SaaS Founder Interview with Jonathan Kazarian, Founder and CEO of Accelevents

Tony Zayas 0:05
Hey everybody, it’s Tony Zayas here for another episode of the SaaS Founder Show. Thank you for tuning in. This show is the one where we really dive in and we take a look at SaaS founders. And their journey along the way, kind of where they came up with a unique idea how they took it to market, and what have been some of the learning lessons along the way. Before we introduce today’s guest, I just wanted to point out to everyone, that it Insivia is going to be hosting a tech throwdown event for tech startups, SaaS companies, so on and so forth. And it’s going to be happening September 29, we’re going to have more as we get closer, but we’re excited about it. It’s in conjunction with the Greater Cleveland partnerships, tech week. And we’re excited to be involved with this, we’ll actually have a special SaaS Founder Show that day prior to the event, so we’re looking forward to it. So just a little teaser there, more information will be coming on that it is on our website, but we will be sharing more. To switch gears and talk about today’s guests. We have Jonathan Kazarian. He’s the founder and CEO at Accelevents. Interesting work they’re doing helping event organizers create real experiences through virtual events, something that’s very, very timely, obviously, with the state of the world over the last year and a half, almost two years now. So with that, let me bring in Jonathan. Hey, yeah, how you doing?

Jonathan Kazarian 1:35
Doing well! How about yourself?

Tony Zayas 1:36
Awesome. Yeah, they’re doing really well. Again, I think it’s super interesting what you guys do? And we’ll dive into it and talk but like, how timely is it for the you know, the platform and its service that you guys are bringing to the table? So tell us a little bit about Accelevents? And and then I would love to hear the origin story? Where did the idea come from? And all of that?

Jonathan Kazarian 2:02
Yeah, certainly, we’ve gone through a few transitions over the years. But today, Accelevents is a technology company focused on all elements of the event experience in the current climate, that tends to be more focused on the virtual event experience. It’s our goal to provide event organizers and marketers an opportunity to create a very robust event experience with numerous elements and all the customization that they need to essentially reach whatever their their event goals might be.

Tony Zayas 2:34
Yeah, that’s, that’s fantastic. So you started the business a few years back? He said it went through some changes and whatnot. So what was the initial idea? And like, how did you come up with the concept? Was there something that you were trying to solve? This year? You were dealing with yourself? Or where did that come from?

Jonathan Kazarian 2:52
Yeah, so actually, I started the business in 2015. As a result of a fundraiser, I was hosting in 2014. At the time, my cousin got diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to do something for her. So we’ve done to the aquarium in Boston rented it out and ended up getting 140 people that awesome first event but we just couldn’t find any affordable technology to run the auction in the raffle. So having a bit of a tech background, built out our own solution, and frankly, worked really well. We got great feedback from the organization, we put the event on for from the attendees and decided that there were a lot of other volunteers like ourselves who could benefit from this. To begin building a business around that was doing nights and weekends while working, working another job. And as things start to grow in progress, the feedback we were getting from organizers was that they wanted a full-service solution in terms of having ticketing and payment processing under the same roof. So all this is kind of the beginning of the meshing of technology and events for me and the recognition that well, in a lot of ways, events are somewhat antiquated. And there were a lot of opportunities for technology to bring them up to speed. So things were growing, we’re still quite small. And, but But thinking long, and income March of 2020 the world got turned upside down. And at that point, we essentially watched our revenue go to zero, with all the refunds from canceled events. And at that point, our options were either to buckle down on the fundraising side of the business or to make a pivot. And given that we had this belief that technology needed to be a bigger part of events. Our thought was, okay, let’s make this transition. And if the world reopens in two weeks, great, we’re further along on something we believe in anyway. And if not, well, we’re going to be better positioned for it. And obviously, the world didn’t reopen. So at that point, we just continue to invest in buckled down on building the virtual event solutions. And the business really just started to take off from there.

Tony Zayas 4:58
That’s awesome. So really started out more of a tech technology solution to support in person live events, correct? Yep. None of the pandemic kind of forced that pivot. It sounds like what was going through your mind, you know, from just a founder perspective, when everything shut down, you have a business that is driven by events, kind of what through one through your head. And how hard was it to make that decision that? Yeah, let’s go for this. Let’s focus on, you know, the virtual side of things.

Jonathan Kazarian 5:31
Yeah, it certainly was a big decision. I think it was probably the point in the company where I had to make the biggest, let’s take a huge risk decision. Yeah. And in hindsight, I wish I was making those types of decisions earlier. And they said, you know, unfortunately, this ended up being the correct decision. But certainly was, it was challenging. I mean, there was, you know, if it didn’t work out, and we use the remainder of our very limited capital to go down that route, then that would be..

Tony Zayas 6:05
So, how did the How did they even run up for you guys? So that pivot happened? You said, ton of refunds, right? All these live events are being canceled? Obviously, everyone had, you know, some experience with that, whether you’re planning on attending, thinking about it’s happening, something hosting something, everyone was affected by that? What did the timeline look like from when you made that decision? From you know, when the world started shutting down, so when you made the decision to when you guys were able to kind of build back up?

