Allie Magyar is founder + CEO of event tech software Hubb and owner of Dynamic Events. Failure is a word that no longer scares this serial entrepreneur, who thrives in the fast-paced worlds of events, tech — and cars.
In high school, Allie was absorbed in import car culture. Turning wrenches and cruising Broadway at all hours would accelerate to bootstrapping and putting on her own car show at 18. Though for a moment she thought she might be a music teacher, she quickly dropped her flute and was drawn back into the events world. Off her early success, she built up a 6-year career running car shows. At a pivotal moment, she found herself on the Portland Expo Center floor, $100,000 in debt at age 24. Nowhere to go but up.
In time, Allie’s tenacity and passion brought her to lead two successful companies, and to recognize that if you’re failing, you’re learning: you can pick yourself up and achieve. Today, she shares this important message, using her voice to help change the conversation and make space for women in the tech and startup spheres.
Ryan: Hey there, welcome to the Faces of Marketing podcast, where we talk about the human stories and lives of different people and perspectives in the marketing profession, and entrepreneurs and movement makers. This is your host, Ryan Buchanan, and I’m here with my friend Allie Magyar, founder and CEO of an event and meeting planning software company called Hubb. Welcome to the show, Allie.
Allie: Thank you.
Ryan: Awesome. So, we’re going to mix it up a little bit this time. I had lunch a couple times with Allie over the past couple of months, and she actually just got back from this insanely amazing trip from Asia with her family. So lucky to get some of your time this morning, a Monday morning. So if we’re a little foggy, that’s on me. But I’m just so intrigued by your 18th year in life, and just how adventurous and entrepreneurial in this very real way [it was]. It’s like you became a real entrepreneur at 18 versus some of us who might have had a lemonade stand as a kid and talk about being an entrepreneurial kid — like you actually did it for real, for real at 18. I want all the audience to hear a little bit of that story, what happened.
Allie: Sure. Absolutely. Well, I graduated high school and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a passion for one particular thing. And so I found myself throwing myself into hobbies. So I got really into import cars, like the ones that you see in the Fast and the Furious, and really loved being part of that community. We used to street race in downtown Portland, so all the signs on Broadway that say “no cruising,” no one knows what that means. That was from us just driving really slow up and down Broadway every weekend night.
Ryan: What time of night?
Allie: Oh, any time from about 10:30 until about two in the morning. My parents were not happy with me at that age, and I don’t think I’d be happy with my kids either if that’s what they were doing with their lives.
Allie: But, I found that community a really interesting one, and found a lot of friends in it, and my natural inclination all throughout life has been to bring people together and to create meaningful experiences for people. And so I wanted to do that for this community. So I took my life savings that I had worked really hard for, I had $1,000 in the bank, and decided to rent out the Clark County fairgrounds just north, near Ridgefield, Washington, and printed out flyers, went to every high school, college, called every radio station, every kind of bootstrap marketing you could possibly think of, got all my friends in on it, and hosted a car show. That first car show, we ended up with several hundred cars coming, and then at the door, we had over 3,000 people coming and paying $15 a person while my dad panicked and ran back and forth to Safeway to get money orders on a Saturday, because we were so scared about having so much cash.
Ryan: I want to go back to cruising. So there was cruising Broadway. Did you drag race ever?
Allie: Yeah, street race. Yeah.
Ryan: What intrigues me is, there are cross country skiers, and there are snowmobilers; there are cyclists and then there’s motorcyclists. I don’t have a mechanical bone in my body. I couldn’t even start to tell you about motors or cars or anything. And I just think you’re gifted that way. Was it you and your dad that, you know —
Allie: My dad can’t even change a light bulb. Yeah.
Ryan: Maybe that was just obvious male privilege assumption there. But how did you get into it? I remember you telling me over lunch, and I forgot some of the details.
Allie: In high school, I had a group of guy friends that were really into cars, and so I ended up getting into it with them. So I would read the magazines and understand, in theory, about all these things. So I started to soup up my own car. The first thing you do is you add a three-foot tall sticker to your windshield, ’cause that was cool back in the day. You know, the more stickers, the more horsepower.
