00:48:20] company invested in Evolero, which is called [Pix Fine]. There’s a lot of Singapore investment activity going on in Tel Aviv. We have a VC called Peregrine, which has invested. We have a few angel investors coming from mainly the branding and advertising world. And we were incubated by Microsoft and we’re a first batch for them in Israel. So that was a big part of what we did. They actually became one of our clients through there so that was an exciting moment as well.
Andrew: Did they take a share in the business or is their goal just to introduce you to . . . they don’t, right?
Tal: They don’t.
Andrew: That’s an amazing incubator that gives you support and money, becomes your client, that lets you put their brand on this site as a user and doesn’t even ask for money in return. So all this makes it sound like it’s really easy for you to raise money because you’re in control, you know your product, you know your industry. But there was a period there around when you were pregnant where you had to wrestle to get funding. Can you talk a little bit about that? I think that’s important.
Tal: Yes. So this was a very tough moment actually in the company’s life. We had pre-seed raised and we’re working on an alpha product and then going further, thinking about how we’re going to build product, starting to raise the seed money. I was pregnant and it’s kind of a ticking clock. At some point, it’s going to be hard to finalize this.
We were meeting with investors and things were going well and then actually at a very advanced stage of my pregnancy and work with a specific investment group that we wanted to take on, we had to turn down the [Inaudible 00:50:01]. It was very . . . I don’t know, either stupid or brave of us but we just decided to stop and I was like six or seven months pregnant already. Anyway, eventually, we got great investors that really were seeing beyond the big belly and just looking at the execution and the idea and we actually signed the investment three days after I gave birth to my son.
Andrew: I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you could move after that.
Tal: It was crazy. I remember getting those . . . I got a fax to the hospital and just there was no other way to just print them. I signed it and I was having another birth just three days after, and it was exciting and crazy. It was crazy but I mean . . .
Andrew: None of that happened until you went to the bank, right? The bank part came first.
Tal: Right, right.
Andrew: What happened at the bank?
Tal: So we were basically running out of cash. We knew that this is a good company. We had good clients. The product was looking . . . we knew what we want to build. We had a good team and investors were interested and we knew that it was going to a good place. But we had to [Inaudible 00:51:13] and being very cool with investors, but from the other end, pay salaries and just go forward. So we took this brave step of just getting a loan that we were sure that it was going to be a short term one and we just did it and it was just . . .
Andrew: A personal loan. You personally guaranteed it. You personally got it.
Andrew: All right. And things have gone really well since then. I see here from my notes TEDx has used you, General Motors and Yahoo as I mentioned earlier; Ernest & Young, AOL, TEDMED, Dan Dodge, who’s the VP of Google and a past Mixergy interviewee; Gary Vaynerchuk, again a past interviewee; Yossi Vardi, who is an incredible angel investor; Josh Fisher, founder of DFJ, the venture capital firm; Mike Butcher from TechCrunch. You have a lot of really impressive people who use the software. What kind of revenues are you pulling in now?
Tal: So we are still a young company. I mean, we have nice revenues today, but the event business is a little tricky this way. I mean, as you grow and you board new clients, the time it takes to get the revenue is a while. Sometimes events, the bigger ones, would be ticketing and would even go live a year before the event.
Andrew: A year?
Tal: Yeah, that happens as well.
Andrew: And you don’t start charging them until when? Until?
Tal: No. The subscription is a small part of that company’s revenue. A big part is obviously the ticketing fee, which is what this whole industry turns around on. So it takes time sometimes but even though we grow, the revenues catch up a bit later. So we have great booking but the revenue comes a few months or even quite a few months after it.
Andrew: I see.
Tal: So today’s revenues are like the light from the stars, the light coming in from like a few months before. But investors know this and understand it and they know how it works so they feel good about us.
Andrew: All right. Anything to say about where you expect revenues to be at the end of the year based on this?
Tal: So at the end of the year, we actually plan to break even which, means that we’re going to make . . . every month we’re trying to hit about close to $100,000. I mean, I think . . . and it seems pretty clear that we’re going to meet these goals. What’s great, what had been great about us is that for 2014 and the beginning of 2015, we were really getting very good at doing the projection thing. We had a lot of serious advisors that helped us there. So we feel very comfortable projecting forward, which, as you know about startups, sometimes it gets very tricky.
Tal: So we got better and better at it and right now we’re pretty good. So I hope I’m right.
Andrew: Congratulations on the success. Thanks so much for coming here and doing an interview. I want to thank a couple of other people who helped put it together. I kept mentioning the pre-interview, and that was done by Jeremy Weiss, the producer of this interview. Research that I kept going back and forth to and referring in the interview was done by Andrea Schumann and this interview will be posted up on the site by Arie Desermo. Thanks so much, Tal, for doing this.
If people want to check you out, I recommend they check out Evolero, E-V-O-L-E-R-O.com. And of course, I’ll be referring to it. I think that even if they have no interest in organizing an event, I think that the subtlety of your marketing is really impressive. It’s strong, it calls me, it gets me in there but it doesn’t feel heavy-handed in any way.
Tal: I’m happy to hear.
Andrew: Yeah. Don’t you have an exit modal that comes up with your image on it or something? “Claim your free…”
Tal: No. So actually there is one as well if you just scroll up.
Tal: In fact, this is a good practice, I think. We actually get a lot of people using it. It has my face on it, which is always embarrassing to me but it works so . . .
Andrew: It works.
Tal: . . . I’m just going with the flow. Yes, it’s a good idea, I think.
Andrew: You have this open chat on the side. I mean, it really is a well-done site for connecting with potential customers. And I’m proud to have you on here to talk about how you built up this site and thank you for doing it.
Tal: You are very welcome. It was a lot of fun.
Andrew: Thank you, Tal, and thank you all for being a part of it.
Andrew: Bye everyone.