Trevor Lynn is the Chief Marketing Officer for Social Tables, an event planning software designed to allow entire teams to collaborate seamlessly on the design and execution of an event at a given venue. He is a forward thinker who advocates staying on top of or one step ahead of the curve in all aspects of communications and business development. We spoke at this year’s techsytalk LIVE, where he was one of the speakers.
Deborah – So tell me a little more about Social Tables.
Trevor – Social Tables is a software for event planners and event properties to work together online. We have collaborative workflow software, and basically what that means from a really high level - an event planner can go in and create a 2D diagram of an event space, totally to scale, A/V equipment, staging, tables, all that good stuff, and then the fun part is they can then take that and share it totally online with their caterer, their client, with the venue, whoever needs to see it, setup staff, banquet staff. And everyone's working off the same thing, right? So most event planners have had the experience of, OK the cad guy sent me a thing, I need to edit it, let me redline it, let me send it back to the cad, then I have to wait, the caterer has the wrong one, and the A/V people have the wrong one… So it puts it in one place, puts it online, you can access it on iPad, through your laptop, mobile device.
Deborah – Very user friendly! Tell me about the latest developments since last year.
Trevor - As a company we've grown a lot. About 3000 customers, about 60,000 end users, we're in like 150 countries, like 100 employees.
Deborah – So, language stuff going on.
Trevor – Yeah, French, Spanish, English, and we have the ability to roll out more languages – maybe 15 or so customers in China, so we're working on getting that all set up. So it's fully international, yeah, three languages right now. Doing this internationally has been fun. We just hired someone in Singapore, just hired someone in the UK…
Deborah – Tell me more about your job there.
Trevor - I'm the Chief Marketing Officer. So, what is that? For Social Tables what that means is my job is kind of on the early side of things with customers and the tail end with customers. So, on the early side it's a lot of making sure that Social Tables understands what's going on. What are people saying, what are people asking for, what are problems people are having? What is the general consensus around what planners say, like “Hey, I need this next.” Because that's our job. Our job is to help planners either build in the things they know that they need or maybe even surprise and delight and build things they don't even know they need yet.
So a lot of my job is talking to as many customers as possible, being at events like techsytalk LIVE where you get to be around people who are really forward thinking and planners that are really into tech and really pushing stuff… As you look more to the company stuff, we do a lot of content. So we do a lot of written content, we do events, a lot of e-books, downloads, white papers – we also create free mobile apps. So that's a little different than some companies, where we actually create apps that are totally free for planners and put them in the Apple app store.
Deborah - More than just the Social Tables app.
Trevor – Yes, so one's a free event calculator.You put in the number of attendees and it will tell you, depending on how long, how many hors d'oevres, how many drinks, how many servers, how many check-in tables [you need] – you know, quick math.
Deborah – Are these all under Social Tables?
Trevor – Yeah.
Deborah – How many do you have?
Trevor – Pocket Planner, which is the calculator, is our first one, and we're coming out with another one called Sight Inspect. We haven't launched Sight Inspect yet, but it's coming soon. A mobile way to help planners to do sight inspections, and then take all their information after site inspections and then easily compare with the stuff they're looking at. Using your mobile phone, using video and pictures.
This is us just being part of the community. Tech is what we do. So when we hear a planner complain about things that we know we can build a solution for relatively quickly, that's like fun for our team...
Deborah – Ha! That's sport... What makes you most excited about your work, and how long have you been working with the company?
Trevor – I’ve been there from the start, so three years. What gets me most excited – it’s on two sides. One is happy customers. You go anywhere to any city, and we have more than a handful of customers, so you can go to customers visits... Convene is a customer. So this whole event, we're in one of our customer's places. And that is totally awesome. Talking to people, hearing how they use Social Tables, and how they use it in ways we didn't even think about – that’s amazing. The happy customer side is amazing. The other side is the happy employee side. Happy people working in the office all day - it's a great place to be.
Deborah – Are you in New York City?
Trevor – We’re in Washington, DC.
Deborah – If you could expand your work in another direction, what would it be?
Trevor – I think because Social Tables is truly focused on industry education, content, stuff like that, I think it would be really, really fun to get into more consulting with customers. So a lot of the technology we come up with, customers are going to look at their current process and how they do things and go, nope, that doesn't work. So being able to come in and educate, like hey, this doesn't fit your current process, but it changes your process to make it look like this, and this is amazing, and help an entire event planning firm or help an entire hotel really dig in, and be like, 'we need to change to keep winning and keep progressing.' That would be really cool - a great way to expand what we do, and what I do.
Deborah – How big is your team?
Trevor – About a hundred people. The marketing team is about 20. We market internationally, but everyone's in DC. We have our paid ads team, our marketing and communications team, our business development team, an events team, a community management team, and Dan is the CEO.