Jonathan Kazarian 6:36
Yeah, so we made the decision at the beginning of March, and we hosted the first virtual event on the platform, right before Memorial Day. So sort of the end of the middle of May. And it was very, you know, the platform was much more limited than it is today. we’ve iterated and we’ve grown through the feedback that we’ve gotten from our customers and our event organizers. These folks are incredibly passionate about what they’re creating. And one of the really cool things about working with event organizers is that they’re creatives, they’ve got tons of great ideas. And there, they’re the best in the world at coming up with ways to implement solutions, taking an empty function hall or venue or trade show floor and turning it into an unforgettable experience. And, and working and partnering with our customers to get that feedback and develop that into our platform and learn and iterate from that is how we got to the point that we are today, in terms of the type of growth that we’ve seen, just this week Inc published their top 5000 fastest growing companies. And we were in number 181. So we’ve, we’ve definitely seen some growth of over 2,000% Over the past year. So things are moving in the right direction.

Tony Zayas 7:51
Congratulations! That’s fantastic. Yeah, that is that’s outstanding. So I’m curious to hear a little bit about the iterations based on so let’s go back to this first user, about that MVP, right, what you guys initially launched, but what I’d be more interested in is, what was that MVP that looks like a year ago, when you made the pivot? Because that’s really where there was a small window between you making the decision and then launching the virtual platform. You know, it was probably he had to be pretty bare bones about it. What did it look like?

Jonathan Kazarian 8:31
Yeah, we approached it pretty ambitiously. So we had a very strong vision of what we wanted the platform to look like and how we want it to function. But implementing all of that, so quickly, is certainly a challenge in terms of what that first iteration looks like, Really, the biggest differentiation between what we were building in, say, a traditional webinar platform, was a couple of fold. One is supporting simultaneous content. And another big aspect of it is the networking side of things. So providing opportunities for attendees to interact with each other, sort of like speed dating style interaction. And then the third big component. At that time was the sponsor and exhibitor experience, this is certainly an area that we buckled down quite heavily since. And that was kind of like phase one of the MVP. So from there, we’ve iterated quite a bit and introduced a bunch of additional functionality. It kind of runs the gamut in terms of everything that you need to facilitate and organize a conference of either 200 people or 20,000.

Tony Zayas 9:43
It’s exciting. And then what how did you so how did you get these users on this platform? How did you capture the user feedback? What kind of process do you have in place? Obviously said you guys are building out based on You know, it’s iterative, based on feedback and all that. What do you guys have in place? And how do you go about that? I’m imagining it with some intention. So I’d love to hear kind of what are the touch points that you have to hear back from those users? Because you said, you know, they have like, such great and creative ideas, which is fantastic. But you got to collect that right when you get users. So what does that process look like for you guys?

Jonathan Kazarian 10:22
Definitely. Yeah, so a lot of it is it’s partnering with our customers and learning with our customers and setting that expectation that we’re all in this together. And because we set that mentality with our customers, they’re very inclined to provide us feedback, because they know we’re going to act on it. They know, it’s not just falling into a well, in terms of the way that we go about collecting information. So we take support is it I mean, it’s number one for us. And there’s a difference between event tech in traditional SaaS and that you might spend three months building experience creating an event that culminates in three hours, you don’t have the luxury of waiting an hour for a response, or even 10 minutes. And the team is our customer experience team. They all have that sense of urgency in the way that they interact with our customers. And again, that feeds into this relationship with our customers that makes them so inclined to provide us feedback. So we use a platform called intercom for child support. And, just this morning, we are the head of our sales department pinged us to me that we broke 30 seconds on our medium first response time, down from about 40 seconds spot on. So it is number one for us is making sure our customers know that that we’re there for them. And then it’s when those customers do have feedback. For us. It’s the like I said before, it’s not dropping into a well, it’s having that interactive conversation. It’s getting on the phone with them to dig in and understand what is it they’re trying to accomplish? What’s the problem that they’re trying to solve? And how can we leverage our technology or build technology to support what their mission is?

Tony Zayas 12:01
We hear that so often from founders who have, you know, built out platforms that have grown and if tunnel success is that, you know, early on, in probably ongoing, you need to have those conversations with the users. Because a lot of people who, you know, think of, you know, the SaaS product, and the ideal is it’s something that, you know, can scale real hands off. But what is what is your team’s involvement with just those actual interactions with the users? What does that look like? So obviously, customer support. You also mentioned, like phone calls, you know, how do you guys support the users? How involved are Accelevents team?

Jonathan Kazarian 12:51
Yeah, so we’re as involved or as hands-off as you want us to be, we have organizers every day who come to the platform come to our website, and they launch an event without ever interacting with us. And we have other organizers who they’re looking for coaching. And we get involved that way as well. I mean, we’ve obviously seen 1000s of virtual events come across the platform. And we learn from that, and we’re here to share that feedback and help everybody make their event as successful as possible. And, look, I’m not gonna cut around it, there’s an inherent benefit for us, the better experience that one of our organizers creates with our attendees, or their sponsors, the more inclined those people are to become our customers. And, frankly, that works. And the aligning of incentives is it’s a win-win across the board.