Allie: So at first I got into it just because my friends were, but I think when I get into a hobby, I like to understand the why; I like to put pieces together. So for me, working on cars was a great opportunity because I was hanging out with all these amazing people that knew way more than I did. And so I just started asking questions, and I asked if they’d show me how to do things. And so I would just sit and watch and learn, ask them for anything that I didn’t know how. We screwed up way too many cars; brakes didn’t work, I once had my hood fly into my windshield because I hadn’t locked my carbon fiber hood down correctly. You know?
Allie: So you just sort of learn; like anything, right? You just learn, and you just aren’t afraid of trying something new and learning something new. Although with a car, it’s a little scary when you’re wrenching on your brakes and then hoping they work.
Ryan: Did you ever crash?
Allie: No, no, I never had any bad experiences. I had plenty of times where my car was broken down by the side of the road, but no crashes.
Ryan: I would definitely crash. So that’s amazing. Hopefully we get into more stories, because I’m sure you have hundreds.
Ryan: I love how different it is from my life. So you grew up in Battleground, Washington and you had mom, dad; did you play a bunch in the outdoors? What were activities like as a kid?
Allie: Playing outdoors to my dad was camping — or camping at the Best Western, so there was no playing in the outdoors. But I think my family focused on a lot of experiences together. My parents are really unique because they have been married and divorced three times, but only to each other. So, I look at them now and, they’re in their late sixties, and it’s incredible to me, their journey in life and how they’ve always ended up back together. So life was a little crazy when we were younger; always something new and different. But when it was good, it was really good, and there was a lot of really good quality family time. I think that’s something that I take with me to my kids now, is that idea of supporting your kids no matter what, allowing them to really find their own passions and explore in a safe way, and knowing that there’s unconditional love there. For me, that’s been a core tenant as I’ve continued to grow and as I’ve had my own kids; of making sure they know that it’s safe to explore when you’re young, and to figure out who you want to be.
Ryan: And do you have siblings?
Allie: I do. I have two brothers, a half sister, and an adopted sister, who is my cousin.
Ryan: All right. And so if you hung out at Best Westerns instead of camp, what were the activities before you found your passion in this souped up car?
Allie: Most of our family played sports. I played basketball and volleyball, and my brother played baseball, so we did a lot of sports as a family. We were always at games together or practices. My dad always coached any of the sports teams that we were on, so he was really active. That took up a lot of our life, as I’m learning with two kids that want to do sports as well.
Ryan: And then it gets competitive, and I’m in Yakima for three days with my daughters team. I’m amazed at how the families have to be fully in if your kids are really passionate about a particular sport. Nowadays, everyone’s expected to be a one sport athletes. I don’t know your philosophy on it with your own kids — you’re obviously try to expose them to a lot of different cultures around the world and things like that. But do they attend multiple sports and activities and all that?
Allie: They are. I think it’s important for them to try lots of different things and to figure out what they love and why they love it. I also think that sports are a unique way of helping to develop leadership skills. That for me is so important, especially when it’s someone else teaching my kids, because they never want to listen to me. So someone else teaching them to listen, and how to be coachable, how to then help the team succeed. I think those are such great things. So my husband and I get a little tired with the crazy schedules, so it’s either sports at school — which is a good thing, because it’s just after school, so it’s a little bit easier — and then they do football and cheer over the summer. So we try to balance our hectic lives, with work and all the rest of things going on, with a very calm home life. So we try to work with our kids to figure out what that balance between rest and total energizing activities are.
Ryan: That sounds so ideal. It’s gotta be hard.
Allie: Yeah, it totally is. It’s a lot of — my daughter’s saying that she wants to do competitive cheer, and thinking about practice three times a week and competitions every weekend — and really talking to them about what commitment means. And if they do want to do something, that they have to do it with their whole selves. So there’s just a lot of communication going on because they’re still young. My daughter is 12 and my son’s eight. So there’s still a lot of communication about what that actually means, and how anything worth doing is worth doing well, and then figuring out what that level of effort is and what that level of commitment is.
Ryan: And so, with school: and I don’t know if Columbia Adventist Academy started earlier than high school, and kind of rolls through?
Allie: They have a grade school called Meadow Glade, and then the high school is across the street.
Ryan: I remember you saying like that was pretty defining because… It was a very nurturing environment, and it kept things kind of more simple than the craziness of a public school. What was high school like?
Allie: Well, to put it in perspective, my graduating class was 50 people, and we were the largest graduating class in probably 20 years. So, it was a smaller environment, a couple of hundred people in the school. But I think that environment of supporting and really helping kids to live their best lives, it’s one of the reasons that my kids now go there as well. The theme for them last year was “live bravely” and it was all about how to fail and how to be supported in failure.
