Ticketbud Tidbits Episode 8 - Cindy Lo of Red Velvet Events
Posted in Spotlights on August 9, 2017
Cindy Lo, DMCP embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of Austin, Texas. Formerly working in tech, but wanting to do something new, she founded Red Velvet Events all by herself. The company is now 25 strong due to her successful leadership. She's also (as you might expect) an expert event planner, and well studied in everything event tech has to offer. On today's Ticketbud Tidbits, we talk about event tech, what makes a successful event company, how to find the right employees, and new trends on the horizon. You can listen to the Podcast here, and read the transcript below. Enjoy!
Sean Burke: Hi and welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits. I'm Sean Burke, Director of Marketing here at TicketBud. Today on the podcast we have Cindy Lo, owner and top event strategist at Red Velvet Events. Cindy, thanks for joining me.
Cindy Lo: Thank you, Sean, for having me.
Sean Burke: Yeah definitely. So, anyways Cindy, I thought we'd just get right into the questions. First thing I wanted to ask was, you started out coding in the tech industry, what led you to want to run an events company?
Cindy Lo: So, it was sort of an accident. I had been in tech for about 5 years and when I was choosing to pivot and leave, several people had suggested to me to consider possibly doing something more in the meetings and events side. And when the opportunity came and I started to interview, the problem that I encountered was that actually people didn't necessarily see that I was qualified because I didn't have the formal experience.
So what then led to happen was that since I got rejected I was like, "Well that seems kinda odd. I need to do something about it." I started Red Velvet Events 15 years ago thinking that I was only going to be running it for a year. And I was gonna reapply for these jobs that rejected me and as you can see since we're talking now, I never closed it down.
Sean Burke: Well, hey. I mean I would definitely say that that's probably what you'd call a happy accident in a way.
Cindy Lo: Very much so. In fact, I'm writing a book and that is the term I actually coined. I said, "Yeah. It's a very happy accident."
Sean Burke: Oh, nice. That's cool. Well, I'm glad that we're on the same wavelength there.
Cindy Lo: Yeah.
Sean Burke: So ... And when you started running it, did you find that you had to acquire a whole new skill set? I mean was there anything that transferred over?
Cindy Lo: So, what's funny is that I thought one of your questions was "What did you feel that was a benefit?" And I actually think coming from the tech side and coming with my business background, it was a huge benefit to starting RVE because I really approached the industry from a logistics and a technology application point-of-view. So from the get-go, processes, software tools, all of those were very important. And choosing them and deciding which ones we would keep and how to run the company actually is what I think sets us apart.
Sean Burke: Nice. That's cool. Yeah, so technology and logistics are definitely the competitive advantages and why your clients come to you instead of, say, another competitor.
Cindy Lo: Absolutely. And we're really trying to fill that still in our culture 15 years now. And constantly reinventing and making sure we're using the latest technology so that it makes us more efficient.
Sean Burke: Awesome. So going a little bit more into culture, you have multiple event planners on the RVE team, how do you best coordinate with everyone and is there a typical day in an event planner's life?
Cindy Lo: Yeah. So, we do, we now have grown into 25 full-time employees, so we have about ... Half the team is actually working on the actual events themselves and then the other half, it's divided between our operations, which is referring to our back-of-house; such as bookkeeping, office manager, even hiring, to the sales and creative teams.
As far as a typical day, I would say depending on what your role is there probably is a clinical "typical day." But for me myself as the owner, it's a little bit full. Definitely, I start my mornings early. I tend to be a morning person. I usually will start meeting, like for example, this morning my first meeting started at 7:30 in the morning and then I usually typically go until about 5. Usually, it's back-to-back meetings and some of those meetings can be internal meetings, sales meetings, or even vendor meetings. The ultimate goal is, of course, is to be able to design and produce creative events that clients come back to us as a resource.
Sean Burke: That's really cool. So, when you first started running Red Velvet Events, going back a little bit, what were the biggest challenges? I mean again, you didn't have a lot of experience in that industry ...
Cindy Lo: Yeah.
Sean Burke: ... How did you first start that out? And then from there, how did you scale it to now you have 25 full-time employees? That's impressive.
Cindy Lo: Yeah. Thank you. So, definitely along the way we had challenges throughout. I would say for sure the first set of challenges is when you are starting out. Like for example, myself it was just me, I didn't know the industry so I literally went to every networking event. I went to every possible city just to learn from people. I wanted to really get into it and just almost live and breathe it. Now the challenge back then is that there wasn't really any social media. There was Google. I'm sorry, there was no Google. There was the internet, but there was nothing like Pinterest or web blogs or any of that kind of stuff.
