Event Solutions is a specialist technology supplier for the events industry – a small team with some large clients and led from the front by its dedicated founder and MD Claire Webber.
Let’s face it – the smooth running of most public events comes down to expert management of ticketing and data capture – and this is where technology plays a critical role.
At the recent Build Auckland trade show I was fortunate to see the leading-edge technology of Event Solutions in action and catch up with the company’s founder and managing director Claire Webber.
Claire is a 20-year veteran of New Zealand’s event technology solutions industry.
Her journey in the industry began in 1997 working for a number of professional conference organisers (PCOs) and on the 1999 APEC CEO Summit in Auckland, gaining proficiency in event software, and gaining further experience through the Conference Company, looking after registrations and seating for NZ Fashion Week in its early days, followed by the company that sold and supported Events Pro software.
It was a dissatisfaction with the service provided by the latter that drove Claire to start up Events Solutions in 2007 (just as the GFC was starting to bite) to work directly with PCOs.
At the time she was three months pregnant with her third child, had no prior business management experience, and the business was housed in the sleepout behind her house.
A software developer was hired and Claire invested $70k in sales-lead scanners by taking out a mortgage on her house – a risky, and scary, decision at the time.
She contracted to Microsoft’s TechEd and the IDF World Dairy Summit – then, when things went quiet, they built an on-site “solution agnostic” product that captures visitor registration data, scans barcodes and prints name badges.
This created a market to hire out the scanners, and it’s still the same system deployed by Event Solutions today, integrating with various leading online ticketing solutions and robust enough to operate independently if there’s an Internet outage.
Claire says their on-site system takes just a few seconds from scanning a ticket to printing the name tag.
“We also built our own online registration and ticketing product, mainly for trade and corporate events, along with custom forms that integrate with it,” explains Claire.
She says New Zealand’s events industry is highly competitive, with solution providers often undercutting on price. But she’s confident that their personal service will usually win out in the end. Currently they work with a number of large customers including Air New Zealand, NZME, NZTE and Bidfood.
“We take a real partnership approach – providing products, services and/or equipment. It’s about matching the best solution for the client’s needs,” says Claire.
Today there are six full-timers in the Events Solutions team. Summer is the quiet season but Event Solutions has partnered with EventBrite as a New Zealand on-site equipment provider at various festivals and concerts which helps spread the workload and evens out cashflow over the quiet months.
Claire also recently entered the event management space, with the acquisition of the expo division of Promag Publishing – setting up a new company, Convene Group Limited, with business partner Allyssa Eastaugh in the process.
While Claire has very much had a hands-on responsibility with the business over the years, she has also had the responsibility of raising three children, now aged from nine through to 22. Her oldest, Cameron, works for her as a software developer, reporting to the CTO, helping develop a new solution to replace their scanning technology and move more into the growing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) app space.
“We looked internationally for a product to partner with, but couldn’t find anything that was of sufficient quality for our needs,” explains Claire. “So we decided to build our own. It will be scalable so we can sell it offshore.”
The idea is to leverage off this self-managing technology platform to further grow the business.
Technology is indeed key to the advancement of the events industry. Claire points to their sales lead retrieval system, which is vital for qualifying visitors and following up on potential sales leads.
Using the captured visitor data (supplied on a spreadsheet) and actually following up once back at the office, as quickly as possible, is very important for turning that visit to your stand into a sale, she advises.
Going forward, Claire has decided to focus more on developing and expanding the business and, as the saying goes, working on the business rather than in the business.
She no longer needs to be hands on, and is more than confident her team will maintain her standards while she’s away.
A bigger slice of the market is her goal, as is a slice of the action in Australia.
“We love what we do in terms of service, but to scale up we must move to being a product company,” Claire says. That might involve spinning off a new branch of the business, she adds.
“We kind of have that now anyway with our product development team and client services team. But because we’re small, we have to be multi-functional.”
Looking back, for Claire there is much to reflect on and much to be proud of.
There was the award for best new product at the Exhibition and Events Association of Australasia Awards – for their eventSuite online registration solution.
“That was my proudest moment. I’m also proud that I still own 100 hundred percent of my business and that I am able to contribute to the development of the event industry through my Board membership with NZEA (New Zealand Event Association).”
But her biggest serving of pride goes to her staff.
“I love my team. They’re so capable and we all get along so well.”
Next time you check into a trade show or major event, and spot a grey Event Solutions t-shirt, you might want to ponder the story behind the technology that makes it all run so smoothly.