What’s the secret of running a successful event? For Zoe Cunningham and Ghilaine Chan, the 2 founders of Tech Talkfest, 2 things stand out above all else.
Face your fears!
Zoe began her career as a coder with a fear of public speaking, before an unexpected transition into a networking and client facing role helped her find her voice. For her, events are about facing your fears, forcing yourself to voice your opinions, and creating a dialogue that is open enough for anybody to join in.
Zoe, who now runs a successful Software Development business, Softwire, has found the opportunity to discuss her strong opinions on corporatisation, and the need for business to show its human side, irresistible. Her passion for speaking out recently landed her a trip to China as part of the PM’s advisory team. In an ideal world she would she would like to be the next Jonathan Ross!
Build trusted relationships
Her business partner at Tech Talkfest, Ghilaine Chan, an ex-Microsoft employee, is a soft skills expert who believes in building networking relationships that last. She sees events as not just about the panel or speakers, but audience participation; attendees getting to know one another on a more profound level, sharing opinions and finding common ground.
Ghilaine is not an advocate of speed-networking, instead she works hard to make sure she sees familiar faces at Tech Talk events, sharing success stories with loyal friends and long term clients.
Run your event like you run your business!
Both of the above can equally be applied to the world of start-ups, for what else is a small business but an opportunity to submit yourself to the scrutiny of the public eye, and prove that you can do things your way?
This month, Tech Talks brought the delectable subject of food to the table via panellists Fiona Swan, COO at Sian’s Plan, the healthy eating project, and Daniel Kaplansky, who co-founded Eatro, a peer to peer marketplace to share home-cooked food with your neighbours, and more recently OneFineMeal, a project that has led to him being named one of Forbes six most exciting young UK entrepreneurs.
The stage was set for the young entrepreneurs to give a brief speech and field questions from the audience on food, tech, business strategy, and creating opportunity, and it didn’t disappoint; the Strongroom in Shoreditch was a good choice of venue, intimate with a foodie / gourmet twist; one delegate was seen tucking into a purple rice salad before the main event. The verdict? Very good!
Sian’s Plan – eating healthy for the time poor
Fiona Swan became COO of Sian’s Plan after a 6 year stint at Deloitte consulting, re-connecting with an old college friend, Vincent, a coder with an MSc in Sustainability, who had co-founded the business with his mum, Sian, hence the name.
Don’t buy food when you’re hungry!
As well as dispensing helpful advice like the above, the business allows users to plan meals ahead, and create an automated shopping list through its online supermarket partnerships. Every meal requires less than 15 minutes preparation time, and each one is curated by Sian, who founded her own cookery school back in Ireland, teaching thousands of students both how to cook, and the basics of home economics.
Fiona’s primary concerns have been the financial, legal and business development side of the business. She calls it “working the back of house”, and believes it to be the key to any successful business. Keep applying pressure, maximising every opportunity, and the results will (eventually) come. The team recently raised £100k via the Crowdfunding platform Seedrs, giving away 12% equity in the Company. A fantastic, and hard won achievement.
It’s hard to stand out from the crowd!
Fiona reflected that one of the hardest things about being a start-up is differentiating your offering; Many potential donors simply “don’t get” the business idea, which can be frustrating, therefore choosing the right events, and marketing to the right people, was key to the development strategy.
The second big win of the year for Sian’s plan was being accepted onto the Microsoft Ventures accelerator program for September ’14. Unlike many accelerators, some of which are of dubious value, Microsoft don’t take equity in the business, but provide a network of professionally experienced mentors and contacts. They have a good track record abroad, although they are relatively unproven in the UK so far. Sian’s Plan will be looking to help them make their mark on the UK Tech scene.
The Trick of PR
Next up Daniel Kaplansky revealed a couple of surprising truths about the PR game. Eatro was born when Daniel and his business partner found they were sick of the same old food joints, Pret for breakfast, Eat for lunch, Itsu for dinner, repeat ad nauseam. They were walking home one day, caught a whiff of their neighbour’s cooking, and made a simple plan. We’ll have what their having!
They quickly created a peer to peer site, pivoting the business to keep pace with changing demand until a new iteration, One Fine Meal, was born. Fine dining, pre-cooked, chilled, and delivered to your home.
For Daniel, the initial blaze of publicity his new start-up attracted wasn’t quite what he expected; a lot of press reached out to him, but ultimately the ROI was disappointing. Fame doesn’t always go with fortune, he concluded.
The secret of success? Facebook and Door to Door?
So what worked for Daniel? Targeted Facebook advertising has become the science of marketing and proved “so valuable” in terms of finding customers and pinpointing when they are most receptive to messages. It was “the right kind of exposure”.
Sometimes the old fashioned ways still work the best. Daniel found that simply pitching up to offices with flyers and telling people about the product worked wonders, generating repeat business on 5 out of 10 occasions, “an amazing ratio”. The personal touch, although hard to scale, got results. Sometimes you have to “take over the neighbourhood before you take over the world”.
Events at the heart of “The Hustle of Marketing”
Events are part of the “hustle of marketing”, bringing people together in a productive way and allowing them to discuss what works and what doesn’t. All businesses are different, but each one can learn something from another’s success or failure. Tech Talks works because it encourages the open and honest exchange of ideas, and its fun too! A recipe for success.