Ryan: That sounds like a company culture.
Allie: I know, doesn’t it? I absolutely love the idea of teaching that mentality, because when I look back on my childhood, I think a lot of the experiences that I had in grade school and high school really helped me to hone some of my leadership skills, and helped me to find what my passions were, in a way that helped me as an adult be able to practice those things more freely as well. High school for me was crazy, though. I was always class president, ran for ASB, was captain of the basketball team, played volleyball, was in yearbook and choir, and all of the things. And everyone telling me, “hey, do you want to slow down and maybe enjoy some things?” Looking back, I find that now as an adult, I’m realizing that part of my personality is that I drive my own value from execution. So most of my life has always been about achievement, about accomplishing, about pushing for what’s next instead of being present. Now I look back on that, and I think, how wise were those teachers to tell me, “hey, take a breath, stop doing maybe a couple of these things, and just be in the moment.” Where as an adult, that’s a really hard thing for me to practice, but something I’ve tried to practice every day.
Ryan: Well, especially when you’re good at a lot and executing, and that positive reinforcement that you’re getting from your employees, your clients, and everyone around you is like, “Oh, I’m gonna work 60–70 hours a week, because it feels good,” it’s like a dopamine hit.
Ryan: So now you got back from Asia, and been to all these zen Buddhist rock gardens and all this stuff … So, I’m not sure, how long the halo effect lasted after the trip? Maybe sometimes it’s like two, three, four days…
Allie: Yeah, that’s about right. You get back from vacation, and in a startup, it’s like getting hit in the face. It’s just like, “oh yeah, I disconnected for a while, and I really need to get back to it.”
Ryan: Okay. So before we go on to your entrepreneurial journey, I missed a question. That is, when an adult asks you as a 10-year-old girl, “what do you want to be when you grew up?” [Your] immediate answer.
Allie: Yeah. It was a teacher. I think things have really changed over the years in terms of careers and opportunities for careers. But for me, that’s where I saw a lot of examples of teachers that were affecting kids in such a monumental way, and so for me, was a rewarding career, to think about going and being a teacher.
Ryan: But in a way, you’re just kind of teaching adults, right? So, I know culture is huge at Hubb and Dynamic Events. I thought about this when I was touring colleges with my oldest daughter, and I was super inspired by, how could I take some of this ideal, values, and nurturing environment that was also trying to make the world a better place — take some of that university impact into my own company. Have you ever thought about taking the good parts of maybe your kids’ school and bringing that into the culture of your company?
Allie: Yeah, I think our perspective at both companies is that there’s only one life. And so there is no work-life balance. It’s just one life. And so I look at that similar to what you’re talking about, that I learned things from everywhere. Whether it’s my kids’ school, or a church, or a volunteer group, and figure out, “wow, it’s incredible what they’re doing here. How can I apply that in my own life?” So I think harnessing that joy, that passion and sort of unbridled — because when you’re in college, the whole world is in front of you — and so thinking about how we bring that back, and how we live that and bring that to others as a part of our community, whether that’s at work or at home. I think we just have to stop sometimes and listen to those things and figure out how we can apply them.
Ryan: Yeah. I also think as entrepreneurs we have a natural tendency to get inspired easily and want to do really great things [right away, back-to-back]. And I’ve been learning to listen to that voice of “OK, write this down and ease it in” so that there’s not every week, a massive new initiative, and it’s not like “we have to do this, we have to do this.” Is that something [you relate to]?
Allie: Yes. I read a book called Traction, and there’s another one called Rockefeller Habits. Have you read those? A lot of times, I have to take it back to: what are the goals, the real goals, and does this help to hit that quarterly rock or the annual goal? And if not, that’s a great idea. Let’s table it and figure out when it’s the right thing. So I hear you. It’s very easy to come back and be like, “let’s do this and this and this.”
Ryan: Did you get hooked on Traction, POS, all of that stuff from being in that entrepreneurial group called Vistage?
Ryan: EO is super similar. So, before you did the whole car show and events business through that and do at 18, maybe and a half — at least I saw on LinkedIn, that you started studying music performance at, was it Walla Walla?
Ryan: And that lasted for maybe a semester?
