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The Event Tech 12 – PlanningPod Edition

There are a lot of platforms in the event and conference management space. Most are massive in both scale and price putting them out of reach for most small and medium sized associations which is why we have always had a soft spot for PlanningPod, an event management platform with loads of tools, an honest price point, and a sleek design that works every bit as well as their highfalutin cousins .

At i3 Events, we have been using PlanningPod since 2015 for many of our clients. From budgeting, reports, and task management to attendee registration, check-in, floor plans, and everything in between, they have you covered… what what you need without the soul crushing cost and long term contracts that the other platforms suck you into.

Welcome to the EventTech 12 PlanningPod Edition

These are 12 questions that we asked Jeff Kear, Co-Founder at Planning Pod, the ultimate online hub for managing events… We hope that this gives you a little insight into their platform and how it can make planning and producing amazing events just a little bit easier!

Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

Even though I am co-founder of an event tech company, my journey started with two degrees in English (BA and MA) and over a decade in marketing and advertising, so my path to being a tech entrepreneur is not exactly a traditional one. In 2001, I started an ad agency with my current business partner Steve, and after about a decade building lots of websites, web applications and online marketing campaigns for our clients, we wanted to try our hand at building an online application ourselves. So we talked with quite a few of our marketing peers and many of them told us that the events industry could use some better technology to streamline processes and create timesaving workflows. That’s where we got the initial idea for Planning Pod, but it has taken dozens of surveys, hundreds of interviews, way too many workhours to count, dozens of iterations and three true “piviots” to get to where we are today. Despite what you might hear, there’s no such thing as an overnight success when it comes to tech startups. The journey is full of hard work, trial-and-error and headslap moments, but it’s also been the biggest learning experience of my life … wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Not all planners are familiar with Event Management Software and it often gets lumped together with Event Registration solutions. What is Event Management Software and why is it important to #eventprofs.

The term “event management software” has been applied rather loosely (and often incorrectly) to all kinds of software applications that enable event managers and producers to better track event details and streamline processes.

For example, in recent years, the term “event management software” has been applied to event registration software, but really tools that collect registrations, sell tickets, manage exhibitors and check in attendees at the door tackle only a portion of what goes into planning an event.

With that said, event management software is really any software application that takes project management practices and processes and applies them to planning and producing events of any kind. Generally, event management systems offer tools for managing tasks, calendars, timelines/schedules, checklists, files, internal communications, event design/layout, attendees and other back-end details as well as for facilitating collaboration among team members, vendors, contractors, volunteers and anyone else involved in producing the event.

What is the number one thing that you would tell any event organizer about using Event Management Software.

I would say that you should start your search for event management tools by first writing down the 5-10 tasks that you want the software to help you accomplish. There’s a whole product development framework called “Jobs To Be Done” that basically states that the best products and organizations take into account the jobs that their target audience members want to accomplish with said product/service (we have built our platform based on this approach).

By coming up with your own list of the “jobs” and tasks you want the software to help you accomplish, you can begin your search based on real-world challenges or problems you are trying to solve and not start with sorting through all the features sets and bells-and-whistles offered by software companies. Simply put, you need to find a tool that aligns with your own specific set of needs, and so you should start your search with your needs first.

What is the number one mistake that organizations make when first using PlanningPod.

Failure to prepare the entire organization to adopt our software is the biggest mistake we see new customers make. To be honest, there is no perfect time to switch software and/or to get acclimated to a new technology. It takes time, and most event professionals don’t have a lot of time to spare, which we totally understand.

However, the best way to sabotage your best intentions of streamlining your event management processes is to not devote time to get your internal users up to speed on how your organization will be using our software. We offer online training and lots of video tutorials and help articles so users can gain a detailed understanding of every tool in our application, but we also encourage our new users to have internal training and Q&A sessions with their staff regarding our software. We have found that even a couple hours of internal training will go a long ways to ensuring that your team will make the most of the new technology you have introduced to them.

What is one thing you wish every new client knew before they sign up?

