Over the course of the next several months, we'll be interviewing some of the smartest, most interesting event professionals around--sharing their insights, advice, and unique experiences. This week we sat down with Will Curran, founder of AV production company Endless Events, one of the most fascinating and energetic industry leaders we have had the pleasure of talking with.
1) The typical career path for an entrepreneur (if there is such a thing) is: go to college, get a job, then start a company. But you kind of flipped that on its head. You got a job, then started a company, then started another company, then went to college. Can you walk us through your journey from coding websites to running a highly successful production company?
I technically started out as an entrepreneur in middle school, coding websites, and earning maybe $400 per year. I was really into technology. I moved from there to starting up an Internet radio station called Def Tunes Radio. I played electronic music, and it grew and grew to about 125 people, on the NPR model: I played music all day long and then begged for money once a month and hoped to God I could keep the lights on. Which, eventually, we couldn't.
But I'd worked with DJs from all around the world, and they kept asking me: you love electronic music, you run an Internet radio station, why don't you become a DJ? It wasn't really my dream, but I gave it a try, I become sort of a bedroom DJ. Eventually I got good enough at it to get slots on other Internet radio stations.
One day a high school friend offered me $50 to DJ her backyard party. I had to figure out what kind of music she and her friends liked, and borrow speakers from the girl's dad. My mom had to drive me to the gig because I didn't have my license yet. But I got paid $50 to do something I'd only been doing in my bedroom for fun. Another friend heard about the party and asked me to DJ a middle school event. Pretty soon I was DJ-ing middle school dances across the state.
So I started a company called Arizona Pro DJs and started running ads on AdWords. By the time I graduated from high school, I had DJs working with me across the state, DJing school dances, reunions, and random bachelor parties. We had official polo shirts and nice cases for our equipment.
Being an entrepreneur in high school enabled me to get an entrepreneurial scholarship to Arizona State University. Before my first semester started, I got a DJ-ing gig at ASU. I was the first DJ to play on campus that year, so everyone heard of me. Pretty soon I was DJ-ing seven days a week, having to leave class early some days to get to events, and making really good money for a college kid.
I soon burned out on hauling equipment around and staying up until 2:00 a.m. every night, on top of going to college. I started thinking about what's next. Then I saw some videos on YouTube of a cool company on the east coast doing massive high school dances with like 3,000 kids and $50,000 AV budgets. It was absolutely insane. It looked like an Usher concert in a high school gym, with club lights and a massive sound system. I had no idea how, but I made it a goal to do at least one event like that before I finished college.
One day I landed a DJ gig at a big high school, and decided to pitch my idea. I took the videos and the pictures of the other company, covered up their logos, and showed those at the meeting. The high school people loved it—it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. Of course, I totally under-quoted it because I had no idea how much it would cost. I lost a ton of money on it but they were blown away, and kids from schools across the state heard about it. We became the DJs every high school and college event wanted to hire. We had probably a 75% market share, and took schools from $400 DJ budgets to $14,000.
We had to hire production companies to help us with these large events, but we asked lots of questions: show us how the sound board works, show us how to set up the sound system...we learned everything about production by hiring production companies. Eventually we DJ'd a block party with 100,000 people. We built a club on an intersection. It was one of the craziest events I've ever done. And I thought to myself when I saw all those people screaming: I don't want to do high school dances and college events anymore. I want to do this every weekend.
That's when we started making the transition into pure production. We decided to build a better AV company.
2) What does a typical day look like for you now?
We don't have titles. I don't call myself the president of the company, and I don't do presidential things. We're a team, we all just have different roles to play.
My role has two big parts. The first is to be client-facing; to talk to them about their needs, their vision, and to translate the technical side into English. I spend a lot of time helping them out, making sure our clients are the happiest people in the world. The other part is managing sales and marketing strategy. We do a ton of inbound marketing, which is why we push out so much content through our blog and our #EventIcons podcast.
Part of a typical day is also often spent on activities like researching new technologies, new strategies, new tactics, and then talking to the team about how to implement those. The other 5% of my time is spent coming up with creative new ideas to expand what we do or make operations easier. But, a lot of my time is spent communicating with staff, at events, on video calls, or on Slack. We're a fully remote team. We don't have physical locations anywhere, and I travel frequently to client events.
2) What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Our biggest challenge is educating people, filling in the knowledge gap about AV and production. For example, we just launched a course on how to hire AV companies. We want to help people understand there's a better way to do this process than sending out a generic RFP specifying how many speakers, remote mics, etc. are needed. We also try to help clients understand our recommendations and the ramifications of different AV decisions. We'll explain why we're recommending specific equipment in specific locations, and how changes will impact the attendee experience.
I relate this to the car-buying experience. 20 years ago, consumers had basically no information and no power; they had to take the word of the slimy salesperson. Now, consumers can go online and find out everything they want to know. They are a lot more educated about options and prices.
We're not there yet in the AV world, because it's inherently scary. Planners don't want to deal with it, and some AV companies will take advantage of that. We try to educate clients, to help them make the right decisions. It enables us to have better conversations about topics like the cost impacts of event changes.
My second-biggest challenge is not having enough time. Having a time machine would be fantastic.
3) What types of event-related technology do you use or interact with?
I don't get to use event apps and cool things like beacon technology as much as I wish I could. In the AV world, we're primarily dealing with all the magic and technologies no one ever sees.
For example, in the last five years or so, the big move in our part of the industry was the transition from traditional incandescent fixtures and lights that sucked up a ton of energy to LED technology. It uses dramatically less energy and produces way less heat. But it's not something attendees notice or talk about. Yet it's a big change for us. It means significantly lower electrical bills for clients and enables us to do some very cool things with color and lighting effects.
Another important technology for me is remote communication. We've always used this internally as a company built on remote teams, but in the last three years or so more and more clients are willing to have video calls versus meeting in person.
4) What do you see as the biggest trend(s) in events this year, particularly in relation to event technology?
One of the biggest technology changes we're dealing with is the growth in video generally, not just for video calls. People don't want to see a static PowerPoint anymore—they want amazing video content, cool transitions, intros, outros. They want to see it on their phones, in virtual reality, on the big screen. They want to see it combined with lighting. In the last couple of years, everyone wants video, and they want it now, and they want it to be amazing. A second trend I've been talking about a lot on our webinars is the security aspect of technology. People are realizing they need to be more proactive about this.
We talk about security vulnerabilities people just aren't aware of, gaps they hadn't thought about, and they are mind blown. It's not just related to event apps, but about personal security email, passwords, how you surf the web, and how you interact with WiFi. It goes back to the client education we do. As we add more technologies, people need to know how to protect themselves and know where their data is.
And as much as I want to preach moving to more technology, one other trend I've been seeing and talking about big time is a move back to basics. Continuing to layer on more technologies can make events kind of convoluted. So, for example, instead of looking at how to incorporate video, start with your event's messaging. Then build video content around that first.
5) If you could give event planners / marketers one piece of advice, what would that be?
Take time to work on yourself, not just your business and your events. Work on time to educate yourself through research. If you don't understand all of today's security issues, Google what the different terms mean, and the tools and techniques you can use to stay protected.
If you don't understand AV, invest in the time to educate yourself and learn more about it. So many times, planners are so concerned about the next client or the next event that they don't accomplish important personal goals. Take the time to do it. Schedule the time to work on yourself. That will enable you to ask better questions and produce more amazing results.
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