Allie: It was one semester. I got a scholarship. Actually — this was going to be my fun fact, so now I’ll pick a different one, but — I was a concert flautist, and so I even played in the Arlene Schnitzer [Concert Hall], it was a pretty cool experience. So I went to school, and again, really didn’t know what I wanted to do other than my passion for teaching. I wasn’t classically trained in music. I just could read music instantly, and had a love for music. And so I went to school [for] both; I was an English major and a music major and took one quarter and got lots of D’s and F’s in music theory and was so frustrated. As I got into the music department there, I loved the people, but I couldn’t see myself having passion for that for the rest of my life. I loved music, but it was one facet. It wasn’t all facets. And so a lot of people in music, that is their entire being, and it’s what they live and breathe. And for me, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t every day. After one quarter I said, “this really isn’t fulfilling me. I don’t think I want to be an English teacher, a music teacher.” And I left, and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
Ryan: What’s surprising about that is meeting you, you carry yourself with such poise — all that can happen as a flautist — but I just see immediately even, a hundred yards away, successful businesswoman. And you’re also seemingly very extroverted, and my stereotype of musicians is more introverted, just in their heads, and all this inspiration coming from within. I think as an entrepreneur, we all are creative in different ways. But, and I’m running a creative agency, I am not a designer, I’m not creative in the ways that my industry defines creative. So I look for other expressions of that. But I do think that would surprise a lot of people who maybe don’t know you really well, to know that you almost went down a path of teaching and music in that way.
Allie: I definitely was the one that was like, “oh, let’s go do a concert in Portland. Everyone can stay at my house, we’ll have a party.” So even then, it was bringing everyone together and figuring out how we could have the best time. But I agree with you. In my job now, I don’t feel like it’s the creative elements of that. I really admire it. Our designers, our videographers, our copywriters. I admire all of that. But I don’t feel like that’s a part of how I express myself now. For me, my creative outlet actually comes on the weekends and I spend the entire weekend in my kitchen.
Ryan: Oh, I was going to say gardening. I was just guessing wrong.
Allie: Well, it’s okay. I actually have killed everything my entire life when I’ve tried to have a garden, mainly because I’ve been traveling so much. But this is the first year, I just picked breakfast radishes, this weekend, from my garden, and I squealed in delight.
Ryan: Who eats radishes for breakfast?
Ryan: Can you not eat a breakfast radish after breakfast?
Allie: Oh, you totally can. I have no idea why they’re called breakfast radishes. They’re very beautiful, though.
Ryan: Well, congratulations. That’s awesome.
Allie: Thank you. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
Ryan: Now we’re going to go after the car business. I think there may have been — I don’t know how you define failure — but a moment in time where you’re like, “oh, this might not be my full path forward, but I’m going to tweak it into this.” And that thing ended up really taking off.
Allie: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, failure is a word that I’m no longer afraid of, because if we’re not failing, we’re not learning. I think for me, that wasn’t the perspective that I had, though, when I was in my early twenties. …
Allie: But for me, that one show, then I took that capital and reinvested it and did two shows, which turned to four shows, which turned to 10 shows over a period of about six years. And so, I worked really hard during the week, and then on the weekend some of my friends would pile into planes with me and we’d go all over the country and run car shows and lifestyle shows. That culminated for me in its sixth year here in Portland at the Expo Center, where I’d had a series of shows where, when your target demographic is 18 to 24 male, and it’s a nice day, or there’s a concert or prom or any sort of things that could end up happening, you end up losing your audience. In the trade show world, you make all your money by the gate, so people coming and paying day-of. So I had been losing money throughout a variety of different shows that year. And the Portland Expo Center was my last hope where, “okay, if enough people come, I can save and I can still continue to do this.”
Ryan: Out all your chips on one thing.
Allie: Oh yeah. Uh Huh. And I lost that bet. So, there wasn’t enough people that ended up coming, and it definitely was a failure that rocked my world, but also has really informed who I am, even to this day. And so I’ll never forget that feeling of, the show was over, we hadn’t made our money, I was $100,000 in debt, personally taken out at 24.
Ryan: That’s a lot. Yeah.
Allie: Taking out lines of credit, every credit card, and realizing that I didn’t feel like I had a marketable career because I’d been doing my own thing for so long. And I sort of collapsed in the Expo Center, swore that my life was never going to amount to anything. And my dad just sat there on the floor with me and said, “Allie, it’s just a part of the journey. You’ve got to just recognize that you’re going to learn from this and move on.” And of course I didn’t hear him. I spent several weeks sort of in my mom’s spare bedroom, not even getting out of bed. My mom would bring me food and I just was depressed beyond belief.