Getting the most out of any piece of software requires a level of flexibility for both the software and the user. Our software has lots of customization and configuration options so you can set up certain things that align with how you manage events. However, most software (including ours) is built with a fairly fixed layout/navigation and workflow/dataflow structure that dictates that users adapt to some extent to the structure of the application.

One thing we have discovered about the events industry is that there are as many ways and processes for managing events as there are professionals working in the industry. Because of this, it helps if you approach any event management software with an open mind and a flexible demeanor so you can adapt to the technology when necessary in order to get the most out of it.

Take us through your process of working with a new client.

Our process starts with the first sales phone call where we identify the underlying needs of the client and what they want to accomplish with a platform like ours. This way we can know early on whether our system would be the right fit for their needs and point them in the right direction (even if it happens not to be our platform).

This needs set flows through their free trial where we provide the prospect with a live demo and lots of help resources to educate them on the tools and workflows in our app that address their needs. For larger prospects, this may include a few live demos to different teams and many discussions with decision makers on topics like integrations with other applications, pricing and potential customizations.

Once they are signed up, based on the package they purchase, they start the onboarding process (which usually takes a few weeks to a month) where we provide online training to their users and assist them with things like importing key data into their account, integrating their calendars and email, etc.

After that, we provide them with ongoing email and live chat support and will also conduct additional training sessions, if necessary.

In your mind, what is your greatest PlanningPod success story?

When we launched Planning Pod in 2013, we first envisioned it as mainly an event project management tool for solo event planners. But as we received more and more feedback and inquiries, we realized that event professionals from corporations, non-profits and venues were finding our tools useful for their operations, too. And the application has evolved as we have addressed the needs of these additional users.

Three years ago, we had an owner of an event venue in Florida sign up. At the time he was just getting started with his business and wasn’t very familiar with using any software on a daily basis. As such, his learning curve was higher than for most of our new customers, and it just took him more time to implement our tools, which I knew he found frustrating.

Fast forward to last month, when he called me to let me know his first venue has been such a success that he is opening another nearby and that he wanted to thank us for helping his business flourish and for helping him learn how to apply technology to his business processes so he could grow faster. I could hear the happiness in his voice, and he is an example of why I love what I do, because if we can do that for him and hundreds of other businesses like his, I can go to sleep every night with a smile on my face.

What’s the biggest challenge that PlanningPod is still trying to solve?

We continue to get requests for new tools that are tangentially related to event or venue management, and a big challenge for us is to precisely know when a tool will really benefit our core audience or when it will just create bloat in our software. The best software apps find a perfect balance between stated purpose, feature set and easy-of-use, and we will continue to hone in on this balance as we build out new features or improve existing ones. But it’s just really hard to tell someone “no” when they ask for something that will help them, even if I know that it won’t benefit most of our other users. Warren Buffet once said that the secret to his success is his ability to say “no” to almost everything because it allows you to focus all your time and effort on the few things that matter to you and to the success of your business. I need to remind myself of that frequently, despite the fact I still hate saying no.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

A long time ago when I was running into challenges in my first business (an ad agency), a colleague asked me, “So, do you know the secret to being in business 10 years?” I had no idea and hungrily hung on his reply, which was, “Being in business 9 years.”

At first this seemed like a smartass answer, but the more I thought about it, what he was telling me is that there is no one magic bullet to running a successful business and that each week, month and year is different. You need to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your marketplace and your customers, and that flexibility and diligence is what will carry you forward.

What is your favorite productivity app?

I read tons of online articles about marketing, sales, software development, startups and other business topics, and Pocket (https://getpocket.com/) lets me save articles and videos on any device and browser and keep them organized. Huge time-saver.

What is your favorite “waiting for a train” app?

When I have “downtime”, I listen to all kinds of music (Tidal is my go-to app for this, especially since it has high-res file streaming), watch soccer (fuboTV app is perfect for this) and catch up on world news (New York Times app).

Want to Learn More about PlanningPod?

Check them out at PlanningPod.com or use the link in the tweet below to sign up!

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