So going out there and seeking it through face-to-face meetings and reaching out to people that have been in the industry, I really just needed to kind of absorb it to get to know it. So then the next the big challenge was when I realized I needed help I couldn't just do this on my own. So being able to figure out how to actually hire people, that was huge challenge. In fact, I still, to this day, even though we have 25 amazing, full-time employees, learning how to hire the right individuals is so key and that is what makes the team different.
And then of course as you're growing, the other challenge that any business owner has is cash-flow. Figuring out how big you wanna be. How big do you wanna be? Do you wanna be a billion dollar business? Do you wanna be a ten-million dollar business? Where is it? What is your ultimate passionate goal?
So along the way we definitely had our fair share of challenges, but you know at the end of the day I am so grateful for being in this industry that I welcome the challenges.
Sean Burke: Oh definitely. Yeah, well I think as an event planner if you're not familiar with challenges, I don't know if you're doing anything right.
Cindy Lo: Yeah. For sure.
Sean Burke: One question I did want to ask is, so you're talking about hiring the right employees and every company has its culture. Like Zappos has this customer-oriented culture. How do you choose the right employees for RVE? What's your goal for the right employee?
Cindy Lo: So I always tell people, "Culture over even skills." Because, if you don't fit into our culture you're going to be miserable coming into work. And we don't want that. I mean, think about it we're doing events. This is a fun, fun environment. Yes, very stressful, but it's a fun, fun industry. So, when we're looking for the right ideal employee, it's one that works hard, understands that we are there to please the client, very much of-service attitude, creative of course, detail oriented, loves technology. Because after all, I'm very tech-oriented and I'm always looking for ways to better improve our delivery. And some of them have a little bit of willing to take a risk, because the thing that a lot of people chose us over our competitors is that we really do enjoy thinking outside the box. I hate to sound so cliché, but even turning something that is usually pretty familiar on its side and saying, "Can we do it a little bit better and do it a little bit different?" So that the user experience is so memorable that that's why they keep coming back to us.
So I would say that's what we are in a company culture. And of course we love to play together, so work hard, play hard is very much our motto.
Sean Burke: That's good. I mean that's a good motto to have. So switching gears slightly, so I'm sure ... You mentioned that you have sales. How important for RVE, how important is social media marketing and how do you handle the marketing efforts for RVE?
Cindy Lo: Great question. So, believe it or not, we actually do all of our social media in-house. We occasionally from time the time do hire a professional PR firm that will help share a press release. But, overall our marketing efforts are actually led internally between myself and our creative and sales division development team. But, I am a huge proponent of social media. One, it is affordable, so if you are starting out and you have no budget, you should be totally using this to your advantage.
Second, it is a great way for someone to authentically get to know you as a company and hopefully as an owner. So, it's so important to put yourself out there and share what you're passionate about and what it is that you're doing, because a lot of times if you don't promote what you're doing, people don't know what it is. They may have stereotyped you down one path. So we use our social media to kind of share and highlight our work culture. And also our wonderful team and then occasionally we will share our events themselves. The reason that we can't share all of them is that we do work with a lot of corporate clients and we do sign a confidentiality agreement.
Sean Burke: That makes sense.
Cindy Lo: Yeah.
Sean Burke: Cindy, I'm really glad that you touched on the point of using all your social media marketing in house. That's something that I'm also a huge proponent of. I think any event planner actually just any business ideally, nowadays, all your online marketing should be in-house because with contractors a lot of times they don't understand the culture and it can be kind of a cut and paste job, so I'm definitely big on that. That sounds like you definitely have a good head on your shoulders there.
Anyway, one thing I wanted to ask is, you're big into tech, everyone is currently raving about VR, you know virtual reality. You're on the cutting edge. I was wondering is there anything else that you see on the horizon that could be really big? Maybe you're already using it, maybe it's not fully fledged there, but you could see it being really big.
Cindy Lo: Yeah. So, I think virtual reality is a real thing. I think what it may be hindering you from seeing at a ton of events is the cost right now because it's still pretty high. However, I think with augmented reality, I think it is going to be the next kind of wave of things. I'm not going to say it's just a fad, I think it's an evolution of how we use technology. So for example, let's just take the simple photo booth, okay? Photo booths have been around since what, the 60s, right? You have the old fashioned photo booths where you go in, take your photo with friends, and it prints out 3 or 4 photos on a piece of paper and you keep it forever and that was very popular.