Allie: But that’s what those kinds of failures, they teach you so many things, and then they lead to the next thing, and then you’re going to fail again, and then you’re going to lead to the next thing. And so for me, that was just an end of an era, of those six years where I should have had way more fun, as an 18-year-old to 24-year-old, and partying all over the country and hosting these great events — and I didn’t, because I was way too serious.
Ryan: Stressed out, from financials and all those things.
Allie: Yes, absolutely. But that led to me then going and taking a job at Dynamic Events up in Seattle, as an entry-level event manager, and getting to work in corporate events for the first time. And that’s what led to my next career.
Ryan: So, do want to get to Hubb, and spend most of our time there, but, you basically started running operations in a pretty short amount of time. But was there also a Portland office?
Allie: I moved there for two years. And I think this is what I tell everyone that I’m mentoring, it’s what I tell my kids: I moved up to Seattle, took the job at Dynamic Events, but I treated the company like it was my own. I put my heart and soul into learning every job. It didn’t matter if it was cleaning and organizing the warehouse so we can be quicker when we were going on site, or learning technology, which wasn’t a thing back then. Fax machines were our technology. So it was like the first early days of tech to sales and marketing, and being an advocate within our existing customer base to grow them. To me, it was just an opportunity to put my passion and my heart into something new, and it was something I couldn’t do for myself at the time. The opportunity wasn’t there for me, so I did this for the owner of the company and really helped her grow her company in a very large way within a very short amount of time.
Ryan: Did you have to get still the conversation where other leaders of those departments were like “stay in your own lane, I’ve got this”?
Allie: Yeah, I think having a focus — and I didn’t know this word back then — but understanding people and what motivates people allows you to be able to work with them. How is this going to benefit you? How can I learn what you’re doing to help make your life less stressful? How can I help the teams work more cohesively together? I think you can either bulldoze everything and everyone, which I’ve done a lot of times in my life, and learned that that doesn’t work; or, you can take the approach to make it about the other person, and to really help them in a way that’s meaningful to them, because they’ll welcome that in, and then they’ll collaborate with you. So I think a lot of times, it was a balance between being a bull in the china shop and helping them. But I think for the most part, they were happy for the help, because there was a lack of structure. Events are incredibly stressful career, every year voted one of the top five most stressful jobs according to USA Today. And so people in general are overwhelmed and stressed and type A personalities. So if someone is competent and can help them and bring other help to the table, and you do it in the right way, it can be very successful.
Ryan: So there was a time when you purchased Dynamic Events, and then out of that notice that industry really didn’t have some technology solutions for meeting planners and things like that. And just talk about that whole moment in time.
Allie: Sure. I think running Dynamic Events and still being an entry-level employee, I kept asking for a promotion or for a raise and being told no repeatedly — I would go get RFPs and complete them and then they would sit on the owner’s desk… And so I started to get pretty frustrated, because if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well. And I felt like that was a blocker. I realized she really wasn’t happy in what she was doing. So I went to her — and I was still a hundred grand in debt from my car shows, but — I went to her and said, “you know, I want to take this company to the next level. I don’t think you do. I’ve worked really hard over the last year and a half at growing this company exponentially. So I’ll either leave and take the customers with me, or you can choose to sell to me, but by the way, I have $0. And so I can pay you $2,000 a month for the next two years out of the profits, and you can take your minivan and digital camera and be set.”
Allie: And so I’m very fortunate that she took that deal.
Ryan: That’s a good deal.
Allie: It was a good deal. So I think people didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with me of where I wanted to take the company. I had a lot of passion. I put my whole self into that, and I expect that from people that are around me. And so everyone ended up leaving or I fired them, and I started over completely by myself in 2006, and so from that point had to really figure out: where did I want to take the company, what did we really want to do?
