Tuesday, June 14, 2016
How Event Farm Is Making Events A Part Of Your Sales Funnel
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
In the corporate world, events are more than just an event—they are opportunity to connect with your customers and turn potential customers into buyers. How do you make those events happen? We spoke with co-founder Ryan Costello about Santa Monica-based Event Farm (www.eventfarm.com), on how its software technology is being used to power high end, VIP events for large companies.
What, exactly, does Event Farm do?
Ryan Costello: We're a software company. We're in Santa Monica, and sometime people think we're a venue or rental space for events, but what we are, is a 100 percent software company. We provide an event and experiential marketing platform. What that means, is we have a software tool, used primarily by companies who are putting on events for marketing reasons. The most obvious, is to drive sales. Our clients are large, Fortune 1000 companies, like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Nike, JP Morgan, Lamborghini, and SpaceX. We work with them on an annual basis, around the world, and help to power their events and experiential marketing. Our software is used for attendee management and for inviting guests. You can think of us as a super, high-end Evite, for the B2B, corporate space. We handle the digital invitation, and provide a custom branded experience, and a white canvas technology that lets someone like Facebook completely overhaul how the experience looks and feels for attendees.
How did you start the company?
Ryan Costello: I started out as an event producer in Washington DC. I was a Georgetown University for my undergrad, computer science degree, and when I came out of school, I went into politics and lobbying. I actually tried to put on an event to raise money for a charity in Washington DC, and at the time I was super young and super naïve, and helping that charity ended up turning into a ten year long project. I found out that they were struggling with a lot of different things with attendee management. The biggest thing, was that most of the market, from the technology standpoint, is worried about wanting bodies, butts, and feet at their event, and if they can sell out, that's cool. But, with this kind of an event, you're actually worried about restricting access to only the right people at an event. It's fundamentally different. When you use something like Eventbrite, or Ticketmaster, it doesn't matter who is buying that ticket—they'll let anyone buy a ticket, because you're just a bar code. That's the opposite of what we had at DC for our event, where we wanted the right people, the right influencers, so that we could raise more money. So, we started with a restricted access system, so that when I sent out an electronic invitation, you couldn't just forward that invitation to get on the list. That invitation was hard coded for you. It was a nontransferable invitation. It was the first time someone had something like this kind of setup.
So how did you end up in Santa Monica?
Ryan Costello: There were a couple of reasons we ended up in Santa Monica. My co-founder is from Orange County, in Newport Beach. So, early on, as just a couple of people living a typical startup life, you could work remotely from whever you are. He came back to Newport Beach, and I was spending time in DC, so we had Georgetown and Newport Beach as our remote operations. I then decided to come out to California for personal reasons, to see what it was like. We had an office in Newport Beach, and then we consciously decided to move to Santa Monica, to join the conversation around Silicon Beach, to be in smack in the middle of where lots of our clients were. We also wanted access to development resources, and we have our product team here, the engineers and designers, all based in Santa Monica. Silicon Beach is the premiere market for what we're doing, and it is really about attracting talent, getting the right ideas, and getting the right cultural environment, to be able to produce the product we have.
Tell us a bit about the external funding, and why you decided to find funding now after being on the market for some time?
Ryan Costello: We are just in uncharted territory. Of course, we have competitors. It's stupid to say you don't have competitors. However, our approach is a whole new product category, part of the marketing cloud. If you look at the marketing cloud, at companies like Salesforce, Oracle, and Adobe, they are providing the consumer marketing cloud. But, none of them have event management. Before we came to market, there had not been the focus on having the right people at marketing events, that tracking people matters, and including those events as part of the sales funnel. It's a marketing experience. You change the conversation when you do that. For us, the funding was because we have so much opportunity. We've been profitable before, but we looked up, and saw we have so much opportunity and market share to grab, we wanted to be first in this new product category, and accelerate into this niche we've found.
With such big clients, how do you handle the inevitable requests for customization?
Ryan Costello: It's an interesting balance. First and foremost, early on we decided to be a white canvas solution. We do not have reams of templates in our software. It's what the market needs. They have their own style sheets, their own style guides. We're not just a better version of Eventbrite where you can change colors. Every brand has their own subtleties. To be able to take that pain pill, we have had to figure out how to scale, yet still be flexible. It's definitely challenging, and it's an on going process to accommodate that from a design and implementation, and feature and functionality. Yes, bgi brands and big clients, no matter what market you are in, will boss you around and tell you exactly what they want. So it's really a balance of striking an authentic, and honest relationship with them, between what's possible and what's required, and if you can charge for that work. I think we've built a trust with our clients, and we're now mature enough, to say that, even though we'll listen sometimes we'll say now. For example, we have said not to QR codes. We just don't believe in invites on a phone with a QR code. That might work for something like the Staples Center, but that'sjust not the experience we are trying to create for our clients and the people we're trying to accommodate. For example, if you're Bentley, which has a VIP reception at Pebble Beach, you don't want your guests showing up with a barcode, because everyone who attends is a VIP. It's very important to the company, to not just look at a phone, because that's not human, and that a self-defeating situation for making someone feel like a VIP.
What's the biggest thing you're working on now?
Ryan Costello: I haven't talked about our experiential side, which is all the things that happen in an event. Attendee management is all about invites, RSVPs, sending messages, and checking in. Of course, there are follow up emails, but during an event is the next big chunk. We have an entire set of company applications for in-event experience, which we call Efx, Event Farm Experiential. That uses things like RFID technology, such as you might have seen at Coachella. We use that in a cool and unique way, so that VIPs get a unique identification at an event. Imagine you are coming to an event, and we provide a credentialed wrist band to you, which has an NFC or RFID chip. We then have applications, running on tablets and screens, where you can interact. That furthers your engagement. Say you're at a fashion show. You'll walk up, tap on a screen, and it would automatically show a men's line that they are showcasing. Jane walks up, and it might show a woman's line. That's very basic, but it would uniquely identify who I am talking to, adapt that content, and engage you further. It will also keep track of where you interact and go, where you stay for awhile, and capture behavioral analytics for our clients. That's the big think, which his using that data to better communicate further. We might know you are a man, are into shorts or sneakers, and what does that mean for the brand, post event. So we are pre-event, during, and post, which is the big vision of where our technology is headed.