Tony Zayas 13:38
So what does that team? What does that team look like that support team? That’s, you know, working with customers? And how has that grown over time?

Jonathan Kazarian 13:50
Yeah. So when you launch the business, yeah, I’d be on the highway and like, get an intercom message and have to pull over we, from day one for over seven years. That was always it. I mean, it was setting that mentality from day one that we are there for our customers. And then as the team grew, Chloe joined us two years ago, she was our, our, our first CX person, the customer experience person in the team continue to build and we built the team in the United States, we also have a large team in the Philippines. And that ensures that we do have 24/7 support. So no matter if it’s 2 am in New York, or if it’s 2 pm. In New York, you’re still going to get a response just as quickly. A lot of it’s been the culture around it, and just partnering with our customers again, and hiring people who have that mentality and that sense of urgency.

Tony Zayas 14:46
Yeah. And I would imagine that, you know, for events, sporting events, that responsiveness is critical. Not every SaaS platform is going to require that but what you guys are doing someone’s If I’m an administrator here broadcasting and, you know, this is I got a big audience, people are waiting to hear from you, this has been a feature event. Like, I need to get some someone fast. So that’s interesting. So when you say, you know, culture and team, how do you attract the right fit? And I would love to hear a bit about you know, the culture that you’ve built? And how do you attract the right people? To, to join you guys?

Jonathan Kazarian 15:28
Yeah. It’s a snowball. We got lucky, fortunate at the beginning with the people who joined us and Chloe and Andrew, with the first two, first two hires domestically in Adrienne, and the Philippines, and we just got fortunate that they set the precedent of that culture. And we ensure that we continue to build upon that, and, and who we brought on and, and the leadership team has the same mentality. And yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s that it’s just built upon itself. That said, it’s something that always needs to be nurtured and continued. We continue to focus on it and, and rewarding and identify the people who are embodying those values that we do believe in. But it’s, yeah, it’s an iterative process, but we started from day one.

Tony Zayas 16:23
Now, it’s such a tough time for companies all over the place to hire. It’s just It’s hard finding people alone, really quality people, you have any, like feedback tips that you would suggest to finding, you know, for that good fit. We talked to another founders this recently. You know, there’s there’s, he said, No, he said, It’s hiring as always ridiculously hard. And I totally agree. But what have you found that works in that process to get people who are a good fit?

Jonathan Kazarian 16:53
Yeah, so So I think one of the biggest obstacles we have today, as a startup, we have people in 22 states in the US, but now with big companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, offering more remote opportunities, we’re battling those companies to hire the best talent. And that just, you know, off the bat that makes things more challenging. We’re up against their budgets. As for what’s been successful, frankly, the most successful channel we’ve had has been referral.

Tony Zayas 17:25
It who has been referring if I can,

Jonathan Kazarian 17:28
Yeah, no, our existing employees, it’s, it’s, it’s developing a culture and a place that people where they want to work to the point where they want to bring their friends in. That’s awesome as colleagues, and that’s been the strongest thing for us.

Tony Zayas 17:41
Oh, that’s fantastic. We’ve seen some of that as well. Some of the best fits at our organization have been those people, that employee said, Hey, like, we have an opening, you should come join us, which is fantastic. How do you How would you describe the culture and excel events?

Jonathan Kazarian 17:59
Yeah. I’m obviously biased. But I’ll do my best to summarize here or at least try to speak on behalf of others. I think the fun we’ve got, we’ve got a very engaged team on Slack. Like there’s another Slack channel every week, I find another Slack channel but I didn’t know about it from like, conspiracy theories to cat pictures and. And there are just different aspects. Like there’s a Slack channel we have, which is a meetup, people who are going out of their way to meet colleagues face to face that they’ve been interacting with for six months online but never made that face to face. And it just, it’s just really fun and cool to see. Given that we’re also an event platform, we, you know, we dog food, we use our own platform as well. So every couple of months, we use drizzly and we send, like drink kits out to people’s houses. And we host an event on our platform for our team. We use different aspects of our platform, we use networking, so people in different departments who don’t interact with each other can interact we be different people giving presentations we just did. We hosted what we call Excel is there’s a word show for our team. It’s kind of a mix of, of like, superlative type of words, but also things that people who are really embodying aspects of our culture and values that we truly believe in. And frankly, it was just fun. Like, I wore a tuxedo to it. Even though it was a virtual event and I was just it was a great way to get people together. And at the same time, everybody is sitting there with their drink making kits and having a good time.

Tony Zayas 19:41
That’s cool. Has that culture kind of been there from the start, or at least kind of the foundation at least like the fun and it sounds like you know, really getting to know one another and that type of thing. Is that something that you drove and felt was important?

Jonathan Kazarian 19:58
It’s obviously it’s something that I felt was important from day one. But I frankly, I can’t even take that much credit for it, I think it was it started with the early hires who it was really important to them. And they made sure that it carried through and that it was a norm and an expectation and that when we were hiring really fast, and everybody was trapped in their houses, the team found a way to onboard and make new people feel comfortable and part of the team and, and have virtual friends, not just colleagues at work.

