IAM1691 – Founder Creates Easy to Use Technology for Event Planners

Podcast Interview with Jonathan Kazarian

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: Jon has an inspirational story and what led him to get started with his business when his cousin was diagnosed with cancer. It's a reminder that even as challenging things happen sometimes positive things can come out of less-than-ideal times. They had to pivot as a result of the pandemic and they were able to accelerate growth. But they had a strong foundation in culture and technology that allowed them to pivot into the virtual event space. Like Jon said “technology is there to make people's lives easier.” He also mentioned that early on having those direct conversations was what allowed them to build their culture. Their culture experience is their 2nd largest team.

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Previous Episode: https://iamceo.co/2022/05/30/iam1386-founder-creates-easy-to-use-technology-for-event-planners/

Jonathan Kazarian Teaser 00:00

You have to be somebody who can be on the field and get their hands dirty and lead by example. But you also have to be somebody who can take a step back and get off the field and look at the business as a whole and just like everything else we talked about, that's another balancing act of being able to do both. Know when you have to jump in and help out.

Intro 00:19

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, and generate sales? And grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:46

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. And if you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes and we're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them, business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, business owners, and what I like to call the CB nation architects, who are looking to kind of love their organizations.

This month is around technology. We're a technology company that does dot, dot, dot and technology is no longer an afterthought or something that you might do. It's actually a core part of your business. And if you're a real estate investor, you're using it. If you're a financial firm, you're using it, a cleaning company, author, or speaker, you are using technology, and if you are in any type of business, you are using technology. And if you're not, then you're probably gonna be disrupted.

So this month we're gonna look into repurposing episodes that are around technology, whether that be firms or organizations that are actually investing in technology and have that as a core part of their mission and vision of what they're doing or people that just might be using them as co hacks and co nuggets in ways that you can leverage them. So remember that we're all a technology company that does dot, dot, dot, or a technology organization that does dot dot dot. So sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I am CEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Jonathan Kazarian of Accelevents. Jonathan, it's great to have you on the show.

Jonathan Kazarian 02:13

Thanks for having me.

Gresham Harkless 02:15

Yeah. Super excited to have you on, and before we jump into the interview, I want to read a little bit more about Jonathan so you can hear about all the awesome things that he's working on. And Jonathan is the founder and CEO of Accelevents, a leading virtual, hybrid, and in-person event management platform recognized by Inc. 5,000 as a top 200 fastest-growing private company in America.

As CEO. Jon is focused on leading the company's vision of helping event planners and marketing professionals transform their events through innovative technology solutions. And as an industry thought leader, Jon actively publishes insights on the events landscape and frequently speaks at industry events such as EventMB, BizBashlive, and Inbound. Jon also chairs the board for the Fall Formal fundraiser benefit, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Jon, super excited again to have you on the show. Are you ready to speak to the I am CEO community?

Jonathan Kazarian 03:04

Let's do it.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:05

Let's make it happen then. So to kick everything off, I wanted to rewind the clock, and hear a little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO Story.

Jonathan Kazarian 03:11

Yeah, so you mentioned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is actually how I got started. And the reason that I got into the event space was actually that my cousin at the age of 17 was diagnosed with cancer. So wanted to do something for her. I Had been hosting a number of smaller events in the past, but ultimately decided that we could raise a ton of money if we rented out the aquarium in Boston and hosted a fundraiser. So we got 840 people to show up for that first event. Ended up raising about 65 grand for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, And going into that event, realized that one way we could raise a lot more money is if we ran the auction in the raffle digitally.

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So looked around for solutions, but couldn't find anything that was either good or affordable. And ultimately decided to build our own. So we did that. And that was the beginning of the company. Certainly, there were a number of years between then and where we are today and a number of different iterations. But that's how we got into the space.

Gresham Harkless 04:03

Absolutely. So I wanted to drill down a little bit, more, I know you touched a little bit upon, the years that it took to get to where you are now. Could you take us through a little bit more about that and then how you're serving your clients and you're making that impact?

Jonathan Kazarian 04:14

Yeah. So as we got our start in the fundraising space, we were very much focused on donations and auctions, raffles, and other giving campaigns. But one of the things that we started to learn was that organizers wanted easier technology. They, wanted a single solution to facilitate everything from event registration to payment processing, through those fundraising avenues. And as we began to go further down that route. We then started to work with more for-profit events, be it festivals, conferences, concerts, trade shows, you name it. Because we had easy-to-use technology that did what they needed to do. So we really started to lean into that and things were starting to pick up.