Allie: Events used to be very tactical, “OK, I’m going to order these presents, I’m going to order the food, I’m going to make sure that the venues booked.” So it was very much a task-oriented job, and what I wanted to do was really focus on the business reasons and the goals and objectives of why we were having these events. So we took a very different business spin on this and were very fortunate that Microsoft was our client. I was able to run a variety of different Microsoft office events from the ground up over all of those years, really focusing on the business and being a partner hand-in-hand with the Microsoft business group that was running those. Through that, I saw a lot of how Microsoft was shifting its business, and thinking about business productivity and how technology was helping people to do their jobs better. So we had to test out all the software they were coming out with, and we had to figure out how to tell stories on top of the software for the events, for it to be meaningful to the customers and to the partners.
Allie: Through that process, I really realized, I think there’s an opportunity for me to scale our team, because in a services industry, your entire business is your people. So if your people were staying up all night long — like I was, in spreadsheets, email, FTP sites that never worked — you end up wasting so much time on tactical work that could be automated by technology. As I started to think about how I would continue to grow the company, I had to figure out how to use technology to really scale my team. And so that’s what we did, and I decided to build technology that helped them to be able to scale.
Ryan: And so, you were in Seattle for two years, and then doing all of this from Portland?
Allie: Yes. I moved back home because my family was here, and cost of living in Seattle — good God, I couldn’t afford even a condo up there. So I wanted to move back down to where rent was next to nothing. Actually, my first office was in my dad’s office. I had the one office across from the bathroom. Fabulous, very glamorous office. And then slowly started to hire people, and then we took another office and then moved into our own space. So, it was a lot more affordable to grow a company here in Vancouver. And especially working with a tech company — first of all, Seattle was only a two and a half hour drive, which sometimes it would be an hour and a half for me to go two miles in Seattle. So I would end up driving up there every week. But also, there was Skype and everything was over email. So it was very easy to build those relationships and maintain them throughout the course of event planning.
Ryan: So how long were you running the event business before this notion of oh, there’s another software company that’s coming out of the event service business, this product business?
Allie: Six years. We hit the INC 5,000 list two years in a row, and we’re on a pretty large growth trajectory. We had about 35 people in the company, so it had grown over six years from just myself to about 35 people. When we decided to build the technology, I was very fortunate that one of the people I’d worked with at Microsoft that was very technically minded, decided to leave and help me to build that first version, because I’m a nontechnical founder, cannot code to save my life. But I knew exactly what we needed. I knew the workflows that were needed. It’s a very complex product that you have to have an understanding of what the users need in order to be able to build something that instantly could be taken to market. So in December of 2012, we ended up meeting, sort of sketching out on a Napkin that he just gave me last year, which was so incredible that he still had that.
Ryan: Did you frame it?
Allie: Oh, yeah. So, sort of sketched out what that would look like. And it was a pretty unique situation because we wanted to build the software, and I knew that the events that we were managing needed this software. So we went from designing it to having it in market in less than six months. I don’t think I knew what I was in for. I’m really glad that I was in my twenties and had absolutely no clue, because now, looking back, I’m like, what the hell did we do? Because these weren’t small events. These were like five, ten thousand person events that our software was then running and being the core backbone for. But I saw an opportunity and I pitched it to the team that I was working for and just said, “hey guys, you guys need this technology. I’m going to build it. You’re going to pay me to use it and it’s going to make everyone’s lives easier.”
Ryan: That is super fast to do it in six months.
Allie: Oh, it was a crap product when it first came out. I mean, no doubt. It’s definitely been worked on quite a bit since then. But I think that what that taught me in that moment is, what’s an MVP? Because when you only have six months to do something, you really have to figure out what is the bare minimum that I can do to be able to get by, and coming from a type A personality, and events where everything has to be accurate — There’s no mistakes. You can’t have 5,000 people show up and not know where to go or not have food. There are no mistakes, and if there is a mistake, you very quickly figure out how to make sure no one knows that it was a mistake and that it’s flawless.
Ryan: So did you have a backup plan in those early days, when you had a crap MVP product in six months, and you have a $5 million event of 5,000, 10,000 attendees; if it didn’t work, you’re toast?
Allie: Oh yeah. Well, that failure was not an option. One of the things that my events background has really provided me is execution excellence. And so timeline planning, knowing how to hold people accountable, how to express priority and put priority on things. Those were all things that I had to consistently do to get to the MVP. It’s also different when you build a software product, if you are the user, it wasn’t a external person that was necessarily using it. Our team was managing the content, was doing all the marketing, and so we were using it. If something was wrong, it would be more on our side. We would just make sure that it was okay for the external. So there were just a lot of priority that goes into it, and a lot of risk management to know, “do I want to try to do this, or do I not” in certain features or functionality. But we just put it out there, and that’s the best way, because then you actually use it, and then you can sort of figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then reset priority of what you need to change moving forward.