Tony Zayas 20:28
So to have some people on the team that you kind of born, whether it’s in a formal role, or informally, like driving some of those culture pieces that you rely on, because I get it, you know, you know, as a founder, you’re probably all over the place. And you may not have that much time to say, Hey, how can we make sure everybody’s having fun or getting to meet one another, but those are super important elements to get a cohesive team that works well together, have a group of people that you have, and I’m wondering if it just happened naturally, that maybe some of the early hires influenced but are there some people that you kind of lean on for that type of knowledge?

Jonathan Kazarian 21:11
Yeah, and I wouldn’t even want to say lean on them. Because it’s not like I’ve asked them to do it. It’s just that they like that Excel is the award show, that event was something that, that Chloe and Natasha, to people on our team. I mean, they just, they’re like, we want to do this, they decided they were going to do it. And they made it happen. I, they never would have to ask me for permission to do something like that. But they didn’t. And they just they made it happen. Like the only part, I was involved in was that we brainstorm names for a minute. And I mean, that’s it. It’s they have that ownership and that ability to do those types of things and bring the team together. And it’s I think, I think it’s more about empowering them and giving people the opportunity to do that.

Tony Zayas 21:57
How big is the team right now?

Jonathan Kazarian 21:59
Yeah, so we’re, we’re just under 60 People domestically, and another 67. International, huh. Wow. Folks over overseas are our contractors.

Tony Zayas 22:14
And so what did the what did the how does that compare to like the start of 2020? Because the team at that point?

Jonathan Kazarian 22:21
Yeah, at the start of 2020, we were three people domestically.

Tony Zayas 22:25
Wow. So that’s where your Inc 5000? Right? Like, I mean, that year you had so pretty impressive. That’s awesome. How did you manage that? How do you manage that growth? And I? I guess I’ll start asking that a little bit more granularly? How to use the founder, with a like, ton of new people on board, fast growing team, how do you ensure that your vision for the business is, is communicated and people understand kind of what what they’ve joined on what they’ve signed up for what they’re a part of.

Jonathan Kazarian 23:09
So we do a weekly actually, I said, we just switched to bi-weekly, all hands meeting. And again, use our own technology, our own platform for that. And that’s a mix of presentations from different departments, but also, again, networking opportunities for employees to get to know each other better. In terms of the way that we’re communicating that I think it I think a lot of it comes from observation from doing it from like, look, I started the business seven years ago, we’re bootstrapped. We don’t have we didn’t have money to hire contractors or employees to do things, everything we did, we had to figure out on our own. And as a result of that, and having my hands in each aspect, working alongside people, I think there was a natural handoff natural transition. And then, you know, trying to wear so many different hats. I’m certainly not the expert on anything for that matter. But as we bring in people who are an expert there, they build upon the success we’ve already seen, and find ways to make it better.

Tony Zayas 24:15
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Um, so you mentioned that, you know, you’re bootstrapped. It was is that do you look to raise funds or if you stayed bootstrapped on purpose, are you looking to raise funds, you know, to grow are?

Jonathan Kazarian 24:33
Yeah, so. So for our reputation is incredibly important. And given how fast we built both the team and the product, it was very important to us that we ensured that the experience we were creating for our customers was something that we’re proud of. And I also talked about the right the natural virality, of hosting events. So we need to ensure that every event is a perfect experience. And for that reason we have elected to grow Don’t mind you, over 2,000% over, you know, from 2019 to 2020, we grew very fast, but we grew at a pace that we were comfortable with. And now we’re at a point where we have all the processes in place, and we’re ready to take it to the next step. So we are considering raising capital to accelerate growth further because the time is right now.

Tony Zayas 25:21
Yeah, that makes sense. Going back to that growth, you know, the number of employees and just the year you guys had, that sounds awesome. That sounds like you know, something that everyone every founder would love to experience? And I’m sure you know, I’m sure it is mostly positive. But at the same time, you know, with with new territory comes challenges and pains. What was the most difficult thing you guys face, you know, between, from when you launch the new product, when you made that pivot, or not new product, but right, when you pivoted and focused on the virtual experience, up until now, you got to experience a ton of success and growth? What have been the big biggest challenges during that period?

Jonathan Kazarian 26:11
Biggest challenges? Well, I think one would be continuing to maintain that culture, and ensure that, yeah, that we’re building a happy team as we grow so quickly, and that people feel like they have the resources they need to be successful in their job. And that there’s upward mobility, some of the challenges have changed quite a bit over the past year and a half. I mean, in the beginning, as we were figuring out the technology side of things. Naturally, there were blogs, there were issues. And we’ve learned through that. And the real-time nature of events meant that he was always on. Like, if I went to CVS or the grocery store, laptop in the car like I didn’t know what was going to come up. And it was just that it was it was having to be always on and always available. And I think that’s you know, that’s always the case, being a founder of a tech startup or any startup company for that matter. But the event nature of the business certainly added to added to that. And the other aspect is that these events were 24/7. I think it was August of last year, so about a year ago, was the last time that there was ever not a live event on the platform. At some point in time, actually, I believe it was July of last year. So there is always a live event going on. And that means, you know, anything from deploying updates to the technology, or any advanced enhancements we’re making, they need to be communicated. Because you can’t just change something in the middle of some of these events. Right? They’ve been planning around certain things working a certain way for months now. And we just had to keep all that in mind. And there were a lot of growing pains and learnings that we iterated on over the past year and a half.