But we were still, quite a small company. We did about 375K in revenue in 2019. And, It was looking like, we're gonna be able to get to a million of revenue in 2020. We had our first salesperson who joined us in 2019. Things were definitely on the up. But then obviously in March 2020, the world shut down. So at that point, we essentially ran out of money with all the canceled events, and the refunded tickets, and realized that we needed to make a pivot to stay alive. And as I mentioned, we had already been leaning much more into the for-profit event space. So working with a lot more conferences and they have a pretty unique and differentiated set of needs compared to other types of events.

So we made this pivot and we moved into the virtual event space, and from there things just took off. We ended up closing out 2020 at over 3.2 million in revenue. So, essentially in 10 x our revenue from the prior year, it was very much driven by making this pivot and being able to understand exactly what our customer needs and being able to deliver a solution for them. And there were a lot of aspects that went into the way that we interacted with our customers that just created this very unique and powerful feedback loop that allowed us to iterate so quickly.

Gresham Harkless 06:05

I appreciate you sharing that because, at the end of the day, I imagine that a lot of your success was because you already had an easy-to-use software and you were able to focus on how can I listen to this feedback and iterate related to that, rather than how do I need to build this next thing?

Jonathan Kazarian 06:19

Exactly, exactly. And that really stemmed from the way that we built our customer experience team and the culture we built around them in terms of how they interact with the customers. Even from the very beginning of the launch of our company, we had a chat widget on our website and we staffed that basically 24/7. I remember being on the highway and having to pull over just to be able to respond to a customer on a Saturday night because that's the culture we wanted to build. We wanted to be there for our customers. And in doing so, it just created this almost viral loop of feedback to us because they knew we were there. We knew that they knew that we were listening to them and then translating that into our product.

So, as we continued to build and scale our team and we took our customer experience team from two folks at the beginning of 2020 to, I believe it was 27. At the end of 2020, every single person carried that same importance as it related to how we interact with our customers. And when you're building an event, you're spending three months creating this experience that culminates in three hours. You don't have 10 minutes to wait for a response when you have a question. And by being there in real-time, I think our immediate chat response time right now is 26 seconds. It just makes our customers feel as if we're a part of their team.

And we work together to figure out what's the best solution for whatever it is they're trying to accomplish. And then we figure out, well, how can we do that as a technology provider just to make their life easier? Events are one of the hardest things to produce with one of the greatest senses of urgency. Technology needs to be there to make life easier for folks, not do the opposite.

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Gresham Harkless 07:56

I love you, obviously, for being able to get on the side of the road and be that answer. But I also love even more what that represents as far as that culture that you talked about and how when you're going through an event or even going through, COVID as a whole, you wanna make sure people are there for you. And I think being able to provide that solution in so many different ways, definitely hits the home run.

Jonathan Kazarian 08:14

Absolutely. Yeah. People talk about like two things that don't scale and they look at chatbots as a solution for you. Starting to implement something that makes you more scalable. But the reality is, as an early business, you need to hear everything from your customers and you need to be there for them. And this is one of those things that you just need to hang onto as long as you possibly can so that the feedback loop is open.

Gresham Harkless 08:38

Yeah, absolutely. And so would you consider that to be what I like to call the secret sauce? It could be for yourself individually, the business, or a combination of both. But do you think it's that customer experience and really like drilling down and keeping your nose to the streets, so to speak, to really understand what clients need? Do you think that's part of your secret sauce?

Jonathan Kazarian 08:54

Absolutely. It's absolutely. Our customer experience team is our second largest team only to our engineering team by having that be such a large team. That is so empowering within the organization. It is just that sort of culture propagates throughout every interaction that we have as a company and the way that we're thinking and building for our customers and building our business and our business model around our customers.

So yes, putting customers first in that essentially real-time feedback loop, bringing them. Into your conversations, into your cycle is just, it's so incredibly important. Even last week during our all-hands meeting, we brought one of our customers in to speak for 15 minutes just about their interaction and experience with our entire company there listening to that as a virtual meeting that we host actually on our own platform, but just having those folks in these conversations goes such a long way.

Gresham Harkless 09:44

Awesome. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Jonathan Kazarian 09:56

I guess it's a habit, but it's perpetual curiosity. It just always asking the why. It doesn't matter what the circumstance is. You could be whatever at a red light and you see something, you're just like, I wonder why that is that way. And building that sort of culture for yourself and that continuous curiosity leads you to ask these questions in a way that just fosters learning and development and broadens your awareness of everything that's going on in the world.

And it then translates into the way that you do things, the way that you operate as a company, as a leader, as a product developer. So, if there's one, yeah, if there's one hack I could suggest it's finding a way to fuel and grow your curiosity as a leader.