Deborah – What’s your basic philosophy about technology?
Trevor – I’m always trying to automate myself out of a job. If you're not trying to automate yourself out of a job, you're probably moving slower than someone else. So, my philosophy on it is, sometimes it's hard to look at a software product and say, “Oh my gosh, $20,000 – nothing can be worth $20,000.” I tend to be really, really positive on the impact that can have, so I'll look at something like $20,000 in my head. I'll just go, oh, we could get ten more customers with that – OK, totally worth it. I know we'll have ten better customer offerings if we have that software. Let's do it.
Deborah – So you have the vision for that at this point. You can see which things are going to be worth the investment... in other words, you have a chess player's vision?
Trevor – I hope so, right?
Deborah – That’s the idea!
Trevor – Yeah, it always seems like a no brainer, if it's the right technology for your team and it's easy to use and easy to put in your workflow, it`ll totally change how you do your job. To me, that's the fun part. If your job's not changing every six months or so, something's probably happening and you're not taking advantage of it.
Deborah – I totally agree with that.
Trevor – Even if you're trying stuff and it doesn't work? Great. Because for every couple times that happens, you're going to hit a home run and your team's gonna be on fire.
Deborah – Mistakes. What are some of the bigger lessons you've learned from mistakes?
Trevor – So one of our core values at Social Tables is fail fast and often. My very favorite core value is, “Every day is a school day.” So those two things together? We're really big on failing and not being afraid of that. I would rather miss goal because we tried something really big that totally failed than just miss goal because we didn't change anything. So, failures... when it comes to marketing, it's really easy to test something. It doesn't look right, it doesn't work easily immediately, and then just move on. I have some regrets around certain marketing campaigns, like I wish we would have done an events road show this year... We've kind of done it here and there, and they've been super successful.
Deborah – What’s an events roadshow?
Trevor – So in 2016, we'll be going to roughly nine cities and doing educational meetings in each city. So we'll probably take a customer for a caterer, we'll go with a venue that's a customer and a planner, to help us pull it all off, but then it will just be industry education. So those road shows, we've done them a little bit, selectively.
Deborah – So they're like your own educational events, basically.
Trevor – Exactly. A way for us to get out meet customers, meet potential new customers, make sure that we're being helpful to the community...
Deborah – Listening, hearing what's what...
Trevor – Exactly… When it comes to new product stuff, I have a little bit of shiny object syndrome… I'll be like oh my gosh, we have to build this, this looks easy, we should definitely do it… I think there's been a couple of times with a couple features where it was like, that was the wrong pick. You get this piece of a product that you thought was gonna be amazing, people weren't really taking to it, then you have to kind of pull back. Those are tough. Because you have an engineering team that's building things, so that's people's time.
Deborah – So then it's like, guys -
Trevor – We gotta erase that. I think that's tough. And then a final failure, I think when it comes to hiring... I think we do a great job of hiring, I think we're awesome at hiring, it's almost like a core competency, but what I think we could do is just be faster. If you can get the people you know you're going to need in October, today, do it.
Deborah – In other words, don't wait until the need is so pressing, but get people onboard in advance. Is that what you're saying?
Trevor – Yeah, definitely. I think people’s ideas change, people want to move into different roles – those are all things you can’t account for, so if you wait for that, you’re too late. So always full court press.
Deborah – So always be a little ahead of the curve on hiring, interesting…
Trevor – Getting new “tablers,” as we call ourselves [as in Social Tables].
Deborah – Are there any lessons either you've been given, or were passed on to you, or things you've learned in your time working here that you'd like to share?
Trevor – I think one of the lessons I learned the hard way is that as a software company, we always want to partner. Our mindset as a company is we want to partner with every software company out there, and we'll start to think about ideas or ways that the product can work to partner with other people. I think the lesson we learned is that frankly, not everybody has the same philosophy, and you really can't will that on people. So if other companies don't do that and you know it would be a killer integration between two products or it would be great for customers, it just doesn't always work that way.
I don't know if I know exactly what the lesson is there, but I think we sometimes take this picturesque idea of the whole industry and everything plays all happy go lucky, cuz that's just kind of how we are, and then it's like, OK well, you should probably have a better strategy around that… We tend to move so fast, we assume everyone else does, too, and that's just not how it is.
Deborah – I recognize that tendency, it's like, "I like you, let's just do this thing together!"
Trevor – Exactly, and not everyone moves at that pace. You know.
Deborah – Yes, I recognize that. And sometimes you can come on too fast and scare people.
Trevor - Yeah, so just remembering that some people are slower, and to them we're gonna be fast, and just realize that and don't press on that.
Deborah – That’s hard to do… that's funny…