Tony Zayas 28:07
It’s pretty fascinating. I would love to hear a bit about how your role has changed with this rapid growth year and a half. How is your role? You know, what is does illusion of that? How does it how did it look? You know, start at 2022 today?

Jonathan Kazarian 28:27
Yeah, so that that’s actually one of the other very big challenges that I had basically had six years of inherited or developed knowledge of everything from some arbitrary software product that we use that we signed up for three years ago, but haven’t logged into sands that like, over time, all those things have to be handed off and getting out of your day to day and being able to focus on strategy in acting as more of a leader then just executer has been a big, a big learning opportunity for me and a big challenge. But as we’ve built the team, and people have they become far better at what they’re doing than I ever would have been able to do. And we’ve had built a leadership team around that those handoffs have been much more solidified today and have allowed me to focus on other aspects of the bigger picture of the business.

Tony Zayas 29:27
Do you enjoy focusing on those bigger picture things? Or do you miss some of the execution stuff? Where’s your like, strength and interests lie? It has been hard to let go I’ll ask that because I know that’s a that’s always a challenge.

Jonathan Kazarian 29:42
There’s I don’t think there’s a single aspect I don’t have any interest in or enjoy. So all of it in that case. I like getting my hands dirty, right? Like I like jumping into a problem with anybody on the game and just like, let’s, let’s figure this out, it’s fun for me. But also the bigger picture strategy side of things. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s fun to be constantly learning and thinking about not just the next week or month, but thinking about what’s the next year’s three years look like? And what do we have to do today to prepare for that? So it’s, it’s kind of zooming out that it’s, it’s been an interesting experience. And I certainly enjoy that aspect of things as well.

Tony Zayas 30:32
What was going on just from a kind of a human perspective, you know, with all the change in the world and your business over this, you know, last year and a half or so, how did that affect you? And, you know, Were there moments that you felt, you know, it was harder to get up every day, because of perhaps the, you know, drastic, just the draft nature of the change that was going on? didn’t excite you and drive you? How did you respond to it?

Jonathan Kazarian 31:04
Yeah, so what the pandemic sucks, call it what it is, right, and it’s horrible that people are getting sick and dying, and, and all of that, but there’s also a lot of people whose careers have been upended event professionals in particular. And one thing that drives me every day is that our platform, and frankly, our competitors, as well, I mean, this technology has provided event organizers an opportunity to still succeed at what they do best, bringing people together creating experiences, demand gen elements of events. And I think that I know, that drives me, and I think that drives our team every day that we’re providing people an opportunity, a chance to have a voice a platform to communicate and share an opportunity for people who’ve been locked in their house for a year, interact with each other. And that’s just a really cool opportunity. So I guess, to summarize, I mean, other than probably not sleeping enough, there isn’t, there isn’t much that I’m not getting excited about every morning.

Tony Zayas 32:16
So along the lines of that, you know, not sleeping and in, I’ve been involved enough with events that I realized, you know, the high stressful, and when it’s your business and yours, you know, 24/7 supporting live events, you know, how do you you know, we don’t like to use work life balance on this show, because there usually isn’t a balance. But how do you manage you know, the work life harmony? How do you get through? What are some of the things that you do to take care of you? Because there’s not going to there’s always going to be that lack of street sleep, there’s always going to be, you know, when you are you balanced, manage things I should say?

Jonathan Kazarian 33:00
Yeah. exercise to try to exercise for five days a week eat well, I’m going to try to catch up on sleep on the weekends. I’ve been able, as our team has grown, particularly over the past four or five months, I’ve been able to detach a little bit more on the weekends. Which, yeah, it’s, it’s helpful to be able to get my mind off of it for a couple of hours. But that wasn’t the case a year ago.

Tony Zayas 33:28
Yeah. So with the growth, you have had the ability to give your self a little more time. Yeah, that’s good to hear. Go back to your role. I know early, when we first started this conversation, you mentioned that you had a bit of a tech background. So How involved are you on the technology side of things? You know, are you are you helping develop this solution? Are you in there coding? And how did you? What does the team look like if it’s more than just you to expand this thing and grow? Because, as you mentioned, you know, I think we’ve talked to others who have in a similar regard when you’re using when you’re supplying a platform, you know, like events and like you said, people are going to go live, you can’t change things up on them. And you know, the button that used to be up here, and The broadcast is now gone. Right. So so how to how do you how do you work through that? And I would just love to hear your involvement on the technical side.

Jonathan Kazarian 34:34
Yeah, so I’ve been the product manager since day one. until about a month ago, we brought on a VP of the product also named John, which creates no shortage of confusion, but he’s excellent and then somebody on our CX team. Tariq was actually in Brazil. He moved over from the CX team to product as well and our CX team was also incredibly involved. I mean, they’re firsthand interacting with customers, as we talked about in the beginning. And they’re just very iterative, involved in getting that feedback to our engineering team, our engineering team is almost entirely based out of India. They’re two folks that I started working with, six years ago now, yeah, six years ago, who are both brilliant and, and, and we’ve worked together to build out an incredible team of engineers that have allowed us to move quickly, and build very scalable technology that we’re proud of.