Then, it was the green screen if I'm thinking of the order correctly. Then from there, we have now the different interactive photo booths, which includes the animated GIF or JIF depending on how you want to pronounce it.
Sean Burke: Yeah.
Cindy Lo: I know the long debate on that. And so what I'm thinking is that augmented reality and virtual reality are just going in that space right now. I think the lower the price point comes, the more accessible it becomes, and so I think that's why the popularity will be there. As far as what's the next big trend, I think people are still wanting to again be interactive, meaning I want to be given something to do, try it out and then share it all over social media and show all my friends how cool I am. So, the sky's the limit. I don't have one exact example of you know what it might be, but I did recently get introduced to a company, which I'd rather not give them promotion ...
Sean Burke: That's fine.
Cindy Lo: ... Because I'm not paid for and I haven't used them, but what was cool was that you could see the augmented reality in the sky
So basically picture you're doing a big festival event, you encourage them to take a selfie and then when you take a selfie and then lo and behold behind them the branding shows up. And I was like, "Oh my Gosh, how does that work?" Really it's all technology it's basically pushing through the app and encouraging them to do it that way as a filter, so and I was just like that's genius that they were using geo locations, augmented reality and just basic photo booth concept and the love of that, all rolled into one to make a new interactive, you know?
Sean Burke: Yeah. That's cool. And I actually do like how you mentioned that it's basically the evolution of the photo booth cause that totally makes sense to me when you think about it like that.
Cindy Lo: Yeah, so.
Sean Burke: Also, as a side note, I think from what I remember reading, so the creator, he said that its pronounced "JIF", but for me, it will always be "GIF".
Cindy Lo: Oh, good. Okay. That's what I like to pronounce it as.
Sean Burke: I mean, I'll always say "JIF" I guess it's too ingrained at that point. So anyway, thank you, Cindy, so much we'll just end off with one parting question and I was just curious. Do you have a favorite event that you've planned or organized? And why was that your favorite event?
Cindy Lo: You know, now that we've had so many under our belts, it's been very hard to pick one, but I can tell you a type of event, then I can give you an example of it.
Sean Burke: That sounds good.
Cindy Lo: So the type of an event that I love is when it is very difficult, meaning there are challenges, whether it be timeline, creative solutions are unheard of, if the client's like, "I really want this. Make it happen." And I have two examples that I can think of, but the one that probably stands out the most is, we have ACL, which is Austin City Limits Music Festival here in town and a client of ours ... That year, it was the first year to have it two weekends in a row, and Lionel Richie was the headline act. Well, the second weekend, unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs and so the producers of ACL, which is not us, it's another firm, a really large festival promoter they had to call and cancel the event because they were like, "For safety reasons, we can't have the event."
And my client, of course, caught wind of this and was like "I want Lionel Richie in my living room."
Sean Burke: Wow.
Cindy Lo: Now, anyone that knows how this works, the festival promoters that have hired Lionel, they have full rights, refusal to keep Lionel. Lionel does not have to do anything, yes he's in town but he doesn't have to do anything. He can fly back to LA and call it a day. But my client, of course, had all the faith in me and of course, she was like "Make it happen." And I'm like, "Whoa. Is this a test?" And keep in mind the concert was only canceled that morning so she wanted it that night at her house.
So all the logistics, even just getting him confirmed, all of that had to go to play in less than 12 hours of pulling it off and the good news is, I'll fast forward we managed to pull it off. But it was not easy and it definitely took a crew to do it, but those are kind of the things that stand out in my mind that as I look back I'm like, "Wow. Who would have ever known that when I graduated from business school almost 20 years ago that this is what I would be doing?"
But I love it. I love the logistics, I love the challenge, and I love a good problem solving.
Sean Burke: No, that's a really cool story. I do remember that year. I think Auditorium Shores was like completely underwater. So yeah, there's no way unless you had a snorkel you could pull that off. Awesome. Well that's a really cool story and I think that's a really good touchstone for RV in general.
Cindy Lo: Yeah.
Sean Burke: Thank you so much, Cindy for coming onto the show. We'll have another show next week, so, thanks again Cindy.
Cindy Lo: Fantastic. Thank you so much and I appreciate it. And be sure to follow me on Red Velvet Events on Twitter and I'll retweet it. Thanks.
Sean Burke: Yeah, definitely. And we'll also promote it on Facebook as well. Get all the social media channels in there. Let's use a little bit of what we learned today.
Cindy Lo: Yeah. Sounds great. Thank you. Have a great day.
Sean Burke: Yeah. Thank you as well Cindy. Alright, bye.
Cindy Lo: Okay. Bye bye.