Gresham Harkless 10:37

Awesome, awesome, awesome. So what I wanted to ask you now for, is what I like to call a CEO nugget. So this is a little bit more word of wisdom or a piece of advice. I like to say it might be something you would tell your favorite client or if you hopped into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Jonathan Kazarian 10:51

It would be to be hyper-critical of what I'm spending time on. It's almost contradictory to my last statement about being hyper-curious because when you're just super curious about everything, you want to dig in and spend time on things because everything becomes interesting. But the reality is sometimes you have to pump the brakes. You have to know when do I need to just get something done. When is there something that I need to outsource? When is there something that's an 80/20 rule? Can I get this done so that I can move on to the next thing? Or does spending any more time on this actually move the needle for me and for the business?

And yeah. If there's one thing that I would've changed about the way I built over the years, and one thing I would, I'm still very conscious of going forward is just where I'm spending my time and am I spending it on the right thing.

Gresham Harkless 11:40

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And, especially the balance. Do you feel like you've had that formula of like,  what percentage you're gonna do the curiosity versus the really trying and drilling down on the curiosity that kind of comes from that.

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Jonathan Kazarian 11:52

I don't know that I figured that balance out. It's definitely a challenge. I think it's one of those things where I try to spend my business hours very much focused on getting the things done that I need to get done and then spending the evening more on the things that are just continued learning. But yeah, it's a continual balance. And I don't think it's anything that I'll ever get perfect. But that's okay.

Gresham Harkless 12:11

Yeah. So I wanted to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition, of what it means to be a CEO and we're hoping to have different quote and quote, CEOs on this show. So, Jonathan, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Jonathan Kazarian 12:21

Yeah, that's I think a challenging question. So I played a lot of sports growing up, and I think being a CEO is somewhere between being a coach and a captain of the team. You have to be somebody who can be on the field and get their hands dirty and lead by example. But you also have to be somebody who can take a step back and of get off the field and look at the business as a whole. And just like everything else we talked about, that's another balancing act of being able to do both. Know when you have to jump in and help out, but also know when you have to be able to take a step back and do something in a way that somebody else might not be viewing it and think about the bigger picture. And think about further down the road. So, I guess to summarize, being a CEO is both being on and off the field being in a position to be able to lead, but also push and coach the team.

Gresham Harkless 13:07

That makes so much sense. And I'm a big sports guy. You might have heard of this guy, I think his name's Tom Brady a few times. He's the ultimate kind of like, player-coach, where you hear that term around a lot, where they have so much knowledge and information that they're able to coach, but at the same time, they're so close to it that they're able to make changes and pivots and all those things, throughout the day-to-day life or obviously the game that's going on as well too.

Jonathan Kazarian 13:29

Yeah, and there's actually the documentary in ESPN about Brady, but that is the epitome of what, yes, it's sports, but I think there's just so much that any CEO can learn from watching that documentary, and learning from Tom.

Gresham Harkless 13:43

Yeah, absolutely. I have not cracked it open yet. I was trying to wait for all of them to go live and then I wanna watch them all.

Jonathan Kazarian 13:48

And you know, I would add something which is creating a winning culture. A winning culture where it's the expectation, it's the norm and everybody's driving each other to set that expectation. That's a huge part of it as well.

Gresham Harkless 13:59

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Well, Jon, I truly appreciate that definition and of course, I appreciate your time even more. So what I wanted to do now was pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course, how best people can get ahold of you, find about all the awesome things you and team are working on.

Jonathan Kazarian 14:15

Yeah, definitely. You can find me on both LinkedIn and Twitter. My handle's jkazarian on both of those, my name's Jon Kazarian. You can also check us out, accelevents.com. Check out our chat promise you we'll be there in real-time with a real person. So ask any questions you want to. And I look forward to hearing from you.

Gresham Harkless 14:32

Yes, absolutely. And we'll have the links and information in the show notes as as well too. Hopefully, Jon will not be on the side of the road or anything when he's answering any of the chat or anybody else on the team. But I truly appreciate you of course for taking some time out today. And of course, all the awesome things that you're doing. Sometimes we forget that it doesn't have to be either or when it comes to technology, it could be a way to make your life better.

So I love that you've been able to do that and remind us of how important that is. And of course, I appreciate you and appreciate the things you do and the time you took today.

Jonathan Kazarian 15:00

Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Outro 15:01

Thank you for listening to the I am CEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Get your driven CEO gear at ceogear.co. Don't forget to schedule your complimentary digital marketing consultation at blue16media.com. This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts, (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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