Tony Zayas 35:39
So something that we were very familiar with and hear a lot on this show is just the the challenge. And it could be to find, you know, great engineers, and developers, technical people. So you said we met a couple of engineers six years ago, how did you find them? And how did you, you know, retain them and expand that group?

Jonathan Kazarian 36:03
Yeah. So originally found him on one of them on Upwork. And then he introduced me to his friend, and since then we’ve worked together to build that team. In terms of retention, I think it’s, I think there’s a lot of mutual respect, that’s a big part of it. I don’t write code, but I can speak it. Or at least talk about the technical challenges and think about the architectural aspects of it. We have since brought a cloud architect on also focuses a lot on the security side of things. Who’s based in the states here? But yeah, I think it’s providing opportunities, for engineers to have new projects and new responsibilities to be continuously learning. As I said, I don’t write code. But I think I know enough to say that it can be boring if you’re doing the same thing in and out. There’s so much technology, new technology, and it’s moving so quickly that engineers want to work on new exciting projects, they want to implement new things they want to learn they want to try things. And since we’ve been a product, a platform, that’s iterating. So quickly, we’ve had an infinite number of opportunities to do that, and put people, in roles where they’re not just coding things, but they’re doing a lot of research and development as well. So it’s providing those opportunities.

Tony Zayas 37:31
That’s, that’s great. I think that’s a great point. I haven’t even heard that come up much on the show. But I think it’s probably very valid. And there’s a lot of people that would agree with you. It’s keeping people you know, skills sharp for the engineers and developers. And, you know, to that point, you’re trying to look out and make sure that they’re not getting bored by what they’re working on, right. And they’re getting a chance to learn and get trained up and test out new things. So that’s a pretty cool perspective. Yeah, I

Jonathan Kazarian 38:02
mean, to expand on that one of our key principles in our hiring process is identifying people who have a growth mindset. And people with a growth mindset inherently want to be continuously learning. So the second that we stopped providing opportunities for people to learn, if we hire properly, the people who aren’t learning anymore, won’t want to be here anymore. So inherently, we have to ensure that we’re continuously providing opportunities for people to learn to get better.

Tony Zayas 38:29
It’s a powerful culture piece. Yeah, I mean, to know that, that that that is available, there is fantastic. So that’s really cool to hear. One of the last questions I have the kind of like the team and dynamic and all that is, you mentioned bringing on a VP of Product Management. And you said that, you know, you were the product management from day one up until that you said that was recent. Well was, was that a month ago or so? Yeah. So so far, how has that been kind of, you know, passing the torch for someone else to lead product? And what perspective have you gained from it? Now, you’re probably able to look more over the shoulder and less, you know, in the trenches?

Jonathan Kazarian 39:12
Yeah. So that’s it? That’s a good question. So this is something where the product was the biggest area that I directly focused on, but with every role, every person on our leadership team, every one of those handoffs, there was an aspect of them joining where, and then getting up to speed, at what point I started to realize what I mean, yeah, they’re just doing way better at this than I was because everything for me was pretty much self-taught. And these are experts who have also had the opportunity to learn from other experts and have done it before and seen it before. And I mean, even in the case of John, on the product side. This is his world. He’s an expert. He’s coming in. He’s implementing processes that we didn’t have in place before, that are making us better. And it’s only been a couple of weeks now. And, you know, it’s already apparent. And that gives me the comfort to step back a little bit. But it is yeah, it’s hard. I mean, it’s my baby. But it’s about having that that mutual respect and that trust.

Tony Zayas 40:22
Did you find the other John?

Jonathan Kazarian 40:28
Recruiting? Yeah, we had, we had to posting up for a while we interviewed a lot of people. And his vision alignment and process was was aligned with ours, not just mine, but but with the rest of the leadership team. It was clear that he was a good fit. And as since he’s joined, it’s even more.

Tony Zayas 40:51
It’s great. We love to shift gears just a little bit and talk about, you know, what you do is something that almost every industry, there’s events? How do you from a marketing perspective? who your target audience are, what are those segments look like?

Jonathan Kazarian 41:17
Yeah. So there are a couple of segments that we focus on. One of them’s higher education. Another is associations. Another is we call brands, but SMB enterprise, those types of organizations. And one of the areas that we differentiate ourselves from on some of the other products out there as we take data privacy and security very seriously. For example, we’ve done sock two type one already, which for young companies, I think, would have been rarer. But it’s a testament to our focus there, and certainly helps on the enterprise side of things. And then the other is, is event professionals. So AV companies, event production companies, event planners, we partner with them, and their clients to put the right technology in their hands. As for how we get in front of those organizations, there’s a number of different channels that we approach. Some of them are industry publications. But frankly, the biggest aspect is its product light, it’s a natural virality it’s, you know, there’s a two-day event with 250 attendees. Well, it’s a lot of eyeballs staring at our logo for a couple of days, a lot of people learning the platform and seeing how another organization, the best case study ever, how another organization is using it, and how they could benefit from it, it’s the same, and it’s especially true for our sponsors and exhibitors are participating in the event and getting true value on the lead gen side of things that then has a business impact for them. And, and they, you know, look at that and say, Okay, well, we should be doing this, we should be hosting our own event. And we’re the natural choice at that point.