Ryan: So since this is a marketing podcast, what are some of those strategies of getting more than just Microsoft and lots of other event planners using your software?
Allie: Yeah, it was an interesting debate of thinking about, do I keep this software inside of my services company and be a technology-enabled services company? Or do I split this off and market it as its own product? And for about two years, I didn’t know the answer to that. So my team just kept using it, but they were the only ones. So I decided, let’s dip our toe in this and actually see if there is a market for it. Because, like I talked about earlier, when I first started working at Dynamic Events, fax machines were our tech, so having a content management solution that managed your speakers and sessions and automated a lot of those processes — that was so far beyond fax machine.
Allie: When we first went to market, no one knew what the hell we were there. Like content-management software, are you a website provider? And that was their question. Everyone knew mobile apps and online reg. And so we just went out and started talking to people, and I took my experience in running corporate high-tech events and very large corporate high-tech events, and I started talking about best practices: It wasn’t even necessarily about the product itself, but: how do you market an event? What’s the real value of the content that you have? How do you make it relevant to an audience? Things that I had been doing all throughout my career that helped get me in front of a variety of different companies and leaders, because they wanted to talk about the best practices in the industry. So when we first went to market, that’s how I ended up selling the product, was by talking about the industry sharing best practices, becoming a content thought leader, and then saying, “oh, and I built the software that has helped me over the last couple of years,” and in our first year where we went to market, we actually ended up with 21 paying customers, including Microsoft, Intel, Atlassian and Tableau software. So I knew that there had to be a market for what we were providing.
Ryan: But in terms of actual marketing campaigns and things like that, it sounds like it was more word of mouth, that you had a lot of bigger companies validate and then maybe some other smaller tech companies came along said, “hey, if it works for them, it’s going to go work for us.”
Allie: Yeah. In the early days, we had like a $20,000 marketing budget. So we went to two trade shows and tried to put some stuff out on social media. It was a lot of relationships, of me reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, I run this event. You’ve ran these events before, let’s talk.” So it was more of a sales ploy necessarily than an outbound marketing campaign that we were doing. Now, that’s definitely changed and shifted over the years. But in the early days, when you’re super bootstrapped and you’ve got like two people in the company, and I was still trying to run the meeting planning company at the same time, you sort of figure out the best bang for your buck. And so for me, that was in thought leadership, until I hired a fabulous marketing person who has completely changed the way that I look at marketing, who is really focused on how we grow from where we were in the early days to now, we have over a hundred customers. So our 100th customer is actually the Consumer Electronic Show or CES, so pretty exciting. It’s very, very large. We also signed last year, the National Association of Broadcasters or the NAB show, which I’m sure a lot of people in marketing know. It’s very rewarding to think about building this for my own team way back in the day, and having that now power some of the world’s largest events.
Ryan: So what’s the hardest thing outside of the one that you talked about with the 20 or a hundred grand in debt and crying in the Expo Center because just the world seemed doomed after that? Outside of that, in more of the companies that you have now, is there, is there another moment in time that stands out to you?
Allie: I think there’s two. One of them was just a big learning for me. And growing up in a large corporate tech company like Microsoft, I thought that’s how all companies should be ran. Microsoft in the early 2000s didn’t have the best culture. They weren’t known for the best culture. So for me, as I started to scale Dynamic Events, and then Hubb, I think it was a big awakening for me to understand that you get to choose your intention with how you run your companies. You get to choose your values, your mission, your vision, and be really intentional about the people you hire and how you surround yourself with people that believe in those same things. Not only for the success of the company, but also just quality of life. So I think one of the biggest learnings that I’ve had is being intentional in culture and really creating the environment where people can live their best lives.
Allie: The hardest thing that I’ve gone through in my career was actually very recent. So it was just last year. I think growing up in the northwest, I’ve always felt a part of an inclusive culture. I’ve never felt discriminated against for being a woman in technology or being a woman business owner. All the way from my car show days, where people were showing me how to turn wrenches, to when I was doing software. People just wanted to help me understand what’s machine learning, what’s AI, how are these things applied. I’ve had incredible mentors, both women and men, in my life. As I’ve scaled Hubb, we even ended up [doing] a series A in 2016 and got to break even. And I decided to go out and raise additional capital because there’s a great market opportunity right now for us to be able to scale.
