Like other industries that were slow to adopt new technologies, the event industry is now getting the attention of innovation-minded entrepreneurs. While there’s an old school way of doing things, innovative event-tech is shaking up how event planning is experienced, from lead gen to vendor sourcing to client management.
There are plenty of startups, like this one we previously covered, building solutions for the event industry that may focus on a specific workflow or group of users. But what will the ecosystem look like?
Grit Daily spoke with Jennifer Brisman, founder and CEO of VOW, and a prominent NYC wedding planner. Brisman has 20+ years of experience and executed over $65 million in event contracts. Here she shares her vision on the future of weddings and events and how forward-thinking companies, like VOW, are innovating for a hyper-connected ecosystem.
Grit Daily: What did your career as an event professional look like in the beginning?
Jennifer Brisman: Interestingly, I sort of came out of the womb planning events. It’s literally in my blood, and I did so at a young age in middle school and high school then more formally when I was in college. While in the premedical program at George Washington University, I was part of the executive group that ran an organization called the American Medical Students Association, whose mission was to acclimate and orientate premedical students to the premed process. I organized tons of events for them and local fundraisers including one for Metro Teen Aids Students Teaching Aids to Students, a platform that is still around today.
GD: How did that lead you into becoming the founder of a tech company?
JB: Early on in my career, I was obsessed with systems and platforms. In early 2000, I had one of those Sony Vaio computers with a little wireless card and antenna. I never went anywhere without it. I’d walk around in circles trying to get a signal when I was out of the office. I remember when Logitech gave me one of their first digital pens. Talk about Beta. If my memory serves me correctly, it connected to one of the first versions of Dragon’s Naturally Speaking Software. I was super determined to take notes with the digital pen and transcribe them, or speak my notes and transcribe them without the use of an actual writing instrument. I’m not sure that went so well!
I played around on eBay early on and tried to figure out how to buy things internationally on 1stDibs (I’ve always been passionate about interiors) before they had all sorts of bells and whistles. I spent tons of money on a VPN logon, which as a wedding planner was unheard of so that I could access files from anywhere. But, I was the last hold out on blackberry, not very forward-thinking, and only transitioned to iPhone late in life.
That said, I think that I felt and thought I was always the founder of a tech company. In 2000, I purchased TheWeddingPlanner.com knowing I might do something really forward-thinking with it one day. With that mindset, I worked hard to systematize my business workflows behind the scenes. As my staff and vendors can tell you, I worked with them to put energy into it too. The only way we as teams could be efficient is if the information was in one place and updated in one space. So I did that. But achieving that meant getting others to adopt this process over time.
Once venues and vendors saw that there were efficiencies they could lean on, they were happy to rock and roll with me and we all did so for many years. My process and plans were also based on their needs – how they worked best – so it actually really supported their workflows, and thus, my own. The same applied to clients, the most important piece of the puzzle. See, I’m Switzerland. I’m in the middle and there to make sure everyone is successful and happy. So ultimately, my process and paperwork had to achieve that too. Any good system must get to the heart of how we all communicate and collaborate towards a successful event.
That led me to attempt to build the first layer of innovation. In 2004, I hired an engineer (although I didn’t know what that was) and spent many thousands of dollars to build what would have been an event-focused CRM. Taking this on was a lift while building a business, brand, team and serving clients. I had to pick a lane. But I knew to have any measure of success, I’d have to iterate a successful process. Fortunately, I had the most amazing staff, venues, vendors and clients who believed in me, supported me, and partnered in the most extraordinary ways….and never once told me, or my clients, NO.
GD: Why do you love the event industry and why are you so determined to improve it?
JB: What I have always found remarkable about our industry is that we are a true ecosystem. We are all interdependent upon one another for success. No one vendor, venue, supplier or client can do it alone. And, if one chain in the link breaks down, it affects all of us — the end result, our bottom line and, possibly, our reputation. But our industry IS lagging behind others in terms of innovation. I think we have a small window to catch up before we are so far behind that it impacts our bottom and top lines dramatically.
To grow our own industry, and be prepared for an unexpected future, we must keep pace which means we have to innovate for ourselves. We have to become more efficient than ever before. I see this as, first, getting more connected, which is how we work best, then focusing on our workflows and working to streamline and automate everyday tasks. Doing so will enable us to take time back so we can book more, make more and plan even better than ever before. And, because an event is a shared experience, and because WE are an ecosystem, we have to do it together, in one place and bring our clients along with us.
GD: What are the biggest problems that you are trying to solve with VOW and what unique approach are you taking in regard to the solution?
JB: We are losing 25% of our day to our inbox. That’s one big ass pain point. Email is inefficient. For all of us, it’s become an abyss of conversations best had on phone or video call. It’s a cemetery for lost leads and flagged matters. We need a centralized, organized and hyper-efficient place to communicate and collaborate internally throughout our organization but also externally across multiple organizations as event teams.
We are doing too many repetitive administrative tasks over and over again. In fact, 85% of what we do from the time a client contacts us to the time a client contracts with us is repetitive. We are entering data multiple times and working between no less than a dozen apps, all fragmented and not allowing us to leverage the power of information and data as it moves through it. How can we be successful in 5 years if that is our story? We must begin to understand and follow our workflows and harness the power of them.
GD: How would you describe your journey thus far with ideating and developing VOW?
JB: It has been the greatest joy of my life, second only to being a mother to the two most incredible daughters. I have an exceptional team who believes in VOW, our mission and me, and has for a very long time. And I have gotten tremendous support from my partners – from the event community at large. We developed venue, vendor and planner advisory groups early on and worked hard to outline their pain points before we built. In fact, I always say that VOW is Built for Pros by Pros because it is. I very much feel it’s the reflection of so many throughout my ecosystem just filtered down to what is most universally needed by all.
GD: For anyone who doesn’t work in the event industry or has never planned an event, can you explain why VOW is different?
JB: Great question. Every single person in the event industry has to sell and/or plan. Their job is comprised of one or both functions. Unlike many industries where you are just selling something, in our space, the sale is just a small fraction of an entire event journey. The sale is gold but the magic (and thus the lift) is in the planning. VOW is an end-to-end solution that streamlines the sale as well as the planning in an efficient and high-touch way. Most solutions stop at the deal. VOW pushes past the deal, through the planning, and beyond. We can do that because of our centralized communications platform.
GD: So who exactly will be using the VOW platform?
JB: My ideal world is everyone – Venues, Vendors, Planners, Suppliers, and Clients.
GD: What advice would you give to a hospitality student that wants to get into event planning?
JB: Work for a hotel or venue to start. Venues see so much action. And they are a one-stop-shop. They really have to do it all and play ‘planner’ as often as we traditional event planners do. They have high-value contracts, a very involved sales process, they are deep in F&B and banquets along with reporting. They also work with so many pros, that they are exposed to a large community on a regular basis. So a venue is a perfect university to learn event planning the right way.