Tony Zayas 42:57
That’s, that’s really fascinating. I guess I’m thinking of it from like the sponsor perspective. It’s always difficult right to quantify when you’re sponsoring a live event in a traditional you have, you know, putting the logo out there, and all other things that go along with, you know, a package, what are you guys doing, to support, you know, sponsorship within, you know, events that are occurring on the platform?

Jonathan Kazarian 43:27
Yeah. So this is an area that we put a lot of focus on, but it’s providing event organizers, dozens and dozens, probably hundreds at this point of opportunities to promote their sponsors through the platform, whether that be image carousels, supporting sponsor logos, different areas, the list the logos, opportunity to sponsor certain sessions, also things like gamification to drive attendees to actually go and visit those sponsor booths, and interact with sponsors. And then on the sponsor, so that’s, that’s what we’re providing to the event admin, the event organizer in their effort to sell sponsorships, which, frankly, are one of the revenue drivers for the events. A lot more of these events are free for attendees to participate in, and than traditional in-person events. And they’re covering their costs for production and speakers, and the technology through that sponsor, sponsor fees. On the sponsor side of things, we have a very robust opportunity for sponsors to build out basically their booth or microsites within the platform, but not just building out a static landing page, providing them all of the real-time data that they need when interacting with leads to knowing okay, a lead popped into my booth. I’m on camera, they can chat with me. I can see what documents they downloaded, which products they looked at which links they clicked all in real-time and have a conversation with them a topical conversation based on the things that they’re showing me interesting in real-time. So that you’re having a conversation that moves the needle. And then all of that data is collected as well. So from a lead gen perspective, you as the exhibitor can easily look back and say, Okay, we participated in this two-day event. And as a result, we got 260 leads out of it. Let’s go look, you know, how many of those leads are we able to convert, enriching our CRM data with that, and ultimately proving the value of that at the same time, it’s far cheaper to participate in a virtual event as an exhibitor as an organizer than it is to send people to Vegas, all the on-site printing booths set up in hotels and steak dinners that go into that. Whereas with a virtual event, I mean, just taking the travel out of it alone, you could participate in twice as many events for less money.

Tony Zayas 45:50
But you’re delivering that both experience. So those exhibitors are able to talk to the attendees? Well, what are you mentioned gamification, I would love to hear some some of the things you guys are doing with that, because I think the challenge, you know, people have had the calling zoom fatigue, you know, that everybody’s, you know, been on these, these virtual, you know, events, these virtual meetings, I should say. And they’re boring if the conversations not good. And so, how are you? What have you guys done along the lines of gamification? Because I think that’s, I always I’m fascinated by that. I think that’s such a great way to improve experience.

Jonathan Kazarian 46:36
Yeah, so the Zoom fatigue, I mean, that’s one aspect of being on camera all day. I mean, you feel like you’re presenting, it’s straining, it’s tiring, I certainly get that. But the event experience and a traditional Zoom meeting, in our opinion, it’s quite different. The event is much more multifaceted. They’re far more experienced, and gamification is certainly one of them. So it could be something as simple as you take your top three, your title, sponsor, for example. And the title sponsor might say, Hey, we’re going to give an iPad to the top three people who collect the most points and you get points by interacting with that exhibitor, or attending says the session that exhibitors putting on staying or going through for the whole thing, or participating some sort of networking activity where, you know, maybe it’s something like a job fair, where you’ve got the lawyers and, and, and the candidates and potential employees, and people get awarded for the number of interviews that they host. As you know, in this case, it would be most likely the employer, but you’re basically providing those opportunities to reward people for their interaction and engagement with the platform.

Tony Zayas 47:49
Hmm, that’s, that’s really cool. I’m sure there’s so much so many ideas there. What you guys could do. Do you feel like, it sounds it sounds incredible like this, as you talk about some of the features and things you could do on the platform? Makes me like, want to jump in and try one of these out? So I’ve got well, um, yeah, and hopefully, you know, over viewers as well. But do you feel like there’s any aspects of I have events, to what you’re able to deliver? It sounds like a lot of those elements are, you’re able to simulate maybe even do better in some cases, are there any areas that you still feel like, you need to offer something to improve on a particular type of experience or something that you still can’t do, that can be done live.