Allie: In doing that, I had to get outside of the northwest, and it meant that I was entering a whole new world that I knew nothing about and venture capital, and that was hard. I talked to over 60 private equity and venture capital companies, from about March to October of last year, and walked away from almost every single meeting depressed from the fact that women own almost half of the businesses in the United States and they only get 2% of the venture funding. I knew that fact, but to experience it and to go into non-diverse board rooms, to be patted on the head and be told, “oh honey, you’ve got a nice little lifestyle business” when I’m outperforming most of their portfolio companies, or to be told, “well, we know normal market valuation is this, but we’re going to offer you half of that because that’s what we’re comfortable with, knowing that there isn’t funding available for women and so sometimes they take best available [offer].”
Allie: That experience for six months, of meeting with people and experiencing sort of this discrimination, was really tough. And I ended up closing our series B with a fabulous partner that I was very fortunate that reached out to me, right at the end. But I closed that series B and announced it at a huge trade show in Las Vegas, and ended up flying back home sort of — again, and I’m not a very emotional person — but in the airport crying, feeling like this really didn’t amount to anything. I feel like I worked my ass off to get here, and it really doesn’t feel like this is a momentous occasion for me. It really doesn’t matter. And so for me, I think those six months were such a struggle to get there. And I really didn’t find my purpose in that until later, when I took a little bit of a step back, had some time to digest that experience and realize that for me, the purpose in my series B is to help change the conversation for other women and to let them know not only that it is possible to do, but that by each of us contributing our voices to changing the way we talk about failure, changing the way that women talk about business and big picture, knowing that we can do it and setting role models and examples for young girls all the way up the chain.
Allie: That for me is now that purpose. So it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, and required daily conversations with mentors that helped me to digest that information and to think about how to apply how I was feeling to something different. But I think, again, out of failure comes amazing learning and ways that change us, and help us to take new courses in our career and in our personal lives that can end up being incredibly fulfilling.
Ryan: That’s amazing. And I think you mentioned you’ve gotten more engaged in Oregon Entrepreneur’s Network, and like the accelerate fund, and mentoring…
Allie: Yeah, I think finding, specifically any minority entrepreneur is — actually any entrepreneur really — but specifically, I think as a woman there’s some unique challenges that you face, especially when you have a family. You have kids, or I think a lot of people struggle with impostor syndrome or not feeling good enough. And so for me, being able to take some of those things that I’m still practicing daily, because I still feel those things every day — it’s not like they go away. But trying to then share that with other entrepreneurs, especially early stage, even if I can give them a little glimmer of hope or a little bit more confidence that “you can do it, and you can fail, you can fail big and you can still pick yourself up and do it again.” That for me is incredibly rewarding, to be able to be a part of that community, to change that conversation.
Ryan: That’s amazing. So I guess the last question we’ll leave with is, a person who’s really inspiring you these days.
Allie: Yeah, there are so many people that inspire me. It’s hard to choose just one. I had a colleague that I worked with, she’s at Microsoft, her name is Vivian Eickhoff. And this was probably about five years ago, but I still stay in touch with her now, watching her leadership style, how she includes everyone in the conversation, puts other people before herself, really takes care of her team. And she’s the one that really taught me about, “there’s always a lot of noise while a lot of stuff going on. We have to rise above that, tie things to the goals and objectives, really focus on the things that matter.” Watching her career progress and watching her teams flourish under her leadership continues to inspire me every day.
Ryan: Does she know that, or will she be surprised when she hears it on this podcast?
Allie: Yeah, I think I try to do a good job of showing appreciation to those people in my life, but I’m not sure I’ve said it as elegantly as I just did, so I’ll have to definitely share it with her.
Ryan: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show and for inspiring us.
Allie: Thank you. I really appreciate that
Ryan: To all the Faces of Marketing podcast subscribers out there: I have yet to do this in — this is my 27th episode — but I’d love to ask you if you could please rate this podcast. And I realize the sound quality of this particular podcast was not ideal — but just overall ratings of the podcast as a whole, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
The author, Ryan Buchanan, is a social and for-profit entrepreneur who co-founded a pathway to leadership program for professionals of color called Emerging Leaders as well as founder + CEO of a data-driven, digital marketing agency, eROI.