Jonathan Kazarian 48:44
I don’t think that virtual events are ever going to replace going to the bar at the end of the event or trade show the same way. It’s, or at least not in the next couple of years that that is a different experience. And even with the returned in person that we saw this spring, there was a lot of noise about the fact that people were going to these events, they weren’t attending the sessions, they were going straight to the bar to interact with each other. And there’s certainly a time and a place for that. And the future that we see is a hybrid future of future not so much the meshing of in-person content with a virtual audience at the same time, certainly, that will be relevant and will occur. But it’s more about building that event program. And having that flagship event that may or may not be in person, but then tacking on a series of virtual experiences thereafter to bring that audience back together to reengage them to deepen those relationships. Instead of it being Hey, I go to this one big event once a year, I meet somebody, maybe I’ll run into them again next year, but there’s not really any deepening of those relationships and a community becomes bigger and bigger element of the way that works organizations and brands when providing opportunities being that source that medium where people are coming together, and interacting and building that sense of community is just it’s so important. And this is a massive opportunity for virtual events to complement our traditional eventing program. Yeah,

Tony Zayas 50:21
Yeah, I love that holistic approach that you take to it, you know, realizing that not going to be able to hover, fully replace, but it’s like, how do we supplement or we improve the experience in relation to how do we, you know, connect, add more continuity, so that those relationships are deepened through that hybrid approach, that’s, I love, I love the way that you’re looking at that and the things you guys are doing in that space. Would love to just shift gears a bit chat and hear a bit about, you know, what’s on deck for the next 12 months? You know, what are some of the things that you’re looking to accomplish features that you’re looking to implement whatever that might be on the roadmap? And then I’d also like to hear a little bit from that perspective, and how do you make decisions on, you know, implementing new features, and how do you prioritize and all that? Yeah, year look like? First of all

Jonathan Kazarian 51:23
I think too, in-depth on the feature roadmap, but I can speak to how we think about that process. There’s a meshing of clicking that customer feedback, and trying to identify the problem that they’re trying to solve and taking their suggestions on solutions to it with us understanding what technology is capable of, or what technology can do, and thinking about the opportunities to solve a problem that may be an organizer never really considered. That, in my opinion, is ultimately our responsibility as a leader in this space, who’s helping to identify what the future looks like for bands. So that’s an ongoing, ongoing process for us thinking about the vision, the future of what that technology stack looks like, for organizations, brands, etc.

Tony Zayas 52:19
What are the what are the aspirations, let’s say three years out, what do you have? What is the vision look like?

Jonathan Kazarian 52:27
So our vision is to continue to build upon the experiences that we’re creating, we want to be the one-stop-shop technology provider for all of your event needs for in-person events for virtual events, hybrid events, while also being that source of truth for all the event data that’s being collected, and then being fully integrated into your entire marketing, tech stack marketing and sales tech stack for that matter. And really, just being that that holistic solution, we are planning to continue to grow, expand our team expand our go-to-market operations, while also continuing to invest in the product just as heavily as we have them. Because I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s truly possible today.

Tony Zayas 53:12
It’s such a, such an interesting space to be in with all the innovation and changes so rapid. I would love to hear a bit about you know, someone who has this thing, I’m breaking up a little bit, but someone has built this dynamic, thriving business, who have been some of the people that you’ve leaned on, whether those are the mentors, whether those are, you know, peers, friends, what is your kind of support and mentorship network look like?

Jonathan Kazarian 53:45
Yeah. You know, family is a big part of it. My fiancee, my brother actually is on our sales team. And, and then it’s the team itself. It’s, I mean, those are the people who are most in the weeds, they see the same problems that that that I do and often problems I don’t see, and having people who really get it and understand it to bounce off of is incredibly powerful.

Tony Zayas 54:19
Yeah, for sure. Let’s scroll on I like that you have that, you know, family element every now and then. We’re here that sometimes we hear from founders who say, no, we want to separate you know, I need to keep family separate from the business and then there’s others who are really in it with family so the fact that you’re able to you know get ideas and support from your fiance your brother. Pretty cool. John, can you tell us where we can learn more about Accelevents follow you keep up with you guys, and what you’re doing. I would love for our audience to go and check you guys out.

Jonathan Kazarian 54:54
Yeah, definitely. So LinkedIn Accelevents on LinkedIn, John Aryan. We also have a Facebook group called Event talk five, which is our event talk, which is a great opportunity for anybody who’s considering hosting an event or is an event professional to come in, interact with other event professionals in the community and learn and see how they’re executing their event program throughout the year. So that’s a great place to check out as well. And then other mediums like Twitter as well, and our blog on our website.

Tony Zayas 55:26
Yeah, fantastic. That’s really cool. And I have a few people that are event professionals, I’m going to let them know about that group, because that sounds pretty interesting. Last question, John, before we wrap up here, I would just like to hear you know, we like to ask this one. If you’re able to go back beginning of right before you start started this business. And you were able to sit down have a cup of coffee with your, your past self in offer up one piece of advice would it be?

Jonathan Kazarian 56:01
To take bigger risks? Hmm, I think it was very conservative in the beginning and our approach and the way that we were building and going to market and we could have, we could have moved faster. Frankly, we could have failed faster as well. How do we take bigger risks earlier? But that’s something that that I’m learning from and as a focus going forward.

Tony Zayas 56:25
That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, John Kazarian Accelevents. This has been a fantastic conversation, John, really appreciate your time here today. So thank you.

Jonathan Kazarian 56:37
Thanks for having me on.

Tony Zayas 56:39
All right, it’s well thank you everybody for tuning in. We will see you again next week and appreciate you joining. Take care everybody have a great day!

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